Salt on a Lemon
Each year I try new tricks to clean the rust stains from the porcelain sinks and bathtubs in Eagles Mere. The taps drip, and though the well water, itself, is clear, the stains resist my efforts to erase them. I do not recall such stains from childhood, but they plague my “not good enough, poor housekeeper,what am I trying to prove, anyway,?, aren’t I too old for this?” sub-par housekeeping labors.
This July, during my cherished “down time,” when I am supposed to be floating in the lake or thinking great thoughts or reading novels, I troll the internet looking for old fashioned remedies or new products or miraculous ways to remove rust stains from porcelain without damaging the porcelain. What the hell is wrong with me? Salt on lemons? I have salt and I have lemons. Apply salt to half a lemon. Rub vigorously. I rub with zeal. The circular rubbing motion feels familiar. The salt stings my fingers. I think I did this a few summers ago and it worked. Not this summer. In disgust, I leave the lemon. For three days. Maybe it will bleach the porcelain. Success through neglect.
I return to Google. Hydrogen peroxide? I pour it on. I spritz it on. I blot it on. I rub. I wait. I ignore. I creep into the pantry, sneak up to the sink, as if I might surprise the stain into disappearing. It’s still there, the faint imprint of a lemon also visible, mocking me. What is wrong with me? Why am I obsessed with these rust stains? “Let it go,” I chastise myself, Elsa-like, on the top of my own mountain.
I am good at lots of things I tell myself, just not this. My children are rich in empathy. I am a wife who loves her husband. I’m a good friend. I have a sister I love more and more ferociously the older we grow. I’m a great improvisational cook, an expansive hostess, a pretty great drama teacher, an engaging English teacher, a writer in progress, a resilient head of school, but it bugs me that my porcelain sinks are perennially stained. It bugs me a lot. The thing just may not be the thing.
“Could it be you thrive on crisis?” my friend, Tara, a super-elegant headmistress pal asks me earlier this summer.
I roll the question around. I hate the idea. It’s true that I’m good in a crisis, but surely I am not trying to make a crisis out of rust stains. Except that I keep fussing at them. Trying new remedies. I can’t fix them. I can’t. The thing about crises is that I’ve had a lot of practice and that, generally, there’s a lot to do—letters to write, tasks to accomplish. There’s a peculiar illusion of control, even in the face of absolute horror or chaos. I click into auto-pilot, just keep moving until I don’t need to move anymore. There’s some comfort in knowing the drill. The thing about rust stains is that all my home remedies fail me. Yet I keep fussing. It’s as if I can’t stop myself.
In yoga class today, I suffer from monkey mind. I cannot concentrate, can’t focus or quiet my mind. Yesterday, I received the devastating news of the death of a friend and mentor. And there is nothing I could do about it. All day my mouth tastes metallic. Like blood and rust. I lay on my mat. I surrendered. As if I ever had a choice.
The rust stains stand in for the big stuff. They won’t bend to my will any more than my right knee can on my mat. The rust stains aren’t interested in my ability to cope, in my superior crisis management skills. They will endure from one summer to the next. I cannot them disappear. Someday, someone else may come along with the remedy—probably my sister. But I am not that magic maker. I’m a humble headmistress—a mediocre housekeeper with big ambitions, a broken heart and a stained sink.