Fifteen years ago I lived in Oregon, not as a student or a functioning member of the community. I was a degenerate. You might think of the freewheeling Hunter S. Thompson kind of degenerate, one with motivation and lust for life. No, I was more the Charles Bukowski style of degenerate, scary and drunken and serially unemployed. I lived in a shit-hole apartment that was a huge upgrade from sleeping in my car. Also, I'd been on a three week bender, spending the last of my money drinking at McMinamin’s and nursing hangovers with cheap Mexican take-out.
“I don’t like the idea of you living hand to mouth, Eddie,” said my mother. I was getting desperate. I actually answered the phone that day. “I’m moving in with Bob,” she said. “Come back and stay at my place. I can’t have it empty. I’m going to re-fi the apartment and I’ll need someone living there. The bank gives a better rate if it’s a residence and not a rental unit.”
I swore to myself when I left, I’d never go back to California. Oregon was rainy and grey but it was real, far from the sunny, fake paradise tourists see on picture postcards. Too many weird people, too may weird memories in California. When I left at eighteen it was to escape the ridicule and criticism of an unsupportive family. After indigence, homelessness and a dozen years, I flew home with little more than a suitcase.
I recognized the furniture in her apartment immediately. It came out of my father’s house after the divorce. The apartment’s living room had this massive armoire in the corner, something the size of a walk-in closet. My mother loved armoires. She liked to have big spaces where she could stuff things. My mother’s apartment also came with my mother. She hadn’t moved out at all. Most nights I slept downstairs in her single car garage. During the day I worked a job at a hardware store mixing paint.
When she did move out I lived in the apartment by myself for two weeks. Out of the blue she said, Eddie, I got you a roommate. The first one was a middle-aged kindergarten teacher who liked salsa dancing with this guy named Carlos. He talked about one thing: Orange County Jail. He didn’t work there. They cleared the furniture, played Buena Vista Social Club, and practiced salsa moves in front of the armoire. The next roommate she installed at the apartment was this yoked-out meathead with a Harley. He lasted as long as the first roommate she’d found, three months.
"Eddie," she said, "I need you to move out."
"You asked me to come down and live here," I said.
"Now I want to get some renters who’ll sign a lease," she said.
"Six months ago you said you didn’t want renters!"
I knew it was a bad idea to leave Oregon, as broke as I was, at least I had some control over my life. Eddie, I want you to stay, she said one week. Then she'd asked me to move out a week after that. Sometimes it only took a few days for her to change her mind about me. You’re crazy, I shouted. Come back, live here, move out, no stay, no move. You're fucking crazy!
I moved in with a cool girlfriend I’d had for a month.
"I’m clearing out the apartment for the new renters, would you like the armoire?" my mother said. She’s the kind of woman who offers favors that are non-negotiable. A dinner invitation meant four hours of increasingly inappropriate questions and a meal peppered in between. When my girlfriend and I dared to leave her dinner at the two hour mark my mother said, if you’re not going to stay for the whole evening then don’t even bother coming over. I said no thanks to the armoire and the next day she was there at our place delivering the armoire anyway.
We carted that huge armoire from house to house and even from state to state. My cool girlfriend became my wife and for thirteen years she complained about the armoire. My mother became more flippant and dismissive. In 2014 she casually asked how I was preparing myself for my wife’s imminent mental breakdown, since I provide nothing of value to our family. Now I have almost no contact, only in emails, occasionally.
"I hate this armoire," my wife said last week. "We’re getting rid of it."
Of, course it was old news but the day the replacement furniture arrived I had to do something. Together, we dragged the hulking cabinet out to the backyard where I could bust it up.
I thought it would be this cathartic moment. Destroying my mother’s furniture would allow me to exorcise all those negative feelings I’d carried for so many years. My anger at her intolerance. My frustration at her selfishness. My hurt over her inability to accept me. I expected a flood of emotion and a tingling head rush, the endorphins of the returning conqueror who’s gained his reprisal.
I took an axe to the furniture and gauged my reaction to the first smash. Nothing. I broke off piece after piece, sidewalls splintering, wooden shelves flying. I felt none of the joys that an adrenal retaliation brings. No anger or frustration of hurt. I felt the satisfaction of progress, the same as when I completed any other household chore. Doing dishes. Catching mice.
The armoire wasn’t some emotional punching bag that would help me release my pain. I’d already released it. At some point without my even knowing I’d come to a new acceptance. I felt free from the cycle of reaction and regret and resentment. I did my work without passion or pain. I busted up an old piece of furniture and that was all. Cleaning the splinters and splayed pieces off the grass, I felt magnificent.