When We Have Mud On Our Shoes

 When the house is dirty, my mom turns on the radio and dances. I suspect that in our old house—across the street from a muddy cornfield in Greentown—my father is doing the same thing.

My dad always had lots of rules when I was growing up. They were supposed to keep our lives clean. Sometimes I only learned the rules after I’d broken them.

“What makes you think you can talk to me that way?” he demanded after I yelled “no” over the summer.

But sometimes, I just forgot the rules.

“You know you’re supposed to check your shoes before you go tracking crap all through the house,” he said when I was already halfway across the living room, lifting my shoe and spotting a bit of dried mud.

My dad taught me to never settle for dirt. Not in me, not anywhere, not ever. Late at night, he sat in the garage scrubbing his tires and reading books about marriage. And even after the divorce, the threats, the blocked phone calls, he still won’t settle for me saying “bullshit” when “crap” is much cleaner word. And secretly, I won’t either.

Some people live their lives obsessing over right and wrong, black and white. I’m one of them. I keep a tally somewhere deep inside me to count up all the times I’ve crossed the line. I imagine every time I “sin” on purpose that I’m injecting something dark into my spirit and kissing my ticket to heaven goodbye. And then I get scared because who wants to go to hell? So I think of all the good things I’ve done and line them up with my evils. This good thought will trump that bad attitude. And this act of kindness will excuse my rebellion back in November. I’m clean. I have to be clean again. But I know that even after my dad had meticulously scrubbed the kitchen clean, it always filled with dirty dishes and bread crumbs. I’m never really clean, not really. And my life is full of evidence.

I was walking out to the car a few days ago when I slipped and fell into a nearby bush. I said what any sensible person might say: Shit. And then I wondered if my brother had heard me, and I climbed into the car blushing a little. It seems like I’m always making a mess. In yoga class last Tuesday, I did a lot of falling during the balance poses. After a few tries at one of them, the instructor came over to hold me in place. “I’m not going to let you fall,” she assured me as I hesitated into the pose again. I opened my chest and looked at the ceiling, willing myself to stop teetering. Just get it right, Jessica. Just get it right. But my footprints were on the carpet, and she had already seen.

I have mud on my shoes and I’m tracking it everywhere. Upstairs where I try to sleep. My table at Starbucks, where I sip hot chocolate and try to write. At the altar, where I take the Eucharist without really believing. And sometimes I track the mud into my car, where I turn up the music and tap my foot to the kind of 80s tune that would have both of my parents dancing. I’m clean.