"Do you realize you have five open boxes of mint tea?" I ask, putting breakfast items away in the small cupboard Hervé uses for this purpose.
"No," he says, "they're all different kinds, aren't they?"
"Five open boxes of mint tea," I repeat.
"No, look," he says. "This one is mint verbena, this one is mint licorice, this one is mint verbena licorice, this one is green tea mint, and this one is just mint." He seems pleased with himself.
I look at the boxes jumbled in confusion in the tiny cupboard. "And then there's orange cinnamon, Earl Grey, Russian Earl Grey, chamomile, and some kind of Christmas blend." I sigh. "And there's this...powder all over. This white powder, it's everywhere." I soon spot the culprit - an open bag of protein powder, and then I see two more smaller bags of the powder, also open. I sigh again and reach for a sponge.
"Rachel, leave it, I'll clean it later."
"Well I know that won't happen," I say, determined to set some small order in this tiny, jumbled up apartment.
"Rachel, come on, just leave it, I'll take care of it."
I don't answer, and continue to clean out the cupboard. There's no stopping me once there's a sponge in my hands. I can see what's happening here, me playing the nagging girlfriend bit, and though they may jokingly play along for a little while, I know guys hate it. I also know it's probably too soon to play this card, to criticize his apartment, the way he lives, but at the same time I don't care. I only have two weeks left here, and he needs to hear it from someone, after all. "Do you really need three open bags of protein powder, anyway?" I ask skeptically.
"Yes, they're all different flavors," he responds.
"So, wait, you eat protein powder for the taste?"
"Well, no. But sometimes you want a change. Sometimes I might want chocolate, sometimes I might want coconut."
Though he is a brilliant man, at times I just don't understand his logic. Every so often I will pull something out of the fridge, only to have him take it out of my hands and say, "Well that's probably not good anymore," only to place it back into the tiny, crowded, dorm-sized fridge, as I look on in baffled amazement. When I first started coming to his apartment, I cast a quiet eye at the collection of bottles and recyclables surrounding his kitchen trash can. Instead of dwindling with time, the collection only grew, and after one evening when he had had some friends over, his apartment began to take on the appearance of that of a reclusive alcoholic. I finally started insisting that we take bottles out every time we left the apartment, bit by bit. At first he protested, "I'll do it later," though when I insisted that I, at least, would take down a few things, he rolled his eyes and grabbed a bottle, too. Gradually we started chipping away at the collection, until one day, a few weeks later, there was finally nothing left. The cupboard, the recycling, these are things that I can fix, but they are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg, the rest of which I have no control over. The stacks and stacks of folders and papers, one of the hazards of being a teacher, taking over every corner of his apartment. His desk space taken up by a clunky and redundant (now that he has his laptop) desktop computer and a non-working printer. The space under his tiny single bed crammed to capacity with comic books, dvd cases (mostly empty, the disks having gone who knows where), discarded condom wrappers and other trash. A surreptitious peek into his closet showed a chest-high pile of miscellany, including a) a vacuum cleaner and b) a weight bench, but not, however, a single stitch of clothing. There was not even a bar installed for hanging clothes, which I had previously and perhaps mistakenly thought was the whole point of a closet. Instead every article of clothing he has, from t-shirts to collared button-downs, is wadded in a ball and shoved tight into one of three narrow shelves in a small, built-in cabinet. (And I thought I had storage problems.)
But back to the kitchen.
"Do you have a...thing?" I ask, gesturing with my hands. "For cleaning up...stuff?" Foiled by the French language again.
"A dustpan?" he says. "No."
Though I had been pretty sure of the answer already, after having scoured his apartment looking for one after he had left for work the day before, I am still no less shocked by his response. "But how do you...clean?" I ask, mystified.
"I usually just use the vacuum, or a sponge," he says.
Other things his apartment is noticeably lacking: a spatula, wooden spoon, or cooking utensil of any kind. A microwave. An oven. "But how do you...cook?" I had asked the first time I had visited his apartment.
"I use the stove," he said, gesturing toward two burners in the countertop. Suffice it to say that when he cooks for me, it's pasta, nine times out of ten. In the morning he heats water in a pot on the stove, which we pour into instant powder to make our coffee.
He is 31 years old, and has lived in this apartment almost two years. Before that he shared an apartment with his brother just down the road for eight years. I don't understand this concept of "making do". I can't understand living your life like it's some never-ending camping trip. And while I know that for so many other reasons Hervé and I are not meant to be, part of me wonders how much of it is due to the fact that I cannot picture myself ever fitting into his messy, disordered, makeshift life.
Take note of this, men: If she doesn't feel at home in your apartment, she won't feel at home with you.
He needs a woman, I find myself thinking, in spite of myself. But it won't be me. I love a good project, but there's only so much I can do. And so for the next two weeks I will wash dishes and throw away expired dairy products and take bottles out to the recycling bin, because these are things I can do. And at the end of two weeks I will return to the house where I grew up, and I will unpack my clothes, fold them into drawers, and hang them in a closet. I will go to sleep in my big, soft bed, with extra pillows and crisp sheets, and I will turn to face the empty spot beside me, and I will wonder, Is this really better? And in response I will only be met with a long, undisturbed silence.