On Being Better At Bumbling

It was a long day inside my head. Most of it spent trying to figure out my life all in one day and have all of the answers so I could just get going on it after a good night’s sleep. Don’t try doing this. Or do, but be forewarned it’s mostly a futile and crazymaking activity.

I was in solitude, housesitting in the woods with only the company of three dogs for two weeks–all which would have been lovely things!–if not for a small existential crisis that happened at work the week before (that’s for a different post) and a small laundry list of other things I was also sorting out.

That night, I scanned the liquor shelf that wasn’t mine. I thought about how other people live. How the people who own the house live. How they’re welcoming and social and have civilized rituals that seem comforting. Like, fixing themselves a proper cocktail after a long day and having family dinner; an entirely foreign concept at this point in my life.

I don’t even know how to make a cocktail. And definitely not a proper one. I’ve never really been a big drinker. Though I admit, after perusing the liquor, I Googled how to make a Vodka Martini and got right to it. I stood at the spotless white marble counter, took out the ingredients, and, not surprisingly, found a proper Martini glass which I put into the freezer to chill.

In between the time I decided that the drink would pair just fine with cold, leftover Christmas ham and taking the crinkly foil pouch out of the fridge, someone knocked on the front door. It sounded fluttery and noncommittal.

Along with cat and dog care, my other housesitting duty was to clean their two Airbnb’s and chat with guests as necessary. Now let me insert here that I’m not welcoming and social right off with people I don’t know, unlike the people who live here. I’m a little more reserved to start out. But I can act well enough to sort of make it work.

It was the new guests at the door.

First thing I noticed is the people who rent these places are as random as a dice toss. I love that you really never know who’s going to show up at the door to introduce themselves.

There was the sweet yet nonadventurous looking couple who left behind the startling magenta box from their brand new “Harmony Rabbit” vibrator along with its discreet black bag in the small kitchen trash can. The box took up the entire can along with some orange peels. The discovery left me somewhere between hysterical laughter and horrified that I didn’t think before about what I was possibly touching when I cleaned the rooms.

Truthfully? They didn’t look like the type to try and spice up anything. I giggled at the thought and reminded myself that it’s hard to tell who people are from the outside. Anyhow, that was the day I started wearing gloves.

Then there was the couple that I never saw who somehow managed to drink all of the tea in one night and left their room smelling like a racehorse. Total unsolved mystery.

And the warm young couple with an edgy style and thick Eastern European accents—I couldn’t say which country exactly—who fell in love with the house dog, kept her happily captive in their room loving and doting on her, and finally let her out much, much later that night. In the morning they stopped in to say goodbye and thank you and to leave a divine plate of Lavash. 

Finally, the people at the door…

A stylishly dressed couple who rushed to the front door before they even parked their car. Instead, they left it partly up the driveway idling behind a big bush.  

They wanted to introduce themselves and they wanted restaurant recommendations. They were bubbly. And huggers. The kind of people who each takes a turn hugging a complete stanger. Right away.

It went roughly like this. They introduced themselves with their alliterative first names. I introduced myself with my also alliterative title, “Heather. The Housesitter.” 

From there, a palpable shift. “Oh,” the girlfriend said. “So. You’re… just the housesitter?”

Deep emphasis on “just.”

Without even a thought of social propriety (I am defective in this area as I mentioned) I parroted back to her, “Oh yep, yeah, yup. I am JUST the housesitter. So what type of restaurant are you looking for?”

I can be sarcastic and scoff about what she said and how she said it all day. But the truth is, her emphasis on “just” felt like the achy cold of biting into ice cream. 

I told myself when I stepped back inside that that isn’t the way she meant it. And even if she did. What’s actually at stake? My bruised ego? 

Nonetheless, I felt it jangling around in the back of my consciousness. It lingered long after I finished standing in the kitchen at the giant granite island (that itself is as big as my kitchen at home) to pick and sip at the Martini and ham feast.

The next morning, I woke early enough to take the dogs out into the woods before any of the guests awoke. The “just” was still jangling around. For some reason, I expected to walk out to the driveway and see something bougie and luxurious parked in the designated Airbnb space. 

What I saw is that the alliteratively named couple were just as “just” as I am. They just drove an old, beat up Ford Focus wagon. They were just Bay Area folks like I am. They were just people. What made me think that I was somehow “less” than them? Maybe because it was a weird day to start with?

And maybe the night before the “just” that flew out of her mouth really wasn’t how she meant it? Maybe she was projecting? Maybe I was? Maybe her “just” bumped into the existential crisis I had at work and ricocheted off the fact that I spent that whole day trying to figure out what I’m doing with my life?

If I’m to be kind and to the point, neither I nor the Airbnb lady knew anything about each other. And the cars we drive, what we wear, the houses we live in, where we’re from is not the point. Not the point of what’s on the inside anyway. We—I, them and everybody—are just people. Just humans going along trying to figure it out, attempting to just be something, learn something, make something of ourselves before we croak. 

All of these things made me think. In situations like this one, I do this thing (I can’t be the only one…) where I place people “above” me on an invisible pedestal. I’m learning that it’s also usually for an invisible reason. I made a promise to myself from there on to chill for a minute before making any decisions about a situation, to explore what’s actually going on, what’s real.

It’s not important to even worry about what most people think about me. It’s not necessary to spend the energy. So from here, my work is to do that less (and less and less and less). It’s important what I think and feel about myself because that is what directs how I think and feel.

The seed of that interaction is that we were people who knew nothing about each other aside from surface information gleaned during a quick interaction; the cars we drive, our first names, and the fact that I was housesitting and not the owner of the beautiful house in which I was staying.

We are all playing the lead in our own stories and ultimately serve as mirrors for each other. This can be helpful. It depends. Left unchecked, we project out onto others our beliefs about ourselves and they project back onto us their beliefs about themselves but we don’t usually notice overlap. Unless we’re looking. And not noticing is the way things can get all muddled, as it did for me.

I come back to the truest thing, for me. We are just the weirdest most complex things. At some level, we’re all going along trying to understand what it means to be human. We’re all bumbling along. Some of us actively working to do better at it.

This is my intention and my hope for myself. To be better at the bumble.

That’s all I got. For now.

Breathe, steady hare.

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