I cleaned out the refrigerator today. I mean like I took everything out and washed the shelves kind of clean. If you know anything about me, you would know this is not a common occurrence. It’s not that I don’t value having a clean refrigerator, it’s just low on the priority list compared to, say, anything else in the world I could possibly be doing.
While I was cleaning, it occurred to me that cleaning the fridge is a fairly adequate metaphor for divorce.
OK, so you have this fridge, because you are an American and practically all Americans have refrigerators, and they are expensive, so you pretty much are stuck with the fridge you got. One day you notice it has a funny smell. Maybe, if you are like me, you stick your head in and look for the smell, and if the source of the stench of death is not readily apparent, you throw in a few boxes of baking soda and close the door, hoping for the best.
You wait. The smell has returned, or more likely, never left in the first place. You avoid going in the fridge. You make the children get things from the fridge for you so you don’t have to open it. You spend a lot of time wishing you had kept up on the fridge as time passed so you would not be in this position now. Perhaps you go to Smelly Fridge Therapy to try and work through your issues with the fridge. (Hey, it’s not a perfect metaphor, work with me here.)
Eventually you have to face the face that your fridge smells, and will continue to smell unless radical action is taken. So you empty the fridge, taking stock of all the crap that has accumulated in the fridge and you were previously unwilling to get rid of. It becomes apparent that most of what you have been storing is crap that you don’t need, don’t want, or used to be good but isn’t anymore. Some of the crap you throw out makes you sad: there’s the produce you bought and intended to eat but never got around to, the left-overs that are now a moldy memory of a nice dinner you once had. But you do it. You face your food baggage with courage and tenacity and a lot of Clorox bleach.
Once your fridge is empty, you start to clean the walls, the shelves, the little plastic door thingie that holds the butter. At this point, you very carefully take out each shelf and pay close attention to where it came from, and try and commit to memory the way the shelf slides into the latch thing so you can put it back together again. But somehow or another they never go back in the way they came out. Rebuilding your fridge is a whole lot harder than disassembling it. Sometimes you have to ask for help, like to figure out how the ice maker drawer thing with the giant metal corkscrew in it goes back in. And sometimes you just have to figure it out on your own.
In the end, your fridge is clean, but all that work has made you aware of every little ding and dent and scratch in it that you never noticed when it was overflowing with moldy cheese and old pizza. If you are like me, you look at your fridge, and you are proud of the work you did, and even though it is a little bit dented and scratched and imperfect, it is more yours than when you started―you have examined and scrubbed and dried it and you and the fridge have come through this experience together. And you both hope this time you will do the preventative maintenance to never let the smell build up like that again.
You make a mental list of what you need to replace, and you close the door. Now you notice the outside of the fridge needs a little work. Maybe a new outfit and some highlights, but once the inside is in order, that seems almost fun. You scrub the door handles and wonder why on earth you didn’t do this sooner, because you feel so much better when the outside looks nice. You look at all the preschool art that is curling up at the edges, and consider taking it down while no one is looking, but instead find some tape to affix it more firmly and attractively. After all, a fridge without finger-paintings and crayon drawings is a cold, impersonal fridge, which you would never allow in your house.
So now you have a glowing, clean, empty fridge, which is patiently waiting for you to fill it up with fabulous, exotic new food, plus a lot of diet coke and those disgusting go-gurt things that the kids love but you aren’t even sure count as food. You can fill it up with the same old leftovers and condiments, or you can leave it empty, only restocking what you need and truly want to keep.
This post first appeared on www.only-mama.com