BEFORE: The crack in the ceiling that started it all... my Frankenstitched water leakage repair.
BEFORE: Water leakage along west wall, damage above and below.
AFTER: The finished, renovated living room and dining area
AFTER: Renovated dining area
My chow pup, Guinnez, and Jiggy, my black calico, choose their new favorite nap spots.
by Zinta Aistars
Those lists of life’s greatest stressors, no doubt you’ve seen them? Divorce is up there, sure. And money issues rank high. But then there is that other one in the Big Three: home renovation.
At last, it is done. Well, not really. Not even close, in fact. But a big part of it is done in what I call, somewhat ominously: Phase I. Although, in truth, it is more accurately Phase II. The first part of this house renovation into Home was all behind the scenes—deep beneath the house (furnace), or on the side of the house where no one but the dog ever lifts a leg (central air conditioning unit), or high above the house where only pigeons and runaway parrots flitter and flock (new roof), or beneath that shingled covering (thick, pink and fluffy insulation) where two raccoons once lived in my attic and made raucous noise at late night raccoon parties. Who knew such critters partied so? I can attest, they do. Or at least the two that lived rent-free with me did. Regular party animals.
Finally, it was time to get to the cosmetic part of this makeover. The repair that shows. Sure, I’ve enjoyed the cooling in summer, the heating in winter, the quiet of the night. But the eye wants something pretty, too. I wanted to see an interior that reflected something of my self, my taste, my dreams, my past travels, my passions. A house becomes a Home only when we infuse it with our sense of self. And I never had.
Not until now.
So my good handydude gutted the place. Did I say cosmetic? This was more than a face lift. Walls came down, ceilings came down, wallpaper was peeled away, baseboards and casings were ripped up. My house stood naked, revealed to the bones, and prepared to be rebuilt, flesh and muscle. Naturally, that meant all the old furnishings had to go, too. Oh, joy! Truly, there is little in life more therapeutic than the act of tossing into garbage, putting up in flame, tossing grenade into, setting ablaze…. Wait, I get a little carried away here. But it really was a good time. Dumpsters in the vicinity were full to brim. All I kept for my living room was my solid wood bookshelves and the books that went on them. All else: good riddance.
Which was the only part that was therapeutic. Next came the stressor part. Yet isn’t this the way of all great things being built? Ourselves, or our favorite fine projects, works of art, solid and long-lasting relationships, and our best dreams. All require initial mess. All require a tearing apart and getting back down to basics. All require a touch of insanity, a toolbox of good tools, and a dumpster to fill.
My handydude said something hopeful about a four-day project. Did he say four? Must have lost a one in there somewhere… because it all came to more like 14 than 4 days, and I was feeling the stress, coming home after a long day's work to have to climb over chairs in my kitchen, books on the stove, paintbrushes among the dishes, and a bookshelf conveniently pushed up against the refrigerator (time to diet?). This time of building and rebuilding is a time of hope. One must live in the imagination, because the reality is a horrid and dusty mess.
And still, and yet, it is all worth it, and I watched with growing anticipation as the reality came to match my imagination, and then, oh my, even exceed it. My handydude was no speed demon, but he was good. Every little bump in the wall was sandpapered down, every hairline crack in the ceiling was sealed and smoothed shut. My walls looked almost like silk under their fresh coats of paint. And what paint! Bare bone white turned to Brewster Gray and Nantucket Fog and Pismo Dunes and Saybrook Sage and a creamy Monterey White trim.
Here’s a lesson: listen to no one. (Well, maybe your handydude now and then, if he’s good and has an artistic and courageous eye, as mine does.) Listen to no one, least of all Mama, because the big secret we all respectfully keep is that Mama knows next to nothing. Goodness knows my daughter has figured this one out. The world is such a fast-changing place, and every time you reconsider a problem, its parameters have changed. See, my mama told me dark colors shrink a room. Mama, you lie. As the dark and rich hues were smoothed onto the freshly applied, mudded, sanded down drywall, I saw the room open its warm embrace. Angles in ceiling and walls appeared where I had hardly noticed them before. Suddenly, my ceiling was soaring. Stairs were dancing. Walls stepped back and allowed the room take a deep breath of life. I had all this new house expanding around me!
Every day, I raced (within speed limits, someone’s speed limits, surely) home from work to see progress. Every day, I saw less progress than I wanted, silly me, but loved what I saw. How often can you say that reality exceeds fantasy? Well, gee, when I think about that one carefully, I would say most every time. I’m not one for fluff. I like life to be solid and real and muscled with reality. My house in its transformation did not disappoint, but left me exhilarated.
At least until the first set of bills arrived. That did take my breath away for a moment. Reality, indeed. But then, I considered how little I had ever allowed myself to spend on me. Just me. Not my kids, not my family and friends, not a good cause, not for my favorite pet, but for me. We all dream of Home. We all need one—that safe oasis where we come to rest, to rejuvenate, to weep, whether from joy or grief, and then to spring from it again, and again, on some new adventure, before coming back again. Home sweetest Home. I had never allowed myself to feel that way about any place of walls and windows and ceilings.
I am a person of two homes, a person of no home, with two languages and two cultures, one ancient (Latvian) and one adolescent new (American), dual citizenship in two countries, in each being told that I am, somehow, different, an outsider, a person of that other place. So where is Home? In people, I thought, and I planted my heart deep into the hearts of others, sinking roots and hopes and dreams and blessings as I knew to give them. Alas, here I stand today, a heart alone and homeless, with cracks and stitched seams and mended places. I need to go Home.
Then it is done, and I come home late on January 8, and the paint cans are gone, the ladders taken away, the new furniture pushed into place, the drop sheets rolled up, the books returned to their shelves, the dog dish back in its corner and the dog curled up and asleep in the corner of the new couch. As if it had always been his. As if it had always been like this. Waiting for me.
I’m home. I am Home. At last.
The candles are lit, and the fire shimmers in the fireplace. A warm light reflects from the earthen colored walls. I want to weep, only I don’t, because that would cloud my eyes, and I want to see. For hours, all I want is to see. I sit and I stare and the earthen walls gaze back at me. I sit in silence and I take it all in.
No place is entirely safe. Someone can still break down my door and smash the glass of my new windows. Someone can still find their way in, if they know how, and put another patch on my battered old heart. No, no place will keep me away from the living, all the hard and sweet living of life. But at long last, I have my oasis. This small and quiet place that holds me for a little while, apart from the world, and lets me rest before taking it on again.
At least until I begin the next phase. I hear rebuilding bathrooms is a bear.