Patch Work

This should be a crisis. It would have been on any given night in any given year before now. Crouched by the HVAC closet, frozen air blowing right into my house from the snowy night, I sop up the quarter inch of filthy water pooled on the concrete floor.
 
I had not planned to be anywhere near here. My workout clothes are on, water bottle filled, iPod charged up. Almost out the door 30 minutes earlier, I’d forced myself to do a U-turn. Those presents aren’t going to wrap themselves, Chiquita.
 
In the hours after my son’s snow-day ended with his dad picking him up, I had moved with steadfast determination towards the sweet promise of three miles on the elliptical. Legos were tossed into bins, vacuum run, dishwasher emptied. I stopped myself halfway out the door to tackle a final task that I’d been skillfully avoiding for days. Just one set, Lady. Then you can go sweat. My workout, my precious reward, could wait 15 more minutes.
 
Okay, fine. But just the one.
 
After packing goodies and taping up boxes, I opened the closet door to grab a roll of wrapping paper from behind the rumbling air handler. It came up dripping. The bottom end of it was a sponge of wet mush. I took a breath, braced myself, and forced my eyes to the floor. Brown. Rippling. The boxes of tools and bags of charcoal had booked a winter cruise.
 
Now, hunched here in my yoga pants with presents only half wrapped and a workout swiftly receding into the horizon, I toss aside the floating metal door sill which has come loose. A puddle disappears under the floorboards and travels who-knows-where.
 
Out come igloo cooler, portable grill, paint supplies. The rest of the ruined wrapping paper. Stained plywood scraps. All of it lands in a grimy heap by our twinkling Christmas tree. Presents are mushed in the commotion. In the absence of a shopvac (where would a girl store such a monster?), I gather a cache of bath towels. Sop, rinse, first shift clocks out and heads to the laundry. Second shift takes up the mess under the drip pan. Once the bulk is up, I don boots and step in to diagnose the problem. Pouring in the contents of the water bottle I had filled for a purpose I can scarcely recall, I see the leak spilling right out of the new drain pipe I foolishly invited our resident maintenance dude to install.
 
I curse him. Curse myself for trusting him not once but twice, asking him to do this even after he botched a drywall job. As soon as the first mental punch cracks open the door, in slither the familiar hissing thoughts of defeat. I feel suddenly, horribly alone. There is no one help with this. I can’t afford this. I can’t do this.
 
I don’t close the door on them. I just toss the empty bottle aside, shrug, and haul a heap of dripping towels to the bathtub. Then, as quickly as they came, all those thoughts just skitter on away. They hadn’t even hung around for 90 seconds. I can almost hear the slip-rattle of their scaled bellies as they vanish down the corridor and head out in into the night. I smile — actually smile — as I notice how completely fine this whole situation is.
 
New thoughts come knocking. These, I choose. These, I invite in to keep me company as I work.
 
How cool is it that I found this problem before the downstairs neighbors did? Isn’t it neat that I decided to stay and wrap the presents so I could stumble upon this?
 
And
 
Well, I guess it takes me two times to learn not to trust that guy with anything inside my house.

 
And
 
Making good choices about home repair takes practice, just like mastering anything: speaking a new language, getting around in an unfamiliar city, making sourdough tortillas, managing a first-grader’s schedule.
 
And
 
It’s just a problem to solve. I’ll clean up now and cobble together the tools I need to keep it from getting worse. Then, once I’ve caught my breath, I’ll tackle the next step.
 
And
 
I’m so glad I already worked with that other handyman my realtor recommended. Now I have someone I can call!
 
(Which I pause to do). And
 
Wow, what a great opportunity to clean the crud off of some of these things piled up in the HVAC closet.
 
And
 
Dad’s right. Homeownership does suck. Hey, I’m a homeowner! And I get to figure all this stuff out!
 
Straddling a chair and prattling on, these thoughts keep me buoyed up at the surface of the evening. Where is the self-pity? The sagging sense of defeat? The inward longing for someone to come and figure this out for me? The door is still open but those worries and aches haven’t returned.
 
They slinked off down the block a while ago. Maybe it’s too bright in here for them now.
 
Over three years have passed since the separation. This month marks the second anniversary of the divorce. Getting through the day and facing both the routines and the surprises do not grind at me as they did when this all began in 2010.
 
I have experienced crisis. This is not one. Not by any stretch. The yardstick for catastrophe has changed shape entirely. This? This is just a leaky heater. It’s not even a bad thing. It’s just another event in a day. Unplanned, like so many, yet totally manageable.
 
As I toss towels in the dryer, I hear something scrape against the bottom of the washer tub. I reach in and pull out a tiny, marred gold object about the size of my pinkie-nail. It is a pendant in the shape of a clam shell. It must have washed out from a flooded corner. From the foundation. From the ocean floor. I drop it in my pocket and root around for a moment to see what else is in there. I pull up a handful of currency I don’t remember stashing there, but when I see it shining in my palm, I recognize it instantly.
 
This:
 
A small but growing community. A few neighbors whose names I know. Parents down the road. A companion who comes not to rescue me but to believe in me. A young but expanding career, a cushion in the bank, time off when I need it. A child a few blocks away in the good care of his loving dad. A half-full toolbox, two able hands, one agile mind.
 
Workout gear. NPR on the iPod. Thirty minutes to spare.
 
Now, the towels are dry and a fresh set pads the drainspout. The grill and cooler and plywood are all wiped clean and stacked neatly near the twinkling tree. I refill my water bottle and step outside.
 
Mist cradles the evening. The forecast calls for more snow. I’m ready for it.
 
I’m ready for anything.
 

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3 thoughts on “Patch Work”

    1. It can be scary to feel the weight of responsibility for all the maintenance of this big investment. My shining light was finding a handyman I trust. He actually popped by at 8:00 last night to make a quick emergency repair. I asked him how much and he said, “Don’t worry. We’ll work it in when I come back to fix the bathroom wiring.” And then he was gone and my heater was on the mend. It’s amazing how “alone” turns into “part of a community” in such quick blink. Good luck!

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