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first person

Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

I needed saving. Not from a fire-breathing dragon, but from myself and my unreasonable and implausible desire to keep things clean 110 per cent of the time. My knight in shining armour doesn’t wield a sword, he wields a vacuum cleaner.

Cleaning can make things feel orderly in a world full of chaos, it can feel meditative and cleansing. But I can take that obsession too far. I struggle to realize that things don’t need to be immaculate all of the time. In midwinter, I can be found in the garage soaking our car’s floor mats or wiping down every inside surface of the vehicle touched by dust and mud. In the house, thanks to two dogs and the painfully long freeze and thaw season in Calgary, my vacuum cleaner and Swiffer mop are basically extra appendages to my petite frame. The waltz of the cleaning apparatuses is a dance I love to hate. Often, I become a damsel in frenzied distress trying to keep everything spotless.

In the midst of a daily panic attack over dirt, I sat on the steps in the entryway of our home. I was infuriated at the leaves and mud that the bottom of our shoes had brought in after our walk. I had already vacuumed the small space twice, and the thought of leaving the mess until the next morning bothered me just as much as the thought of retrieving the vacuum from the basement again.

I was too tired to do this dance. Before I could even mutter a complaint or squeak out a single word of frustration, my husband trudged down the stairs and emerged seconds later with our trusty cordless Dyson.

Without saying a word, my knight stoically took to the task of vacuuming the entryway for what would have been the third time that day.

I covered my face, trying not to laugh and cry at the ridiculousness of my perfectionism and extreme vigilance toward dirt and grime. An obsession only made worse since working from home during the pandemic.

He did it because he knew I would do it secretly while he was in the bathroom brushing his teeth, tears flowing, or while he was out walking the dogs. I think he understood I needed saving from myself. So, I watched as he vacuumed every inch of the entryway, ensuring the Dyson sucked up every minute trace of dirt, and my heart almost exploded with love and adoration.

My knight knows me too well. So much so, that he understands the joy a clean house brings my soul. He doesn’t judge my genuine satisfaction at the sound the vacuum makes when it sucks up little specks of dirt that I cannot see but I can hear are there. He pretends not to notice when I sneak in a little dust busting while he is in the shower, even though I may have already vacuumed that day. He doesn’t chastise me for how often I pull the vacuum out of the basement closet. In fact, I wonder if maybe he secretly understands.

Looking back, it is clear to me that it wasn’t necessarily romance or charm that led to me to fall in love with my husband, it was the perfect lines he made in the carpet while vacuuming. I distinctly recall the first time he vacuumed our first apartment and being wildly impressed at how beautifully he mastered getting the carpet fibres to flow in just the right way, leaving neat, flawless lines. Later, I noticed that when he trimmed his beard over the bathroom sink, he tidied up with the vacuum and always restored the floors to a perfect white shine. Never have I had to experience tiny beard clippings sticking to the bottoms of my feet.

So, when I get anxious over a little muck in the entryway of our house, I think he gets it. He may not understand my irrational compulsion, but he gets me.”

Over the years, my husband has wielded more than just a vacuum. Sometimes, he carries bags of groceries after a long day. Often, he picks up two leashes when I am too tired and weary to walk our beautiful dogs. Occasionally, it’s a bouquet of flowers he brings home. And he always offers a shoulder to lean on whenever I need it.

Most noticeably, however, my knight wields a careful and deliberate love. A love that is just as thoughtful and attentive as those lines he creates while vacuuming the carpet, with all the fibres in the right place due to his careful touch and attention to detail.

My knight doesn’t say much, but he notices everything. He is intuitive and takes pride in every little thing he does, no matter how menial the household chore. When he speaks, he can make you feel like the most important person in the room. He is calm when I am not. He knows what needs to be done to bring me back down to Earth.

I’ve learned that my knight need not sport shining armour. He is far from perfect, but it’s his willingness to help keep me sane and grounded that makes him shine so bright. Quietly lugging the Dyson up from the basement had very little to do with making sure the floor stayed clean – it had everything to do with knowing me to the core.

Erica Fredstrom lives in Calgary.

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