This Old House a Year Later

Just a little over a year ago, I started my move to this house. It has been in my family for generations. Six generations of us have lived here. For the first few weeks, I started hauling carloads of boxes, mostly books and anything else that was small and I could box up. I loaded what is now my living room up with piles of boxes. I moved the old oak desk I am now typing on to what is now my office.

Over the weeks, I kept bringing more things up until a couple days after Christmas when I loaded all the rest into a U-Haul trailer, put my sectional couch on Marketplace along with a bookshelf/desk and a few odds and ends and made the big push in a blizzard all the way up to Walden, CO.

It’s strange to think that this process began over a year ago.

I think of the house then as opposed to how it is now. The outside looks mostly the same, except my Mom and I painted the doors and window sills blue at the end of summer. The blue and white looks like something from Santorini.

The first few weeks I was here, I was overwhelmed by how much needed to be done. The side of the house where my son and I would be living had been left unused for years. Mostly storage, really. The temperature was nearly freezing, as the furnaces hadn’t been fired up nearly ten years. Other than installing a new kitchen faucet and drain, the first priority was to find one room in the house and put some love into it.

I picked the room that would become my son’s. I started by peeling off layers of wallpaper and mudding and painting the walls a beautiful sky blue. I painted the trim and shelves and ceiling white. In went his things. A large, heavy bookshelf that used to be used for the business my family ran from this side of the house now held his toys and books. His bed and stuffed animals were ready for him by the time he got back from his mom’s house on Christmas break.

Next was my bedroom, which was a simpler job, since it didn’t need to be perfect for me. Later work would come during the beginning of summer. Renovations all throughout the house transformed the place, which had ugly paint and sagging ceilings from old water damage. In that time, I have become adequate at drywall, painting, flooring, plumbing, carpentry, and so many other facets of DIY that it is ridiculous. There have been days when I cry UNCLE! at all the work I’ve put into the place.

I’ve uncovered ceilings that had been covered back in the 1940s. Beautiful oak tongue and groove ceilings with paneled trim, which need more TLC than I can afford to give them just yet. So I installed faux tin ceilings and drywall over them. Maybe another generation will cuss me as they uncover them a second time and wonder why I did what I did.

Today, the house is a cozy 68 degrees F. I still have some projects left to do, but it is a stark contrast to the unused apartment where your breath would catch on the walls in a skein of frost. There have been rumors in the family for decades that the place is haunted, but I’ve never seen anything or felt any kind of disturbance. The only thing I have felt is that this house has been in dire need of laughter. It has needed love. It has needed dogs chasing tennis balls and music playing in these formerly empty rooms.

It has been thirsting for the sound of fingers clattering on keyboards and the scratch of a pen on paper as I write down my thoughts. It has needed a couple coats of paint and secret doors and mysteries as well as warmth and familiarity. Clothes hanging on clothes racks. The scent of dinner cooking on the stove. The creak of footsteps as people live here once again.

Houses need these kinds of things or they begin to fall apart.

This year, even when the wind howls from the north, inside it is always cozy and calm. The hiss of a furnace or the snoring of a dog who dreams of chasing squirrels has drowned out the echo of a place that had been left fallow for too long.

Though I have faced my challenges, especially in the courts with custody, I don’t regret making this place my home. In the beginning I was a little nervous. But so far, this place has been good to me. I no longer dream of the house where I lived for six years after I began this journey of being a single dad. My dreams are almost always of this place now, if I dream of a house. A home.

I’d like to think I’ve done pretty well, considering.

Last Looks

There’s a quote that is attributed to Buddha, but I guess its veracity is such that it might as well be something from Mark Twain. “The problem is we think we have time.” It resonnates with Solomon in Eccelsiastes. And even if the Buddha didn’t say it, it rings true. We always think we have more time. Even now with the world behind held hostage in this pandemic. Our life expectancies have gotten higher than any other time in history. And yet…it isn’t just death, but the ends of things we take for granted.

I have several moments in my life which were last looks I had with someone, though I didn’t realize it until later. I’m tired of those moments, though I’m sure my life will be riddled with them until that ultimate Last Look.

In just a couple days, it will be the seven year anniversary of the beginning of my journey through divorce. Or lately as I’ve called it a house fire that has been burning for the better part of the decade. I talk about it plenty of times because when I was heavily considering making that change in my life, there wasn’t much out there to support me. The first page of a Google search was a lot of links to “Work harder to preserve your marriage.” They advocated counseling, all sorts of things that had been tried and were only perpetuating an unhealthy situation. That fire had already been burning and it was time to get out.

The last look I remember on the morning of Halloween, 2014 was that of my then-wife frantically clicking on the computer to buy Christmas presents on Amazon because “The kids should at least get Christmas.” She had found out that the papers were about to be served and wasn’t happy. She didn’t even look up from the computer when I walked out of the house. The kids were another story. The older kids were dressed as Walter and the Dude from the Big Lebowski for their Halloween parties at their middle school. As I dropped them off in front of their school, I called out, “Hey! I love you!” My son didn’t even look back. Just the unidirectional purposefulness of his mind telling him to get to class. My daughter turned and looked back, but didn’t say anything back. She just ran to class. They were never the same after that.

About a month ago, I was walking to get the mail. A former classmate of mine who I never really got along that great with was turning the corner as I was crossing the street. He raised his hand in a rare greeting, and for once, I waved back. A few days later, I learned that he had been found dead in his tiny apartment later that day. I might have been one of the last people to see him alive. What a strange moment to reflect on.

In August of 2009, I stood beside my grandpa’s hospital bed. My aunt was there and she called to him “Grandpa! Clint’s here!” His eyes fluttered open for a moment and his head lolled over to look towards us, but they closed again. His leg was black with gangrene. His kidneys had stopped functioning. I signed off on the papers that said “no heroic efforts” and they stopped treatment to clean his blood. They kept him comfortable, as they say. By the afternoon, he was gone. It was a last look I could have skipped. But it gave me closure, knowing that he was no longer suffering. That he had reached the end.

In March 2020, we were at the beginning of this pandemic. It was a Sunday night and my girlfriend at the time was about to spend Spring Break on a road trip with her family. I was originally going to go with them, but my youngest was coming back to me from Spring Break before their trip was going to end. So I bowed out. We spent the day together and ended the evening watching TV together on the couch. Her head in my lap as I brushed her hair to spoil the hell out of her. She nearly fell asleep like that. When it was time for her to go, it was beginning to snow. A chilly, wet evening with big heavy spring flakes falling almost like slush on shiny black streets. We knew quarantines were coming. Two weeks to flatten the curve. We kissed and because I was standing in the cold in my sock feet, she told me to go back inside before I got cold. She rolled up the window and waved as she drove off into the night.

Six weeks later, the quarantine had changed the world. We talked almost every night until the end, but I never saw her again. I was blocked. Erased. Forgotten. So easily too. No second chances. No regrets.

In July, I didn’t know I would have another moment like that. But, you never really see those moments until it seeps into your consciousness that they have happened. Kissing someone goodbye on their porch. Too many times. Maybe you knew it. Maybe you could have stopped with one kiss “until next time” but it became half a dozen until you were both laughing and they were telling you “Go!” and laughing with every kiss. Maybe you knew there would be no next time. Maybe you always know at those defining moments. If you realized it at the time it would break your heart. You’d never have been able to leave.

When I was a kid I wasn’t much of a reader. I could hardly get through a Dr. Seuss book. In Jr. High I started reading the Guardians of the Flame series by Joel Rosenberg, in which a bunch of college kids get sent into a Dungeons and Dragons type universere and are stuck there for the rest of their (usually short) lives. After that I read a LOT. One character in particular, a thief/frat guy by the name of Walter Slovatsky became one of my favorite characters. He had a series of quotes known as Slovatsky’s Laws. The one that seems resonant with all of this is this one:

When you say goodbye to a friend, assume that one of you is going to die before you ever get to see one another again. If you want to leave something unsaid, fine…but be prepared to leave it unsaid forever.

Walter Slovatsky

Things like this hit differently when you are older. It fucks with your abandonment issues. Your lack of closure. It’s not always a death, but certainly the end of something. You have to grieve the good and the bad. Grief is what allows them to become memories. Pile on enough of those memories and I guess that’s what gives us baggage. It’s hard out there. It’s hard to stay “good” when you just see patterns repeating. When you begin to suspect that every look back could be the last.

If you live long enough, I’d imagine it becomes more and more likely that those last looks back could be your last.

Some nights

Not too long ago, the prospect that I would be spending a Friday night alone at home would make my skin crawl. I felt like I was missing out. I needed to be around others and I would often get frustrated with my friends for being busy or just wanting to be couch potatoes when I wanted to get out and GO.

Tonight, I’m sitting alone at home, writing these words. My dog has become fed up with me, sighing her dissaproval from the other room. I’m working on a glass of wine, relaxing, clearing my head, and getting my thoughts down. Letting the warmth of the glass of 13 Crimes spread out from my tummy. The house is quiet. I might put on some music. I might not. It’s a chilly autumn evening. I’m in my comfy cable knit sweater.

I have no problems with being alone right now.

I got my social interaction for the day by texting a few friends, visiting on the phone briefly, and chatting with my mom this morning over coffee. I got my sticker at Dutch Bros. The last one they had in Ft. Collins too. I chatted with a guy who works at a Vinyl store in Old Town. He told me about the time he met Tori Amos. I drove up Poudre canyon both ways and listened to music and felt the chill of the mountain air, totally out of cell reception. I even pulled off to the side of the road to have a nap near Rustic.

Tonight, the quiet is nice.

I no longer squirm at the prospect of needing to be around people and be a social butterfly. Sometimes it wears me out to do that. I have to be On. I have to be someone I’m not. Or at least I’m not them without a lot of ramping up to get there.

I’m boring. Yes, I am. You heard me. I wear my silly hats and go places and do things, but that is more like something I am doing for a job. Tonight I am boring. I am someone who would rather sit and listen to the rain patter on windows, or read a book, or pet the dog than I am the one who just a few years ago had to be swept away by the surge of a crowd.

Jeez, I’m so boring.

I really don’t mind. Not tonight. In the last several years, I have learned that I am someone who sometimes needs his downtime. I need to be alone to recharge and refocus. To chase away those knots in my stomach. The tension in my neck and shoulders. To step out of that wave of who I need to be for other people and just be myself and feel present in my own skin. And think the thoughts and sit in the quiet and just breathe.

I can’t expect most people to understand that. A life where we are constantly running or chasing or thinking and overthinking and hiding in plain sight and people-pleasing. Living behind these walls and projecting and dying a little bit inside all the time. Until we are just hollow. Until we can’t feel anything. And we hurt ourselves just a little bit, like in the song, to see if we still feel.

We eat the food but it’s just chewing. You’d think we had COVID because it doesn’t taste like anything. It tastes like a shadow of what it should be. You know what a steak tastes like, so you swallow each piece of “steak.” You know it’s good, so you say it’s good, but a piece of BBQ brisket could be a Chicken McNugget for all you care. Chew, choke it down, repeat.

But in this quiet. It’s something different. I feel how I am put together. Each breath I take in and exhale. I feel the weight of the air pressure. The gravity holding me to my chair. The way time passes. It feels incredible. I feel the joy and regret and memories and I hear echoes of old laughter and glimpses of happy moments. It’s better than the noise of a movie up on a screen.

Sometimes you are tired of running. Tired of chasing. Tired of dwelling on things. I feel like a bird that smacks into a picture window, just sorta standing there in the grass, dazed. In a minute I’ll get it all back together and fly off. Ready to smack into another picture window.

Tonight, I just am.