The misery of expecting company
Special to Stars and Stripes September 22, 2023
On Monday morning, I sat at the kitchen island to write my to-do list for the week. Company was coming on Thursday, and there was much to do.
This wasn’t just any company. Not our siblings, who were easygoing enough to ignore the tumbleweeds of dog hair blowing through our house. Not our mothers, who were too old to see the moldy caulk in the corner of the shower. Not our high school or college friends, on whom we had enough blackmail “dirt” to keep them from complaining.
The houseguests coming Thursday were Doug and Suz, friends we’d met in 2001 while stationed in Norfolk, Va. Although Doug and Suz were Navy folks like us, our lives had been very different. When we met, we were in our mid-30s. Our family lived in a suburban house on a cul-de-sac with a playset in the back yard. I drove a minivan sprinkled with cold french fries, and my idea of luxury was taking long showers at the YMCA while the kids were in childcare.
Doug had recently left active duty to be an airline pilot, so he and Suz bought a house in a cool part of Virginia Beach, steps from the ocean. Without any kids to worry about, they owned a vintage red Jeep Wrangler, and their “family room” contained a large pool table and a stocked liquor cabinet. Their home decor included original paintings from their favorite modern artists. They went to rock concerts, took winter ski vacations and ate at Michelin Star restaurants around the globe.
At the top of my to-do list, my handwriting started at a pleasingly legible 16-point script. But as I thought of more and more tasks to squeeze onto the small slip of paper, it became barely visible. “I can’t let them see our kitchen like this … they make their own sushi, for criminy’s sake,” I muttered, as panic set in.
I dug underneath the sink like a deranged underground miner, coming up with three sponges, six bottles of cleaning products and the frayed toothbrush I used to scrub dog doo out of tennis shoe treads. In a frenzy, I scoured the cabinets, appliances and backsplash. I feather-dusted the fan blades, mopped the floor and collected cobwebs in the corners.
While wiping up crumbs, I spied the melange of health aids I kept on the countertop for easy access — Metamucil for regularity, and a large pill organizer packed with a self-prescribed assortment of vitamins intended to delay my eventual demise. “How embarrassing,” I realized, quickly stuffing it all into a drawer.
On Tuesday, while vacuuming the living room, I noticed the water rings on Aunt Millie’s buffet and the fresh chew marks on my parents’ 1978 coffee table from our seven-month-old lab, Gilligan. The hodgepodge of secondhand furniture that once passed for “shabby chic” suddenly looked like dusty old junk. Remembering Doug and Suz’s sleek modern home decor, I futilely plumped pillows and hid knickknacks.
On Wednesday, while putting fresh sheets on the guest bed, I saw myself in a mirror and gasped. I was young when I met Suz. In the last 22 years, I’d raised three children while moving seven more times. I’d lost my legal career, countless friends and bladder control. I’d grown squishier, wrinklier, saggier and infinitely more tired. Conversely, Suz and Doug had spent that 22 years living at their beach house, developing careers, working out, straightening their teeth and growing their enormous friend group.
“The Navy did this to me!” I scrambled for an explanation for why I’d let myself go, envisioning Suz looking me up and down with her aqua-blue eyes, blonde locks and lean frame.
Just then, the retro “dance” ringtone I’d selected on my phone startled me. “Hello, Suz?” I answered, apprehensively. We discussed their arrival time and our plans for the weekend, before I confessed, “I’m really old now, by the way.”
To my surprise, my military spouse friend of 22 years replied, “Me too,” and we shared stories about the pains in our hips and knees. They say, “Misery loves company,” but I was just happy that my friend and I still had something in common after all.
Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email: email@example.com