I envisioned my house exploding. I will teach myself how to do many things, but I won’t mess with electricity or natural gas.

“Emily, I seriously don’t mind to come fix that natural gas leak on your water heater. But I know you have your girls tonight, so I don’t want you to feel like you have to introduce me before you’re ready to do that.” My daughters would love Keith. But maybe he was right…was it too soon? What’s the rule on that?

Our friend Sharon had told him to text me last Monday, so we had only known each other a little over a week now. We had an easy and natural and immediate connection. I can’t remember a single moment of feeling awkward or nervous. I had decided I was fine to be a single mom forever if that’s what I needed to do. But then…Keith. 

The empty shoes beside me were huge. Four daughters and an old house. I wouldn’t settle for a good time for me. All or nothing, and who could take on this much? Don’t waste my time. I’m busy. I wasn’t concerned about myself. My days were so busy, always something to do for someone. 

Nights were a harder adjustment. Life got way too quiet. Who can sleep with so much quiet? There was no one in my bed to be bothered by my freezing cold toes. I had to remember to lock the doors. That had never been my job. I never remembered to do it on the way to bed. I always had to get up and go do it a few hours later. Might as well get up and do it, not like I was sleeping anyway. I always shudder a little as I lock it. 

“No, no. It’s not that, Keith. I’d love to introduce them to you. I just…I didn’t tell you about the leak so that you would offer to help me. I’m not like that. I will figure it out. I already called a plumber and left a message.” To be completely honest, I was thinking to myself–does he really know how to do this? Don’t most people just call experts for the dangerous stuff?

“Okay. I just want you to know that I’m willing to help. And I hate to see you pay a ton for someone to do something that I can do for you.” Hmm, he sounded confident that he could do it. But I don’t know…I couldn’t seem to stop seeing my house exploding in my mind. Did he just want to impress me? 

“My house is old, and if something goes wrong–and with repairs here…it usually does–then I can rely on the plumber to deal with the extra issues until it’s all working properly.” I don’t need a hero. I have to learn to be my own hero. 

“Well just don’t let him overcharge you.” I loved his voice. I loved that he often called instead of texting. I loved that he didn’t play any games or make me guess if he was interested. I’m too old for that crap.

“I don’t know what a fair price would be.” I had to let the plumber do this. Besides, I couldn’t let him meet my girls already; I hadn’t even known him for two weeks.

“It shouldn’t cost more than $30-40 for all the parts you need. It shouldn’t take him more than an hour…maybe $40-50 in labor. He should give you a free estimate, but don’t pay more than $100. Let me know what he says.” Keith was actually at Lowe’s when he called, but I didn’t know that. 

________________________________

I tried to pullstart the mower for an hour. I Googled it. It wouldn’t start. Or I was just doing it all wrong. I’m not helpless. I can figure this out. And as soon as I finish crying, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. 

Sometimes you call Dad.

“Please just come over and teach me to start this stupid thing. I want to know how. I hate feeling scared and helpless about something so dumb.” It was a beautiful day. I closed my eyes and let the sun warm my face and dry my tears. 

It was probably harder on Dad than it was on me. I’m sure he just wanted to mow it for me. I’m sure he didn’t want to watch me mow and cry. But I made him let me do it for myself while he watched and gave occasional pointers. Lean it like this to start it. When it makes that noise, let go of the self-propel lever so it won’t get bogged down.

“I’m proud of you, Em. The tough get going.” Sometimes you look at your daughter, and it doesn’t matter how old she’s gotten, all you can see is your little girl. 

“Thanks Dad.” I was proud of myself too. I wasn’t a damsel in distress. I don’t even think I’m a damsel. I think damsels are fancy. I’m not fancy. But I’m pretty sure I’m not tough either. Crying while I work, thinking I’m too pretty to mow. 

The grass was long; the yard was big. Demetrius said he was going to come mow it yesterday. He didn’t. He had been staying at his mom’s. 

It had to be done today or it wouldn’t get done for another week. I texted him. No response. Maybe he thought I was just trying to come up with ways to get him back home. Maybe I was. 

I know why people pay other people to mow. It sucks. But I learned. Knowledge is wealth that no one can take away from you. Maybe I don’t have money, but I have my brain. 

My great-grandmother always ate every bit of gristle and meat off a chicken bone. GG would say, “Poor people got poor ways.” I owned the mower. It made sense for me to learn to use it. 

A few weeks later I found a hotel receipt with that date. Oh. Hm. Guess you weren’t at your mom’s while I was learning to mow. 

I don’t wish it was me. I don’t want to be her. I’ve been her. I like being this version of me. 

____________________________

I called my 3 older girls to the kitchen. Margaret was 13; Hazel was 11; Audrey was 9. I was warming up the leftover spaghetti and meatballs I had made the night before. Keith had come over while they weren’t home, and I cooked for him.

Clara, 16 months, had been dropped back home at 8pm, so she was the only one who met Keith. She piled her toys on him one at a time. This is code for–my toddler likes you.

“Is it too soon for y’all to meet Keith? He might come over again tonight to help me fix the water heater.” I knew what they’d say. I guess that’s why I asked. Audrey had already gotten mad at me that Clara met him before them.

“It’s not too soon! Tell him to come over!” I don’t even remember who said it. Probably all three. 

“Okay! Finish heating this stuff up. Oh and watch Clara for a few minutes.” They all three fell over themselves to take over for me. I rushed downstairs to my room. 

I called him back. 

“Do you know what tools and supplies I would need to buy? I’ll let you fix it. But well…I mean you can walk me through every step, but I want to do it.” I wonder if he could tell in my voice that this was the point of no return for me. I was smitten. 

“I’ve been at Lowe’s this whole time figuring out what supplies we will need. I own all the tools already. I’ll be right over.” He sounds a little smitten himself. And he’s so cute. Who owns that many tools?

I looked in the mirror. I should change my clothes. Do I have time? What’s a good, not too obviously nice…repair-stuff kind of outfit? No. Just leave this on. It will look obvious. I should run a brush through my hair. Should I make something else since he ate spaghetti with me last night? I should tell the girls to clean up. Nah.

This is me. This is how I dress at home. These are my girls. This is my old house. We eat leftovers. Our life is messy. Welcome. 

We fixed it together. I remember a few things that I learned, but I could never have done it without Keith, and I couldn’t fix it without him now either. 

And I don’t want to. I never want to do life without Keith. 

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