Before it was gone, I needed to say goodbye. Weeks ago I was in the liquor store and there was a beer that screamed at me. Red Wheelbarrow. A red ale named after the William Carlos Williams poem. I bought it and put it in the fridge at the house with a note on it. After the final fight, the one where I drove off with Kristin running out of the garage like something out of a movie, I went back and popped the beer, going room to room, saying goodbye.
We stayed in the guest room the first night, thinking it was big enough for us. It wasn’t, though the square footage was the same as the room we eventually moved into.
When we changed our minds, we painted our to-be room. Mamma Irvin and her friend created an accent wall with a darker shade and some kind of plastic bag trick. It was a weird green blue color with a fancy name. It matched our bed spread, and Kristin moved her clothes into the closet. We split the dressers and I put my clothes in the office. Her clothes overflowed into the guest room.
Before we moved in, I’d taken a day off work to clean the carpets, renting a deep cleaner and blaring a podcast in my ears. I started at noon, maybe, and finally finished the house by 10 or so that night. Clean clean clean.
We put new carpet down in the man-cave. I put up movie posters and rich dark furniture. It was really the stuff we had in our first place – not quite an apartment, not quite a house. Still, I liked it, and it was good, so we kept it.
We got new used furniture, stuff we couldn’t afford, from a manager at the bookstore for which we used to work. The one where we met, and everyone fell in love with the idea of us.
We moved a giant wood desk into the office, and set up shop. At first it held a futon too nice to throw away, and later it held all our books. I spent hours in the office. Every morning getting dressed, and in the evenings pecking at the keyboard of whatever laptop we had going. Write write write.
After we moved in, I set to work on making it ours. Fixing it. Improving it. A real DIYer. My dad came the month after we moved in and we installed a new railing. Wood to replace the short salmon rod iron thing that was there. A new adventure for both us. We finished within the week.
The bathroom, and the office, and the guest room and the basement all needed painting. I spent hours with Kristin’s dad taking care of it. We did the ceilings, and then taped and cut in. Then we painted. In the basement we painted the old wood paneling to make it look fresh, like something that wasn’t from the 80’s. Brightened it. Marion came over and spent an afternoon helping me paint. We talked movies and books and got excited for video game nights.
Kristin helped paint the office. It was after I saw a movie with Marion. I ran to the liquor store. It was fall. I didn’t know beer yet, but I loved the Sam Adams fall seasonal Old Fizziwiggle. I took it home and got out the paint. Popped Old Fizzi and off I went. Kristin got home a short time later and picked up a roller. Together we turned the blue room into a nice rich olive color. Manly, yet warm.
The bathroom didn’t have a fan. This was a problem in winter when you don’t want to open the window in the shower. When Kristin was away on a woman’s retreat, Paul came over and we put in a new fixture. He climbed around in the attic and I mostly learned. Kristin was delighted when she returned. Later Paul would also help me install overhead lighting in the bedroom. A welcome reprieve from having to turn a lamp on with the alarm clock blaring.
We never got around to the kitchen, or the living room, or the dining room. That was always next. Wood flooring, new cabinetry and maybe add a drawer or two. Only having one proved problematic. That was some of the first furniture we bought for the place – stuff with drawers. A buffet and a couple of small shaped fixtures from Pier One. I didn’t really have a say, but they looked nice and were within our budget. I helped bring them in from the car.
The living room was where we stood while Kristin’s uncle did the inspection. She danced and did pirouettes on the carpet. I smiled, wondering what we were getting ourselves into. Even now that picture window needs to be replaced. A draft sneaks in through the old framework.
These were the rooms of someday. The ones I dreamt about, and Kristin let me. These were the rooms of “what do you think of this” and “oh that could be nice.” Her only real care the old carpet by the back door that was marred from years of people leaving their shoes on.
The mudroom. Oh what a strange space. No air vents so it remained frigid in the winter and scolding in the summer. We kept our Costco olive oil carton out there until we went to refill our jar and found it frozen and separated. From then on we kept it in the coat closet.
There wasn’t a pantry or enough space, so I built one out of shelving units in the mud room. This worked except that we forgot about all the things in there routinely. Every once in awhile I’d scope it out and kick myself for not making this dish or that dish sooner.
I wanted to change out the entryway flooring and the landing to the basement right away, but we were on a budget and it was less of a priority than wall hangings. Wall hangings. The bane of my existence. You ever try to hold an 80lb mirror while your mother-in-law and wife decide if it’s in the right place? Awful. I always tempted my father-in-law with pizza before we hung anything. Ever the patient man when it comes to that, he would help keep me calm when all I wanted to do was throw the anchors and screws in the air and kick a hole in the wall.
The basement hallway, which lead from the man cave to a half bath, the laundry room, the work room, and the master suite of a guest room, was a royal pain. When we moved in there were no doors sectioning off the laundry and work rooms. Problem because eyesore. My construction worker friend visited once and said pocket doors. Brilliant man. I called my dad, he came and we installed. It was a unique problem when we realized how short the hallway was compared to new norms. We called Paul and he helped trim them and the framework down to size. Then it was just drywall and paint. Easy peasy, and I was thrilled. Nearly wrecked the carpet with the mess, though. Another thing on the list of some day.
The work room and the laundry room stayed the same after that. Added some shelving units, and kept it tidy. Was a real pain to clean the workroom before we put the house on the market. So much saw dust and dust bunnies and all the junk. Tedious and painstaking, eventually I got it spotless enough for showings. The previous owners never cleaned the laundry room. Silliness. Shop-Vac’ed the hell out of it and it looked like something on TLC.
The house was originally built as a split ranch with a garage underneath the rooms. In ‘89 the owners we bought the place from filled in the driveway, added the two car garage and created this master suite, complete with full bath and walk in closet. The windows were great, as was the spacious room and the walk-in. The problem was that full bath was built in the ‘80s. Terrible decisions were made on the tile and the faucets and just about everything. As it was the guest suite, it was way down the list of some day. It was going to be an epic learning experience.
The last room was the half bath. The ever hideous, odd half bath. There was a weird plywood closet, linoleum flooring, a strange marble painted plywood vanity, and a mirror fixture that was probably there from the time the place was originally built, rusty and brown on the inside. Disgusting a generous term.
When my life devolved into chaos I took it out on the half bath. I ripped out everything, including the wallpaper and wood paneling. I cleaned the space between the 2×4’s, and put in waterproof drywall. I sanded the floor down and replaced it with tile. I installed a gorgeous vanity with granite countertop and a matching mirror, and new towel and toilet paper bars. I painted so it matched our bedroom, and I put in brand new trim. Even the curtains needed replacing and I put in nice wood slated curtains, learning more than I cared to know about curtains. I painted the small door and replaced the handles. The only thing that remained was the overhead light fixture and the toilet, though I replaced the toilet seat. Those were worth holding onto.
After the half bath, I moved to the back of the house, out to the deck. Cigars, though infrequent, mark major moments in my life. My brother lived with me for a couple summers, and when we said goodbye we got cigars. The smell and the taste aren’t much to me, but it’s something to mark the change. I got a Hemingway cigar, a cutter, and matches. After I lit it up, I walked the deck.
The deck was my baby. I spent the first two years dreaming and the third ripping out the old one before putting in the new one. Paul helped me with this, too. Buying the wood and getting the permits. I built the benches myself, though, and dreamt up the size, making the case to Kristin and getting her to agree with me. The original deck was tiny, too small for a grill and had a stump in the middle of it. I paid somebody to rip it out because Kristin didn’t think I could do it safe. When it was gone, I drew the plans, I got the permit and we dug ground. The boys and I finished in late autumn, and the next summer was the only summer we got to use it.
Half way through the cigar, my fingers started to turn white. I took a puff and the exhale was a massive ball of breath and smoke all freezing as it left my mouth. Time to say goodbye. I walked the perimeter of the house. Along the sidewalk I shoveled more times than I wanted to remember. Past the realtor sign that had the sold sign break off and give me a fright earlier that week. I stopped at the corner, staring at the yard that I never could get right. Patches of missing grass, a tree dying year on year, and bushes that grew out of control. I puffed. Everything unfinished. Everything ok in its it un-ok-ness.
The street was empty, as was usually the case after ten on any night. Suburbia. I put the cigar out in the snow, dropped it into the garbage, got in my car, and texted:
Am leaving now. It was a good house until it wasn’t. Have a good night, Kristin.
Then I drove out of the garage – her stall – for the last time.