Friday, October 9, 2015

Not just a floor; it's a symbol

My house is a catastrophe. It has no floors, there’s plastic everywhere (supposedly to keep out the dust), and the oven and refrigerator are in the dining room, facing the walls. Closets had to be emptied, and I can’t reach the sink over all the power tools and scrap. Never mind, it’s covered in plastic anyway. Last night, the air compressor went off at 3 a.m. and I thought a plane had crashed into the house.
When I find a place for something, that is its place for the rest of its useful life. I don’t let things move. If the bath towels are on the third shelf, right side of the closet, they will be there from Day 1 to Day 10,950. All this external order gives me the freedom to have internal disorder (I call it creativity).

Now I am barely holding on to mental stability as I realize everything will have to be put back – once I locate it. Things are in boxes or stacks all over the house. My house is one giant fruit basket upset, and it’s all so DUSTY.

I think I’m hyperventilating. But that may be because this is a love story.

Twenty-six years ago, my husband wooed me with dates and social events, planned outings and invitations. Over the years, somehow social calendaring became my job. Many women friends tell me the same thing happened to them. Tim’s current idea of planning a date is calling at 4:30 and asking, “Are there any good movies?”

Meanwhile, I look for fun things to do, pick out theater events, invite friends over, arrange vacations. Tim is an eager companion, but I am in my Third Third and tired of having to do all the planning and inviting, the discovering of new, fun things. Plane tickets and websites and changing airfares; reservations and loyalty programs and Trip Advisor. And then he just gets to relax and enjoy?

So even though I am supposedly old enough and long-married enough to know better, I can lapse into something like this: Forget it, I am going to stop planning things for the two of us. When he notices that we’re not doing anything together, maybe he’ll plan something.

Maturity is not a requirement to growing older. You can grow older without it.

Which brings me back to the floors. Every night for two weeks, Tim came home from work and ripped carpet and flooring up. Carpet with horrible dust underneath, tenacious staples, and different subsurfaces. He lugged debris outside. He walked around and around, testing for squeaks, eliminating them. He talked to workmen to find out the best way around a problem. When Paul came over and said, “Y’know, now is the best time to level the stairs and make sure they’re all exactly the same height,” I said, “No, no, no! This job is too big!” An hour later, Tim said, “Paul’s right. Now’s the time,” and he shimmed one stair which required adjusting its neighbor which required adjusting that one’s neighbor, on and on. The stairs are now perfect. Each night, Tim would shower off dust and sweat and fall into bed.
I unloaded two bookcases.

Every now and then, I thought maybe I could help and we could do this together, but really, I hated the thought and he didn’t help me plan social events or vacations so why should I…?

And then one day, a light bulb went off. I realized the floors weren’t Tim’s; they were ours.

He was not working on the floors because he loved working on floors.

He was working on the floors because it was his way of building our life together. I’m not talking about a division of labor; it’s not about I-have-my-jobs-and-you-have-yours. It’s about this is our home and we live in it together so it needs to be nice and happy and secure. While I was planning little vendettas, he was … working on the floors.

Many years ago, someone once gave me advice on staying married: Try to remember the gifts you receive, not the ones you don’t.

It wasn’t the floors that reminded me; it was the man working on them.

1 comment:

  1. I like the advice about being thankful for the gifts you receive, not the ones you don't.
    Great essay Barbara.


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