“What happened to our bookcase in the living room?” Jodie asked.
“I organized the books by color,” answered Lily.
“Well obviously, but why?”
“I watched this show on Netflix about organizing your home to create a calm and happy environment. I’m doing our bedroom closet next. Actually – this weekend I need you to go through your clothes and shoes and put stuff you don’t wear anymore into a bag for The Goodwill.”
Jodie debated whether it was worth arguing over this insane new obsession of Lily’s and decided against it. They had been navigating multiple rough patches lately and were long overdue for a smooth patch.
“Okay no problem,” she said, taking a sip of Cabernet.
The next day Jodie went through her side of the closet.
“You have thirty-three printed tunics,” Lily yelled from the living room. “You can probably get rid of a few of the older ones.”
Jodie didn’t say anything. Even though she was working from home because of the pandemic, a tunic over slim black pants was still her work uniform of choice and she didn’t want to part with any of them.
Resignedly she picked out her three least favorite and threw them in a giant blue recycling bag.
Lily was at the bedroom door now:
“Thanks babe, I really appreciate you doing this. Don’t forget you have a million maxi dresses at the back of the closet.”
Lord Give Me Strength.
The maxi dress section proved to be a landmine, each dress tagged with its own memory:
Jodie had worn the black floral one on their first date to a gallery opening. After flirting over art, they had shared a bottle of wine with oysters and frites at Bistro Figaro.
On their trip to Cape Cod, where they had kissed ice cream off each other’s lips, she had worn the flaxseed linen dress almost every day.
The olive tiered maxi she had bought for their two year anniversary dinner. Though her high heels had pinched her toes, the night had still been blissful.
Suddenly Jodie was sobbing. Sitting on the carpet she was struck by how old these joyful memories were. There were no recent joyful memories. It would be easy to blame the pandemic, but it wasn’t the virus’s fault. Prior to Covid Jodie had sensed a shift in their relationship, they had become more like roommates; the romance had disappeared.
When they first started dating Jodie had made it clear that romance was important to her. She loved getting flowers, walking hand in hand and any and all sweet gestures. Obviously the pandemic was stressful, but it wasn’t an excuse to ignore your partner’s needs. Plus, they didn’t have kids – not even a cat – so they had it much easier than others.
They had time for romance.
Jodie blew her nose then took half a Xanax from her bedside table. Back at her pile she chose three dresses for The Goodwill.
“I’m finished,” she yelled, leaving the bedroom to pour herself a glass of wine.
“Oh great thanks, now I can get to work. I bought all new hangers, clear bins and labels. And of course I will color-code the closet too.”
Jodie took a large sip of wine:
“Do you color code the black? Like lightest black to darkest black?” Jodie asked.
“Are you making fun of me?”
“No, just curious.”
“I don’t color code the black. Why are you drinking wine at three o’clock in the afternoon?”
“What’s wrong? Anything I can do to help?”
Jodie stared at her.
You can stop trying to fix our broken relationship by organizing our house.
“It’s just…a lot of beautiful memories came up when I went through the closet. I feel like I just gave away some of our happiest times to The Goodwill. And I’m worried that we’re not making any new happy memories.”
“You can’t put that kind of pressure on us, I mean we’re in the middle of a god damn pandemic. You’re too much of a romantic. Not everything is champagne and chocolate, sometimes it’s just peanut butter sandwiches.”
“Peanut butter sandwiches are fine, but not everyday. When was the last time we had sex? Do you even remember? Because I don’t.”
“Again with the pressure. We’re both working from home and we haven’t killed each other yet or died from COVID, so I’m scoring that as a win. We can have tons of sex once things calm down,” Lily said exasperated, walking to the bedroom to work on the closet.
Jodie took the bottle of wine and a bag of Ruffles to the living room couch. She grabbed a handful of chips and looked at them:
How do some of the chips stay perfectly intact while others get broken?
It turns out that Cabernet and Sour Cream and Onion potato chips were a thing. Like if she owned a restaurant every glass of red wine would be served with a small bowl of these chips.
Lily didn’t eat junk food of any kind. Instead she had her own shelf in their tiny pantry full of protein powders and vitamin mixes for her daily smoothies.
Jodie leaned back and tossed a few more chips in her mouth. If only her therapist hadn’t retired. What kind of a therapist retires during a pandemic?
“Come see what I’m doing,” shouted Lily from the bedroom.
“Be there in a sec.”
She found Lily in a tweaked frenzy:
“See first you have to edit and purge – getting rid of stuff. Then it’s about containing. You can’t just have stuff loose in the closet, everything needs its own place and a label. Like your winter sweaters: they were in a messy pile on the shelf, but now they’re in this clear labeled bin, color-coded and contained.”
Leaning against the wall and sipping her wine, Jodie said:
“You know what else are messy? Feelings are messy. And feelings aren’t meant to be contained in a color-coded, labeled bin. Feelings are meant to be expressed and talked about.”
“What is your problem? I’m working hard to create a calm and happy environment for us by organizing our home and you’re not the least bit grateful.”
“No, I’m not. Because I didn’t ask you to do this. Because this doesn’t need doing. Because this is just another example of you trying to control everything, instead of allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Can we talk about our fucking relationship instead of color-coding the closet please?!”
“What is there to talk about? We share a lovely home, we both have successful careers, we’re healthy…”
“That’s what you have to say about our relationship? Are you kidding me?! What about the fact that you know romantic gestures are important to me, yet you haven’t bought me flowers in over a year. We don’t hold hands anymore, we don’t make love anymore…”
“Honestly, you are so immature. The new variant is kicking our ass, Russia invaded Ukraine and Putin might blow up the world. Meanwhile you’re talking about us not holding hands? You’re acting like a spoiled teenager instead of a forty-two year old woman.”
Lily turned her back on Jodie and continued organizing their closet. Jodie watched as she used a sharpie to make a label:
Back in the kitchen Jodie rinsed out her wine glass. Then she took one of their insulated food bags and filled it with cheese, bread, wine, chocolate, berries and coffee.
Taking a black sharpie from Lily’s bag of supplies in the hallway and a large-sized pad of paper from their office, she started printing words in giant block letters:
I LOVE YOU
BUT THIS RELATIONSHIP
IS NOT MEETING MY NEEDS.
IF PUTIN IS
GOING TO BLOW
US ALL UP
THEN I NEED
& JOY BEFORE
She put the papers in order and attached a paper clip. Grabbing a clear bin off the floor, she put the papers inside, then labeled the bin:
CHAMPAGNE & CHOCOLATES
Jodie gathered up two cloth masks, her charger, phone, laptop and purse, then ordered an Uber to drive her to the train station.
Two and a half hours later Jodie was at her grandmother’s country house. It was a shabby-chic oasis which her grandmother had left to her in her will – and it was Jodie’s favorite place on earth.
If Lily decided that their relationship was more important than color-coding t-shirts, then she would know where Jodie was.
If not, Jodie would be sad, but she would be okay. And she would live bin-free in the country. Maybe she would even get a cat.
Art by Hiroki_takeda1223 on Instagram