How to Clean an Empty Nest

Tyrel Kessinger

Photo Credit: Patrick Maloney/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Misc. Yell a command to the house. Anything. Issue orders for a jacket to be put away, a trombone to be practiced (or mercifully stopped), video game controllers to be put down and that you don’t care they’re not at a “good stopping point.” You do it if only to hear a loud disturbance, to assure yourself that you still possess the authoritative tone of a parental figure known to light fires under asses. You remember the vow you once made: today you will clean out the junk drawer whose time has finally come. Dig your hands through the tangled mass like a greedy yet unsatisfied pirate. Organize the phone connectors and adapters and spare keys and all the various whatnot. Roll your eyes as you toss the odds and ends carelessly left behind: random pen caps, broken rubber bands, a bottle of long dried up whiteout, etc. Reach to the back and pull free the folded up paper wedged in the crevice, crinkly and nearly ancient. You open it and see a child’s drawing: a magenta-tinted, multi-eyed alien beast creature of some sort, posing clumsily under the auspices of a crooked rainbow, a malformed pincer claw presenting a simple flower the color of dirty cotton candy to the world. Out of reflex you look around for the child who drew it, itching so wildly to dole out praise that you can feel your heart beating through your palms. It’s beautiful. Perfect. A masterpiece. Oh yes, I’ll keep it forever, you think you told them, hope you told them—now worried you didn’t tell them. Wild horses wouldn’t stand a chance. (You probably had to explain that, telling them it meant that nothing you loved could ever be separated from you.) But of course they can’t hear you, even if you forgot that they weren’t there. You try your best not to get it wet. This was a mess some years in the making.

Sweep. Take your time. What’s the rush? As if there was anyone around to ask anything of you. Use a broom, for god’s sake, get some exercise. Push your body around the empty house and not think about how pregnant with life it used to be. Treat the cleaning apparatus like a dance partner. Queue up some eighties hair metal bands you like and go to town. Both a blessing and a stinging curse: no blushing, embarrassed faces to see you tango other than the house that somehow remains quiet even with Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love (A Bad Name)” arena-stomping the atmosphere.

Dust. The lack of constant movement, of wrestling bodies and no-sleep sleepovers, of treasured items being removed and returned, have afforded the grime and grit the insurmountable opportunity to proliferate and disseminate. You wipe all but one window sill clean, composing a message in the film with a finger, wondering if anyone will see it before the next generation of dust comes to roost in the empty spaces that give the words their shape.

Breaktime! You will consider taking up smoking again and why not? That’s what you did on your breaks when you were a server in college, that lighthearted rom-com era preceding the time of All This. As then, there are no kids to hide it from, no examples needing to be set. But there is time and empty hands to be filled. For now, you fiddle with your phone, bright with that initial possibility of hope that an armada of missed messages or calls or even e-mails await you. But there’s only a text reminder for your doctor’s appointment later in the week. (Dutifully, you text “OK” to confirm.) On TV it’s The Price Is Right. You doze off during Plinko. So many things change, you think, before you fall asleep, but not Plinko. Plinko has never abandoned you. You wake and eat the same leftovers you’ve been eating for three days now. Used to be everything was consumed by hungry, devouring mouths. Now the hungry, devouring mouths have licked their lips and departed, eating under the same stars and moon but different roofs.


Tyrel Kessinger lives in Louisville, Ky. He is the stay-at-home father of two wild animals. Occasionally he finds the time to write things. Email: tlkessinger[at]

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