In two weeks a stranger will move into my house. This is the truth. In two weeks a friend I respect and trust will be living in my home. This is the same truth.
We met online and have known each other about two years. I believe we’ve become friends. At least, friendly enough that I asked him to house-sit while our family travels. DH is anxious. He doesn’t have two years of near-daily posts to reassure him. I, on the other hand, have seen this man's regrets and hopes. I’ve read stories of his family and his parents and his pets. We have not met in person, but I know him as well or better than many people with whom I spend time in real life. This is the strange thing about online friendships — the intimacy afforded by distance.
Still, I am nervous. Every time we displace ourselves I follow rituals of deep cleaning, but this time feels more urgent. My friend has never been inoculated to the quirks of my family. He’s never been over for supper or stopped by to chat. He’s coming in blind. And that makes me feel strangely naked and vulnerable. I scrub in preparation and wonder what stories my belongings will tell. What conclusions will be drawn from the spines on the his-n-hers bookcases -- my side full of young adult fantasy, gardening, and poetry, my husband’s a catalog of military history. The paintings on the walls and the sculptures in corners are bits of me on display. Who do they say I am?
I’m culling. I’ve gone through the linen closet and the bathroom cabinets. The children and I sorted through their rooms and captured five trash bags full of donations for the thrift store. Five years of old records are cleaned from my files. Ancient canned goods are pulled to the front to be eaten, and the freezer is nearly empty. The drifts of paper magnetted to the refrigerator have been curated to a few important pictures. I joke that I do this every time. I know better. I’m trying to make a good impression. This is silly, because — assuming my friend reads my posts in turn — he knows me as well as anyone.
This is all incidental. The intersection of our lives will be momentary. I will come home, and nothing will have changed. After months away, new books will be added to my shelf. I will see my art with fresh eyes. My friend will leave, hopefully to adventures of his own. We will stay in touch online, or maybe not. I will have met a friend. We will part, still strangers.