My garage. It was the grossest space in this old house, and that was a hard trophy to win.
All cabinets were seafoam green, with work surfaces of grimy retro linoleum peeling up in every countertop corner.
There was dust crusted onto everything, not dry and loose–crusted, 40 years thick. Not “flutter the feather duster over it in my maid costume” dust, but “powerwash it, scrub with bristley brushes, ruin your jeans, ruin your hair; find out what you’re made of” dust. That kind.
My dryer vented into the garage, regularly keeping the air steamy, and I imagine…remoistening new dust layers day after day after month after year after decade. Dust, moistened dust, dried dust, new layer dust, moisten, crust over…
I don’t know the exact nuances of making a 40-year thick crusting of dust. I only know the state of my garage when I moved in. I only know how much scrubbing and scraping it took.
The rickety garage door, also seafoam green, was not well insulated, was not properly sealed at the bottom. It was freezing in there unless the dryer was steaming it up, or the tiny hazardous gas heater was on. Flames shot out of it several inches high, more than once I saw dry leaves meet their demise to that fiery little beast.
This is probably dangerous, I would think as I rubbed my cold, bony fingers together in front of flames. When did my knuckles get so wrinkly? I can pinch the skin of a cold knuckle and it will stay pinched…then slooowly, lazily melt back into place.
The weather-stripping on the bottom of the garage door was flapping off and severely gapping in many spots. They say to build your house on a hill, to sit there majestic and wise. People can lean back and look up to admire it. A shining example on display, make it glass even. What’s there to hide?
My house was built at the bottom of a hill. My driveway serves as a slide for rainwater, nothing to slow its flow toward the busted weather-stripping.
Muddy rainwater never flooded the garage the 4 years I’ve owned the house, but it would seep in and settle…dry slowly, leaving behind only the dirt residue. Charm…adds a bit of charm, an optimist might say. Dirt is character? Yes. Sometimes.
I walk into the garage. I feel the weight of this project grip me, pull me under water.
I need this crusty garage to be usable space. Dear God…where do I start…I look around for a welcoming place. I don’t find one.
November is too cold. I was born in Wisconsin, lived there til I was 4. No, Arkansas November isn’t as bad as Wisconsin. Think positive, brain, and stop singing “November Rain” by Guns N Roses.
So I pull everything out of it and onto the driveway. Every cabinet, every rusty paint can, every gritty ziploc bag filled with every jingle of unorganized nail and bolt and crazy unknown bits of metal. Keep these? I should keep all these, right…? I will need these old nails one day…
I try not to think of the old man who lived here before me. He and his wife were the only owners, from 1972 when the house was built until 2012 when I bought it.
I know he was 86 when he passed. I found his obituary. His daughter gave me the keys to the house at the closing; the keychain has some small, clear plastic prism hanging from a short, beaded metal chain with a cylinder clasp. I don’t know what you call it. You place the last bead of the chain into the opening on the cylinder and press. I should keep this keychain in his honor.
I shiver. November chill? Or thoughts of which room did he die in? Was it in here? A hospital? What’s with all the plant hooks on the ceilings? Why did one have a thin leather dog collar hanging on it? What is this blackish-brown smear on the textured paint of the wall right next to the basement toilet…?
I enlist help to clean the garage–to power wash, to scrub, to paint. My nephew and my three oldest daughters spend hours on it with me. I buy wafer board and have it cut to size for new countertops. My dad screws them onto the old wobbly cabinets for me.
And I don’t care how the paint job looks, anything will be an improvement. I do not care, just get it covered. We use the leftover paint that I already have.
I have my girls slop espresso-bean colored paint on every cabinet and countertop. The cabinets are sitting on visqueen in my driveway. The paint glues the plastic to the bottom of the cabinets. I have to hold the visqueen down with my old cheerleading Asics and lift to peel the cabinets free. Obviously, I never got rid of these Asics from twenty years ago because obviously I am going to be working on my toe-touches and herkies some day soon. Any day now.
My nephew and I paint all walls gray–two dark gray and one light gray. Maybe it looks artistically chosen. Ah, my accent wall…yes. And here we have one set of 2×4 shelves nailed together shoddily, we chose to paint these a bright Caribbean blue. It’s beautiful…it was meticulously planned and designed. It was…what we had.
Nick (nephew) brought his music, and I bumped that shit. I made up my own lyrics and would not be dissuaded. I forget the band name; it was a bunch of letters, like SKBRTKB…you should get their album. I especially enjoyed their song that goes–“My girl’s gonna sit in the mud! My girl’s gonna sit in the mud!”
Now, Nick who could barely breathe during his explanation, he wanted me to believe they said–“My girl’s got a city to run!” But shhh, shh…shush, Nick. Don’t ruin my moment. I dropped it low and sang along. Me in my old Asics, dropping my ass into piles of dust around the garage–“My girl’s gonna sit in the mud!”
I still got it. Maybe I can do a toe-touch in these jeggings? Hang on. Kick this leg up, then kick that leg up. Okay, they wouldn’t bust. Hop a little…eh…it’s too slanted out here. Otherwise, I’d kill it.
I leave all the cabinets and crap on my driveway overnight. You don’t really have to be in a hurry to move stuff until you get a notice from the city. Shockingly, no one stole any of it over the two nights it sat out there.
It was November 2014, and I didn’t sleep a lot most nights since the end of September, when Demetrius left. Might as well get up super early and buy garage floor paint. I got a midnight blue, and some paint flecks to sprinkle on top like Christmas cookies–a variety of grays.
Nothing like good honest work to occupy a mind in the middle of a divorce, to tire an already tired body and soul. The high-gloss topcoat is moodier than I am. It only wants certain temperatures. But…I don’t have time to wait til Spring. And I suppose this is why it dried cloudy. Good enough. Better than it was. The clouds add some depth, an unexplored galaxy of paint specks. What new adventures are in store for the garage’s next 40 years…
I order a $2700 new garage door. It is so ridiculously out of place on this house. I don’t give a crap. To my credit, I have great credit. If I say I will pay you, you will be paid. I don’t care if my choices make no sense to someone.
A jewel in a pig’s snout: my lovely new well-insulated garage door, I will pay it off before the accrued interest ever hits. There are worse choices to be made in life. I’ve made plenty of them before, and now I’ll leave those worse ones for someone else.
I put everything back into the garage very neatly. I had a lot of extra furniture, a big tv, all our bikes, bookshelves and books and books and books, sports equipment, lawn mower and crap, paint and hardware.
Demetrius messages me some days later that he’s going to bring over the last of my boxes. What’s even left of mine there? A truckload. What’s in the boxes, I can’t even imagine or care. He piles them into my newly cleaned, freshly painted, just organized garage.
Holiday decorations, photo albums, candles, picture frames, the weird platters and dishes, electrical chargers and cords that go to…who knows what…
Piles and piles of crap. And my irrational attachment to them. NO! I’m going to use that one day! Won’t I? Does this have a good sentimental value to me?
I can’t do this yet. I can’t look through it. I just leave it all in there. I know I will hang on to things I need to get rid of. Unopened boxes of memory in my garage, in my heart. I thought I cleaned this place…
“Emily?? What’s wrong? What is it?” Keith approaches me in my garage. It is March 2015. We just met February 16.
“This shit is breaking me. I don’t know what to keep, what to burn, what to sell, what to do with any of it.” It is too early in our relationship for a breakdown, but I am who I am, and I feel what I feel.
He wraps his arms around me, pinning my arms to my sides with an upward, lifting force. I sink onto him.
“I had to do this, too. It’s hard to go through everything, but you will be glad when it’s all done.” He rubs my back. We don’t hide from each other.
“I don’t want you to see me like this, but I can’t go through all this stuff and not cry. I know I won’t be able to.” Phony is not my forte, maybe at times in my past, it was. But not now.
“Well…do you want to be alone while you go through it all? I can go somewhere.” He releases his hold and backs away some to see my face.
“No. I don’t want do this alone. I need help deciding what I should keep. But I will need you to be understanding, too. I will explain exactly what’s going on in my head or heart, and I will need you to understand and not be upset.” I look at him. My eyes say–I don’t want to go through it alone. And also…I don’t want to go through it alone.
“Okay. I can do that.” Keith takes me back into his hug.
He is going to keep me off the show Hoarders when my kids move out. He is better at explaining what needs to go. I trust him. I don’t always listen, but he is right.
I watch episodes of that show Hoarders, and yeah, these people are extreme cases, but their words don’t always sound crazy to me. Most people who watch are probably like–whoa, they’re insane!
But I have to admit that…their logic often makes sense to me. And when people go through so much emotional trauma in their lives, I can understand that they might revolt in these sad, severe ways.
We watched an episode recently of this old guy living in his yard instead of his house. He had piles of clothes; he slept on a pile of blankets with a tarp covering him. He was a tough veteran, and I could see myself getting along fine with him over a cup of coffee…in some place other than his home.
Prideful, stubborn, unconventional, thrifty, resourceful, unconcerned with pleasing society, lovers of personal freedom. I do relate to some personality traits of some of these people on SOME levels. I’m not saying these feelings are all GOOD; I’m just saying I can empathize.
Bugs, rodents, unworking plumbing, no livable spaces, room upon room of no walking room …now I can’t get on board with any of THAT.
My dad always said to us–the order of your bedroom is a reflection of the order of your mind. I think about that a lot, especially when I am holding something, looking at it, deciding if I should get rid of it.
Keith rallies for me to let go of things. He’s right. Will I ever watch these VHS movies? I mean seriously.
Keith arrived in my life during a transition period. I guess I could’ve pretended that I had been healed for months, but that’s not how I am.
A wound doesn’t heal completely when you keep ripping it open together. And that’s exactly what Demetrius and I did September through January, kept it all ripped open.
Ripped open through his cheating, through my obsessing, through the separation, through the sleepless nights, through the move, through him pushing me away, through me pushing him away, through him clinging o me…trying to keep hold of some part of me, through me clinging to him…trying to keep hold of some part of him.
Hard to heal with that much overlap of big life events; it takes a lot of honesty.
February wasn’t long after all of this. I had been slowly facing the truth, but that doesn’t mean Keith entered my life when I was healed.
I wasn’t entirely healed, but I wasn’t a broken half-person, desperately looking for someone to fill a void either. I was a complete person in my relationship with God, but still a very hurt person.
I needed a strong man, who has a kind and understanding heart. Someone I could be completely honest with.
Someone who could help me understand what to hold onto in my life, and what to let go.