Remember back when you didn’t understand what it meant to make a giant mess out of your house and then have to live in it?
In the weeks since we looked at The River House, I’ve been thinking about all of the ways I now understand the undertaking we’re considering—ways I wouldn’t have, prior to the experience of renovating our current house.
Before Paul and I got married, my only experience of “home ownership” was an apartment with my best friend—where our biggest “house project” involved a clear shower curtain, a set of permanent markers, inside jokes we’d been refining since we were thirteen, and falling over with hysteria.
It was also a place where we had no furniture. Literally, none. And when people came over, we would motion to a piece of folded-up foam in the corner, and say—have a seat on the sofa.
So you can imagine I was not prepared for the reality of renovating a house. Paul did try to tell me. But I could not comprehend it. Or? Rather, I thought I understood, but as it turns out, if you have not lived it? You understand nothing. Not even your own ignorance.
But. Now I understand. What construction means. What chaos means. What it means to see no end in sight. What it means to lose entire months to mess and irritation and failed deadlines.
Revisiting photos of the transformation gives me hives.
Was it worth it? Yes. Absolutely.
But? Living here, at what I now realize is a relatively stress-free house… Paul and I have, at times, managed to make each other crazy. And sometimes the craziness has eaten our entire personalities. Think of the extremes we could go to when faced with a project many times more complicated and financially dubious.
I have learned huge lessons from the house we’re in. About myself, about Paul, about the nature of marriage and the infuriating way you can say one thing, and have your husband later claim you said the opposite. The way that stress and dirt and never-ending decisions magnify and exacerbate all your worst qualities.
On the positive side— this house has shown me the immeasurable extent of Paul’s capability. It has reinforced him as the most competent person I have ever met. It has made me grateful for his skills, his strengths, his humor, his willingness to move heaven and earth to build me things I make up in my head, and his sheer ability to get shit done while I am lying useless on the floor.
This house has also seen us so at odds with each other, that we have been unspeakably angry over things that in retrospect are ridiculous and irrelevant. It has, at times, left us bitterly embroiled in some epic feud over shelf-spacing, floor stain, and the degree of sheen for the trim paint.
I’m not actually kidding about the trim paint. I am like a raccoon—I love shiny things. The shinier the better. Paul, however? Thinks glossy paint is the road to hell. Why he’s taken such an entrenched view on this is mystifying. He is a man who does not care what color we paint the walls, what sofa we buy, what light fixtures we use, what tile we lay, or what monster Craigslist object I want to acquire. But? Trim paint is of utmost importance?
As evidence of his utter inflexibility on the topic, Paul actually won that argument. How it happened, I don’t know. But it certainly wasn’t due to my good-natured acquiescence. At one point I literally howled at him from the elevation of the second floor stairwell—if I want glossy paint, WHY do you care?
WHY DO YOU CARE?????
The kind of insensible fury that stands for all of the stress, all of the worry, all of the tedium, all of the never-ending banging, sawing, pounding, sanding, hauling, and hanging.
And then later—you have a flash of discomforting clarity. You think: did I really say that? Did I really say that while clinging to a banister and clutching a mini-sledgehammer? Am I insane? And then your moment of clarity is followed immediately by a fresh surge of rage—that your husband is so cruel he would thwart your heart’s true paint desire.
To anyone who has never worn a respirator while wielding a sledgehammer while covered in 120 years of plaster dust and fuming about your husband’s inhuman lack of empathy regarding your need for high-gloss paint—this probably seems like a sad and shameful confession. But at this point, I don’t care. I think anyone who renovates a house with a partner should expect to spend part of the time seething and crying. Mostly over stupid things that have become huge symbols of righteousness and aesthetic virtue.
To determine what fraction of your time will be devoted to this— adjust the equation according to how easygoing you and your partner are. Then multiply it by the degree to which you are able to invest things like trim paint with importance and value.
Part One – The house.
Part Three – Where dreams go to die.