The Cost of an Upgrade

Our house was recently upgraded. Friends and family love it. They say it’s beautiful. They tell us how nice all the new fixtures and counters and floors are. They say how lucky we are to have this free remodel.

Sure, birch floors are nice, but the remodel wasn’t free.

***

The whole unfortunate ordeal began when a line the size of my pinkie behind the toilet got disconnected while we were away on vacation. Two gallons of water gushed every minute for almost three days straight. Millions of water droplets assembled themselves in my house: a tiny army ready to obliterate anything in it’s path.

My just-got-back-from-the-mountains smile was quickly replaced with WTF when I climbed out of the car, eager for the comfort of my couch, and found water sneaking beneath the garage door. Liquid coming from places it shouldn’t is never a good thing. Water needs to be contained, or it migrates quickly. It seeps into cracks. It soaks, and it destroys.

The stream of water we found outside trailed through the garage and came from the door connecting the garage to the house. Confused about what I was witnessing, I watched my husband unlock the door. Water gushed out like Niagra Falls when he opened it. I thought this is not my house. What kind of cruel trick is someone playing on us?

On the first level, there was a puddle collecting beneath my kitchen table, the table my husband put together only weeks before. My cork floor, my cork floor that was installed only one year ago, was bowing at the seams and expanding like a sponge. Every rug was soaked. The living room carpet was soggy, squishing up water with every step.

Downstairs, the basement walls bubbled up with fluid trapped beneath the layers of paint. A downpour fell from the ceiling onto the concrete floors, collecting inches of water beneath our feet. The smell of mold stuck to the inside of my nose like putty.

My head was so discombobulated that I actually called a neighbor and asked her for a squeegee.

After the insurance company was notified by my husband, who was thinking much clearer than I, professional disaster specialists were summoned to help. They arrived at midnight and went to work immediately.

First, anything wet had to be removed. Floors were torn apart, sending splinters and screws spewing about. They wheeled in nineteen commercial fans. One by one, they turned them on, forcing bits of dirt to rotate around in the air.

Five dehumidifiers, each bigger than my washing machine, were scattered throughout my house to suck in water against it’s will. Hoses snaked back and forth, a trip and fall hazard to my kids and dogs.

During this time my house was nearly uninhabitable, so the insurance company placed my family of four plus two dogs in a hotel. There, we found a silver lining. A pool. A good insurance company. Someone else to cook us breakfast. I thought things could definitely be worse.

The disaster specialists and their commercial equipment finally convinced the water to leave after it dribbled along for five days. Then a second team of professionals replaced old things with new. New subfloors. New floors. New trim. New paint. New counters.

Every night we cooked dinner in an unfamiliar kitchen, slept in unfamiliar beds, and heard strangers through the too-thin walls. Every day I went  back home and met with contractors and salesmen and whoever else needed to be there to fix my house. 

The cost of my remodel wasn’t free. It was more like:

Roughly 8,500 gallons of water. 

Almost 30 days of normalcy.

25,000 dollars, paid by the insurance company.

And 1 lesson learned the hard way.


Photo courtesy of Pexels.

The Moment I Learned to Really Love My Child

My mom was on a plane 39,000 feet above me; my husband was at work on the other side of The East River; my nearest friend was one state away; my baby was screaming in the crib, and I was on the living room floor completely losing my shit.

***

She was only a few weeks old, and I lacked experience. I read books, but no parenting book can prepare you to actually be a parent. It had been a nearly sleepless week, and we were both trudging through exhaustion. That day, I tried everything. Everything. Still, she cried. Frustration bubbled up, consuming me, and before the thought of doing something I’d later regret had the chance to wiggle it’s way into my head, I remembered what the nurses said: it’s okay to let her cry sometimes. It’s okay to take a moment to breathe. And never shake the baby.

I couldn’t attempt to soothe her for another bloodcurdling second, so I put her in her crib, shut the door, and walked away.

I pressed my forehead against the cool wood floor, curled my legs into my chest, and left my arms limp at my sides as I wrenched tears from my eyes. I heaved words assembled into desperate pleas at the universe. I prayed to a god I didn’t even know I really believed in for determination and strength to be the mother my crying child needed and deserved.

“Please help me. I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t know how to make her stop crying. I’ll do anything,” I begged. “What do I do?”

I rolled over, spread-eagle, and stared at the ceiling. Her cries were reaching decibels so high that the glass chandelier was swaying ever so slightly, reflecting bits of light off the brass. I imagined melting into the floor to disappear from my new role as mother, to hide from that hideous light fixture, to hide from life.

“What do I do?” I repeated in a whisper. I pinched my eyes shut and searched my brain for advice I’d been given and chapters I’d read on this sort of thing. I couldn’t come up with anything that I hadn’t already tried. “Why do I suck at parenting so bad? What am I doing wrong?”

Someone – not me, not anyone in the hallway – someone outside and inside my head simultaneously in the most loving, calming voice said, “Just love her.”

I sat up, eyes wide. I knew that advice. It was something my mother had said to me once.

***

We were taking my dog on a walk through my neighborhood, urging contractions to kick in. I remember flashes of four-family brownstones as the words left her lips. I thought it was awful advice. How could I not love my child?

***

My eyes darted around the living room to see where the voice came from. “Hello?” I asked. No one answered, but I didn’t imagine the voice. It was as real as the cries resonating from behind my child’s bedroom door.  Was it God? Was it my own conscience?  “Just love her?” I asked back. As I repeated the words out loud, something clicked. In the moment when my baby needed me most I wasn’t loving her.

I carefully stood and pushed wet tangles of hair from my face with a fraction of new determination and strength. Yes, this is difficult. Yes, I’m alone, but I have to do it. She and I only have each other.

I opened her door. Her squishy arms, tiny fists, and face the color of confusion, were the first things I saw. Remorse twisted its way through my gut. Am I a horrible mother for letting her cry? I went to her crib with breath stuck in my chest, new tears falling from my eyes. I knew I had to comfort her.

I knew I had to love her.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Sock Surprise

She’s already ten minutes late; the bus is gone.

“Let me grab socks,” I say, unfolding a pair. I look at one purple sock and one green. “Did you do this?”

A small hand stifles her giggle. “Surprise!” She shouts.

“Not again,” I sigh. “Guess you need a new chore.”

Grandpa’s Garden

Before his stroke, Grandpa was my favorite. I would sit on his belly, round like Santa’s, and ask him if the battery above his heart hurt. I’d lightly press my fingers against the square shape protruding from his chest, and Grandpa would smile wide, toothlessly.

“Naw, Baby Girl. That’s my ticker,” he’d say. I imagined a tiny clock inside his chest, sort of like the Tin Man.

Grandpa was a self-proclaimed botanist, without using so many words. He planted tomatoes and other vegetables, mostly for canning to keep Grandma and him fed through the harsh winter months when the junkyard didn’t need his help sorting metals. I used to walk behind him. I watched Grandpa whisper to his green babies and touch the leaves carefully. He taught me about them, but I can’t remember his lessons.

After my grandpa’s stroke, between first and second grade, we moved in with my grandparents. They owned a duplex, and we lived on the second floor so my mom could care for him.

There were times I wanted to climb back on his belly, but Grandpa’s new oxygen tank made my belly do flips. I thought I could catch whatever was making him so sick. If I get too close, I’ll need one of those tubes in my nose too.

I don’t have a single picture of the stairs in my grandparents’ house, but I remember them perfectly in my mind: hand carved wood painted the same shade of red as fallen leaves just before they turn brown and crumble. I wasn’t allowed to play outside, so when I wanted to get away from everyone I would sit on the landing. I could hear my mom on the phone above and my grandparents’ television below. I sat there playing with dolls or staring at the cracks and chips in the yellow walls pretending they were a part of a roadmap to someplace magical where Grandpa wasn’t ill.

His ticker stopped that autumn. I was in school when it happened. He was there when I left and gone when I got home, crumbled and blown away with the leaves.

All I kept thinking was that I didn’t get a chance to hug him once more, or to really listen to his lessons.

This year, I planted an herb and vegetable garden. It’s nothing like Grandpa’s, small in comparison. I thought about him while I was out there with my hands in the dirt. I touched the plants with care like he used to. Small bits of food have managed to grow, regardless of my natural knack for killing anything green. Although, some of them are limp, hanging on for dear life. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, or right for that matter. If only I could remember what he taught me.

If only we had more time.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Just Below the Surface: My Relationship With Alcohol

I have this frequent nightmare where I’m underwater, just below the surface of a pool. The water is as grey as the skies above, and I’m cold. So cold. There are brown autumn leaves resting on top of the water, gently rippling from the breeze above. Somehow I know that they are from my parents’ Catalpa tree.  I’m in their pool.  I stretch my hand toward the air, but for some reason I can’t reach the space where water and breeze meet.  And throughout the dream I’m calm. Too calm, even though I know I’m drowning.

Awake, I know the dream isn’t real.  But it is.

It starts with the sound of the cork squeaking out of the bottle, making my heart skip with anticipation.  Even as often as I hear it, it still feels forbidden and exciting. As I pour it, the weight of the bottle feels as familiar as that dream, down to the gurgling sound of the pool filling up.

But it’s the first sip that really gets me. The taste of the tart white or bitter red on my tongue. The feeling of warmth that coats my belly, gives me courage and makes me believe I’m funnier. It tells me I’m better with it, and I nod my head yes in agreement. I know I should stop at the bottom of the first glass, but I pour another and sometimes another.  My head is still above water, I think. I keep drinking.

And when I do, it drags me swiftly down. Instead of thrashing to save myself, I go calmly with chagrin upon my face. I know the place it takes me all too well, and I’m comfortable there, despite knowing the extent it holds me back and pushes me down.

At the bottom of my third glass, the numbness comes. Pain, hurt, bills, everything is gone. It’s only me and my stemless glass. Eventually, I sink.

I’m drowning again.

I’ve heard plenty of stories about how my grandfather loved the bottle a little too much. He would come home angry from the bars night after night, frightening my mom into tears.  And my mom started smoking as a young girl. She tried to quit for years, but never could.

Am I addicted? Hell if I know. I know I don’t feel addicted. I feel stuck. And I know I don’t want to be an addict. I don’t want the blood of an alcoholic, or a smoker, or this ticking time bomb of DNA to define me.  I want my work, my mind, and my kind nature to define me.  I want me to define me.

I am so fucking tired of the cycle. I’m tired of the headache every morning. And I’m tired of that nightmare. I want to dream of blue skies and rays of sunshine instead of grey waters and chill in my bones. I want to watch my children play with clear eyes, instead of through the fog induced by last night’s choices.

I’m also completely afraid. Afraid of knowing who I am sober. Afraid of regaining control. Afraid of asking for help. Afraid of not drinking. Am I ready to commit to that? Is that what I want? What I need?

That’s it. This is where it ends. It won’t control me, like it controlled my grandfather. I will not drown at the bottom of the bottle. It stops today, I swear.

Right after I finish this glass.

***

I wrote the essay above months ago with editing help from the folks at Yeah Write, but didn’t share it out of fear. And my situation hasn’t changed. I drink at least two glasses of wine five nights out of the week. I hate to read that on paper, but I don’t know how to change. Or where to begin the change. Maybe this essay will be it. Maybe not. But I have to start somewhere, because I deserve the chance.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

The War Was Over – A Micro Challenge

The War was over.

After deliberation, a patterned cotton dress was chosen to wear. Blond curls were begrudgingly folded into place and complaints were made against the necessity of clean teeth.

In the end, we hugged. I straightened her backpack and she boarded the bus joyfully.

Morning Flight

Photo courtesy of Llywelyn Nys

The rising sun had yet to meet the sky, and hues of pink changed the clouds to delicious cotton candy.  She shut the door quietly, trying not to wake her father, then flipped yesterday’s braids behind her, and tiptoed quickly off the deck.

Wet grass slipped between her bare toes as she ran toward the towering tree.

Once there, her small hands tugged at the ropes, pulling herself to sit on the wood, hand-carved by her papa.  She tipped her head, purple nightgown soaring behind her like a cape. Her toes touched the coveted sky.

Often, she dreamt of flying.