Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by Karolina Grabowska
Depression convinced me to hole up in my apartment. I didn’t sleep through my days, like the movies have you believe. I tried to maintain a small routine. I checked in on my classes; though, I had no work to hand in. I made food for myself, but only convenient stuff, stuff you can microwave. I fed the cat. Nonetheless, my days felt empty. Only one part of my routine genuinely felt productive: When the monotony of my waking life overwhelmed me, I could kneel in my kitchen, pull the bottles of disinfectant from under my sink, and clean.
I would start with the rag, the one with fleur de lis indented along its length, woven like a plush paper towel. I pulled it along the length of our plastic counters and repeated. My first pass was dry. As the rag approached the cliff of the counter, individual specks of dust and crumbs and basil leaves rained on our linoleum floor. I made my cleaning process precise. I’d start in the corner where our cooking oils were kept. I picked up each slicked bottle one at a time and transferred them to the center of our stove. With effort, I could reach into the pockets of gunk where the counters met the wall, then pull all of it together and down it would fall to our checkered floor.
Next, to the stove, where I’d replace the oils to their home and transfer the burner covers to the newly dusted corner. The crumbs on the stove were usually big. Expect uncooked pasta bits, plates of dried tomato sauce, and rat-gray indeterminate specks. Instead of the flat length of my rag, I would roll it up to give it some bulk. Down, down, down all the food would fall.
Once the stove was clear, I passed my rag along the open area next to the stove. On inspired nights this counter could shoulder tiny bowls of prepped onion, garlic, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, anxious vegetables anticipating the rush of hot oil. The next morning, I would be the one-man clean up crew. The clutter would often spill over to the far right counter in the kitchen. The counter: our patient friend. He held open boxes of cereal, unlidded bouillon, and packaging my roommates forgot to throw out. In order to express my love for him, I lidded the jars and placed boxes in the cabinets. I wiped him off until he was dust-free.
Though my counters were now spotless, the floor became victim to the crumbs. All of the dust and kibble that my rag pushed landed down below. Bits of food and plastic skirted to the far reaches of the ground. Now, my duty was to sweep it all away. I used the broom to tease the corners of the room. I could gather the bits all together like I did on the counters, but instead of discarding off an edge, I pulled it into the dustpan. Weightlessly, I’d drop the dust into the trash.
After sweeping, I finally reveled in the joy of spritzing disinfectant. It would go everywhere! For a moment, I was a child again, in a swimming pool with a squirt gun aimed at my cousin’s head. When all I could breathe was sterile citrus, I would put my bottle down and scrub. All of my frustrations and anxiety would channel into my rag. It would twitch along the surface of my counter as my wrist dug into the murky sections of my counter. When I found something stuck, I would imagine my arm dipping into the volume of the counter. I could curl my wrist, press my palm, then allow the pressure to roll through my muscles until it hit my tricep. I Press, press, press, until the spot went away. Finally, I’d step back and admire a room that practically sparkled. In the long months of uncertainty, between depression naps and cleaning, I attended therapy. My therapist emphasized routine. What does your perfect day look like? Now I do that. On my perfect day, I wake up and before my body could switch on, I am already on my routine: wiping, then scrubbing, then sweeping. I used the same rag every time. What once was elegant in its bleach white had become green-gray with pockmarks of bright oranges and blacks. It was no work of art, but each hue stood as a trophy of a time I came and I conquered. It was not the dirt that I heroed, but the slew of white noise that replaced my brain. For at least an hour I had coherent thoughts: dust, then sweep, then spray.