In 2012, on my birthday, my friends showed up at my house with their arms full of cleaning supplies. Instead of cupcakes and shiny presents, they carried mops, buckets, rags, rubber gloves, knee pads, buckets of paint, and murphy oil soap.
Did I mention I have the best friends in the world?
As instructed by Adriana, I’d already undergone phase 1 of the makeover: removing all items from my bedroom. Each item I removed revealed a new horror: A giant dust oxen, in the process of mating with a pantiliner. A shriveled pea, a crumpled piece of paper with the words “Genital Crab Race” scrawled on it. Brown-tipped ear plugs, wrapped up with broken ear buds. Playing cards stuck together with nail polish.
“Well, it was hard and also scary, but I got everything outta there,” I said, walking my friends to my now empty, but completely filthy room.
“Oh my god. It’s worse than I thought,” said Julie, examining the Jackson Pollock stained walls. “Ew, is this ketchup?”
“Either that or blood,” I said. “I’m a barbarian you know.”
“Jesus. I think I need a drink before we get started,” she said.
And so, we gathered outside, to do a ceremonial shot of whiskey, and breathe in the fresh air before heading into the dungeon of my neglect.
And then we donned our rubber gloves.
I’ve asked my friends to submit their own versions of what happened after this–while they remember the before and after, both of them reported it was a blackout haze of dirty bucket water, violent scrubbing, gagging, and scraping.
While my friends hunched over crusty splatters of pea soup, I took artistic photos and tried to keep them motivated with cheerful observations and antics. (Hey, someone had to be the cheerleader!) (also, it was my birthday!)
At some point, I noticed a rainbow prism shining into my room, where Julie was scrubbing some old sputum off the walls.
“Guys, a rainbow a rainbow!!” I announced. “This is a good omen from the gay parade birthday gods! Hold that pose Julie! Okay, now look like you really mean it. Give me a smile. Okay, good!”
“I think I’m gonna hurl,” said Adriana, pointing to something in the corner. “Did a bug just crawl out of that old cheetoh?”
After the bedroom was thoroughly cleaned, and disinfected several times over, Adriana set to work on taping the walls to begin painting them Wild Raisin.
Meanwhile, Julie scrubbed down my desk outside–the beautiful, solid oak desk that the nice old gays gave to me a few years earlier was completely laquered with weed resin and chum. My promise to them that I’d take good care of it, long abandoned.
Along with all the hilarity, of course, was shame. A shame that had been growing since I purged my closet a few months earlier, and unearthed the corpse of a long-dead film prop. The shame continued to bloom, and haunt me through my excavation mission under the bed. How is it acceptable that a 35 year old woman treat her own surroundings like a refugee camp? How could I justify my neglect by saying “Oh, well, I’m an artist, I’m too busy videotaping myself giving birth to Giant Meatballs to really do any of that ordinary people cleaning stuff. Besides, one day I’ll be rich and famous and hire someone to do that. For now, I’m cruisin at too high an altitude, baby.”
It was simply not okay for me to continue disrespecting myself as I had been. Mother nature may have cursed me with a pathological near-sightedness and manky teeth–but she blessed me with a bright and brassy inner voice. “Forget your art projects for now,” said the voice. “This is the shit. And it’s only the start. You wanna break free from your demons? You wanna find your way out of the belly of the whale? Then grab a rag and get down on your hands and knees, bitch, and clean some crud. CLEAN YOUR WAY TO FREEDOM.”
(Fortunately, I’m also not smart enough to second guess or argue with my intuition)
And so, after the painting was finished, Adriana brought me into my newly scrubbed, newly painted bedroom, where we stood in front of a giant fan and gaped.
“You know what this is?” she asked.
“The best birthday ever???”
“No. It’s A clean vag. Your bedroom is a metaphor for your cooter. Just remember that.”
“I will.” (And I did.)
After my friends went home to bleach themselves, drink, and douche, I lay on my bed marvelling at my walls. For the first time in nearly a year, I felt a little hopeful about life. Like, in all of the darkness, I could see a tiny pinprick of light now. And if I continued on this strange journey of personal hygiene and house cleaning, I would eventually find my way to the sun once again.
And so, over the next year, I kept my promise to the dominatrix of my intuition. The bedroom was only a start. The next weekend, I purged and cleaned my pantry. Then I tackled my bathroom. Then the kitchen. I opened and emptied every drawer and cupboard finding horror after horror. I got rid of the dumpster-dive couch full of spider nests. I learned to love my mop and bucket time, and rejoiced every time I smelled Murphy Oil soap, because it made me think of my friends, and what a special gift they gave me on my birthday. Truly, a gift that keeps on giving, even to this day.