Running to take out the Trash

Afternoons are the hardest time of day when tiredness begins in the lull before school is out and before dinner is made. I’m hungry, but don’t want to eat a snack and then another after the kid comes home from school. I forget about the laundry, take a nap on the couch, and then brew some coffee in the French press to rewake myself up even though I’ve been awake since seven.

When it’s time to make dinner, I stare at the taco meat frying in the pan; it pops with each turn of the spatula. I think to myself that I should focus more while I’m cooking so I don’t burn myself, but my hands and forearms are away from the hot pan. The skin on my hands is dry from the winter cold; white nail lines are left behind when I’m done scratching them. I should put more lotion on, but I don’t want to bother.

I think of my dad who always tried to keep his hands neat and clean despite working as a machinist in a factory. When my sister and I would see him on the weekends or once during our Wednesday visits, he took great care in cleaning his hands and scrubbed them so that there was no trace of the black grime from the shop. The grime filled in his fingerprints and wedged itself in the nail bed. My dad’s kept his nails short, filed, and buffed so that they shined—he didn’t want his working hands to reveal his profession. Although my dad never went to college, he is well read and remembers every detail, so he didn’t want to be judged by others when he held out his hand to shake theirs. Cleaning the grime off his hands took more than one washing, but by Sunday, his hands were so clean that it looked as if he never spent a day in the shop.

I think about that when I let my hands get dry and cracked. No grime fills in my fingerprints having only spent a summer working in the factory during college, but oftentimes, I fail to take care of them like I should. Washing dishes and doing laundry takes its toll, so I need to be more vigilant. I think about this as I’m almost finished frying the taco meat. Now, it’s time to add the spices. My hands are hot from being over the stove for fifteen minutes, and the heat from the flame evaporates any moisture left from the lotion.

Soon, dinner will be eaten, the dishes will be done once again, and I’ll have to take the trash outside to the curb, picking up wind-blown trash from my neighbors and putting it in my can. That’s what I feel my life is like sometimes: I’m chasing trash– a white Starbucks pastry bag, the solitary plastic bag that got recycled without having another use, and the single straw rolling downhill—all got loose from the depths of the recycling bin. Sometimes I’m picking up trash rather than chasing it: tiny bits of forgotten trash that make you wonder why you used a straw in the first place or did you really have to eat that chocolate chunk cookie from Starbucks, lovingly unfrozen and reheated in the microwave? I think of how trash tells a story of our lives: of what we need and want. So, why is there so much that we just throw away? And why do I spend so much time putting it back on the shelf, dusting it, washing it in the sink, or picking it up and off the floor?

I can measure my life in trash.

From the kitty litter bags to the Starbucks cups, from the taco meat packaging to the empty salsa jar. My life’s work is all piled up in trash: picking up other people’s trash and taking my own trash out. I stack the recycling high, hoping it won’t topple and cram the kitchen trash into the bin. I run to forget about the collective trash piled up in my life so far. The trash I’ve thrown away or recycled for another purpose, the useless garbage I’m saving for later or the knickknacks collecting dust on the mantle. Lacing up my shoes is like tying the trash bags closed for a time and chucking it in the bin. I shut the door behind me with my house key tied and tucked in between the tongue and the crisscrossed laces. All I have is the run to think about.

I run almost every day to reset my mind and clear it of the garbage and noise, rolling and echoing in my head–all of that is tied up in my laces for me to take out later. It will all be there after the run. My friend described my predicament best: my anxiety is like a loud radio, and running turns the volume down so I can hear the rest of my brain thinking in order to continue on with my day. Nevertheless, the noise is still there, ever-present. Occasionally, the volume is turned on full blast, but most of the time, it’s just white noise. I can deal with that. It’s what keeps me just outside of ordinary.