It’s a good thing the crew came by yesterday and removed the mound of materials that had been gathering in my side yard--the framing posts, the extra drywall, the puffy piles of pink insulation--because this morning, at precisely 5:15, heralded only by the sudden growling of Humphrey, it began to rain.
I picked up my phone from the nightstand and saw that three friends had beat me to it with their Facebook posts.
I love the smell of rain in the air.
Omg, it’s officially Fall.
This means we at the DeBoard house have survived Summer Part 3, those endless 90 degree days where the eighteen-year-old A/C still kicks on weirdly late in the night. We have arrived at open-window Fall. We have made it through the last of the Central Valley dust that settles in the middle of July and then hangs around, sweeping into nooks and crannies, lodging in corners, coating our air filters. We have arrived at sweater and legging season, at random afternoon hot chocolate, at roasted vegetables and pumpkin-flavored things.
Well--at least in five weeks, I should be able to roast some vegetables.
Yesterday our kitchen started to look like a kitchen again. The plastic is down; the subfloor is in; the drywall is nearly there.
Is it weird (yes, I know it’s weird) that I started crying the second I walked in the door?
There’s all this space. And sure, it’ll be filled with appliances and cabinets and the table I haven’t yet purchased, so the space will be much less space, but still. This was how this kitchen was supposed to look, I just know it. The wall was a mistake, one of those things that seems like a good idea on paper. I can imagine the original construction crew, all fresh from beating the Germans in the war shaking their heads and saying, “All right, if that’s what the boss wants.”
It’s a small thing--I shared it with my family on our group text and got two measly “likes”--but I can see all the way from my office at the back of the house down the (still narrow, sure) hallway and all the way to the window at the front of the kitchen.
A friend commented on Facebook, after my initial before-video tour, that she was generally not in favor of removing walls, and in fact, had wanted to add a wall in her new kitchen. Still, she agreed that my wall had to go.
Back in one of my previous lives, where I wrote about real estate for the now-defunct weekly edition of my town’s newspaper, I toured new home developments, the kind where the house was almost as big as the lot, and the houses themselves had giant, boxy footprints. Six or seven bedrooms, three or four baths, an open concept main floor. It was the open concept that got me every time. In its empty, undefined state, it was simply too much space. What the hell, I’d wonder, did someone do with a thousand square feet of beige carpet?
But then, I’ve always lived in small places. And even when they weren’t technically small--I think the house I grew up in was around 1800 square feet, which doesn’t feel small to me, if you included the space from the converted porch--I shared it with a lot of people at once. My three sisters and I shared one bathroom and only broke into raging fights once a week or so. We had an entire room that was only used for company, and even then, only on holidays.
Come to think of it, that kitchen was probably too small. I never cooked in it myself--as third daughter, I split every-other-night clean-up duties--but now I can see the space would only be improved by knocking out a wall.
We have new developments: two of the kitchen can lights are operable. The motion sensor light on the back porch is working once again, and the refrigerator--still outside on the patio--is now plugged into its own outlet, rather than relying on a twelve-foot extension cord.
It’s not magic, but close.
Some of us are handling this remodel better than others.
Thursday, making the hour-long drive from campus, my thoughts were racing. I couldn’t grab one and hold on to it--they were there and gone, each a nonsensical burst of syllables. An idea for my class. How to revise the first scene in my new book. What if something goes wrong with the electrical. What if this project never ends. I pulled over at the halfway point, realizing what was wrong. I’d had nothing to eat in the last eighteen hours, but I had consumed three giant cups of coffee. And while I usually try to balance coffee and water consumption, my water bottle was still filled to the brim.
I glanced at my phone and see that my dad had responded to my early-morning text, sent after I realized that Humphrey hadn’t eaten any of his morning food.
Humphrey may be sick since he threw up after getting here.
Humans and animals alike are being affected by this remodel.
On Friday night, I go to a friend’s birthday-month kick-off: four women, good wine, a charcuterie board and some burrata sprinkled in sea salt that makes me want to close my eyes and die happy. The conversation is wild and interesting, and I love that I’m the least accomplished one at the table, the one with the most to learn. But a part of my mind is with my dogs, hoping they stay on the non-demoed part of the plastic, wondering if they’re sitting in the dark hating me for leaving them alone.
Part of the problem is the whole leaving the house thing. It never felt like a big deal before, back in pre-March 2020 life. But then the whole world was asked to stay at home unless otherwise necessary, and it turned out that much of my life wasn’t necessary. It turned out I could write and teach from home, and order groceries from my home, and Zoom with anyone from home, and go to church in my pajamas from my couch, and the truth is maybe that wasn’t a weird diversion from life but was my actual life.
Maybe I liked staying at home.
Maybe I liked a pared-down version of life, where I didn’t wake up already feeling exhausted, where I had a fairly good idea of what the day held and how to tackle it.
And then, we went back to almost-normal life--vaxxed and masked, but I’m back in the classroom, back on campus, back to Friday nights with friends. And then coming home, it’s not to my safe little space, but to a wall of plastic sheeting, and wide-eyed dogs who are terrified anew every time the A/C kicks in and the plastic rustles, and a lot of uncertainty despite the carefully laid-out schedule.
The truth is, I never appreciated my little home properly until it was my only space, when I was forced out from all the other spaces that had been part of my life--the classroom, my office, the Starbucks where I wrote two novels back to back.
And now, here we are.
Paula Treick DeBoard