Sunday, May 18, 2008
What Man Breaks, Man Can Fix
Today I got mad at my house. Lightbulbs popped, grout disappeared from tile, and a gutter swung down. When a toilet tried to spill over, I thought: I'll get you, my pretty. Just as soon as the economy improves, I will get rid of you.
Is it possible for a house to be flat wrong for you? A Realtor told me that when people are househunting, they want to know why the home is for sale, and if anyone had died there. Maya Angelou once bought a house where "bread would not rise and chicken was bloody at the bone." Her marriage disintegrated. She left the house and the man and found more agreeable quarters.
I have witnessed houses and people clashing. "This house is a lemon!" they'll cry. Then again, maybe the general contractor didn't watch his subs. My mother has endured many household disasters, and she's never moved. "Change your attitude, not your address" is her motto, along with, "Find a good handiman."
And I do know she is right; but I also think Maya's right. I once lived in a house that fell to pieces around me. While I was living there, trying to put the house back together, someone I love betrayed me.
While I packed the china, my best friend came over with a pitcher of peach fuzzies and told me that I should stay, that it wasn't the house.
"You're right," I told her. "It's me." Because I'd built and designed that house, drawing out many versions on graph paper before taking my drawings to a draftsman.
Several fuzzies later, I said, "If only I'd hired an architect. A really cute one."
When things go wrong, it's human nature to assign blame, and a house is a convenient scapegoat. Plus, we are wired this way. The body's natural response to stress is "fight or flight." When I was younger and freshly betrayed, I flew the coop, hoping to obliterate sadness and start over. Now, I think I lacked courage. I mean, what was the rush? Why didn't I take a stand? Leaving was easy--way too easy.
And yet, on some level it must have worked. Why else would I be threatening my present home? Watching and waiting for it to screw up.
I am not helpless; I know how to grout tile and how to unstop minor toilet clogs; and I can hire someone to fix the gutter. The truth is, this house was my honey's dream, not mine. I'd already dreamed quite a few house dreams. I liked a relaxed, no-category style. But I couldn't get it right. I'd blown my chance to prove to my honey, and to myself, that I did, too, know what I was doing. It was like a game show host had said, "Time's up!" Ding, ding ding.
My honey wanted glitz. My honey's idea of beauty was Tony Soprano's house. But I didn't want to be a design dictator, so I did my best to deliver the goods. And if certain rooms made me cringe, so be it. It was my own damn fault. Well, that's what I told myself. But secretly, I had no intention of staying. I didn't even unpack the good crystal. Even before we'd gotten settled, I had programmed myself for unhappiness.
There's quite enough sorrow in life, so why go looking for it? And how silly to blame a house! I have come to believe that a home is a repository of history, moments of joy as well as sorrow. I love my childhood home because of its history. All of those ups and downs form a pattern, like something you'd see in a crazy quilt: each jagged piece tells a story, our story. And houses, like people, have their beautiful moments. They also wear out. My mother always says, "What man breaks, man can fix."
And you know what? She's right.