Friday, August 22, 2008

Things you'd have done this week if you lived here

1. Jacked up your house: You notice that the front half of your house is sagging, so you tear the walls apart to find out why (no header, see "House archaeology" post), talk your wife into letting you jack the house up yourself, then, jack the house up yourself. You have to build a temporary wall to do this, and then cut the old studs so that the house will actually rise. During the week that you're raising the jacks, quarter-inch by quarter-inch, the continental plates of your house will drift back together into Pangaea: the door to your daughter's room will actually close rather than have a two-inch gap in the frame, and she'll be able to open her jammed closet door herself rather than calling you to do it for her every time she wants her dress-up clothes.

Throughout the whole process, your wife will have a semi-permanent worry furrow on her forehead and may need constant reassurance that you know what you're doing, not merely think you know what you're doing. Though you've been together a long time and have done many difficult tasks simply by reading books, getting advice from friends, and tapping into your bottomless well of confidence, you should just smile and tell her things will be okay. And when you take a day off in the middle of the week to build the new wall, and then run into a moment where the house almost falls down because the temporary wall slips and the old wall is no longer there to hold it, and you have to grab a two-by-four to prop the house up while you run out to the garage and cut more two-by-fours to hold the rest of the house up--you should skip that part when she asks you, "How'd things go today?" Just show her the finished product, accept her congratulations and thanks, and sleep the sleep of angels.

2. Get dragged all over the tricounty area in search of even more fruit: Your parents call you a fruit bat because some summer mornings you want blueberries, peaches, watermelon, and apricots with your yogurt. But by mid-August, even you are tiring of fruit. It's peach season, and your mom's got some unexplainable attraction to stone fruits, so you have to get dragged away from your art table and your back yard kiddie pool to drive hella far east or west to find farmstands and u-pick orchards. It's hot in the car and the air conditioner doesn't really reach you in the back seat, and your carseat feels too small and cramped--Will they just get you a booster seat already? Maybe one with a cup holder like your friend Z. has.

When your mom's friend calls one night and says, "The Veteran peaches are here!" you just know tomorrow is shot. And sure enough, you're on the road at 8:30 a.m. on a stay-home day. You're in the back seat with a grown-up you've just met, so now you've got to make small talk, which is fine, but it's a long drive and your mom and her friend in the front seat are talking about boring things like anti-consumerism and urban homesteading, so you talk to the nice grown up next to you about your favorite color and point out letters you know on the billboards outside.

The orchard is just another orchard--seen one, seen them all. You make your mom pull you in the wagon and then pick a few peaches that are growing at branches at your height, sneak one and let the juice dribble all over neck and t-shirt and arms. Briefly, you and your mom talk about a book you just read, James and the Giant Peach, but then she is off again, picking, picking, picking. All the grown ups are hunting for the perfect peaches, clucking at the disappointing size and color of the fruit, and talk about coming back next week. Sigh. The high point of the whole excursion is in the car when the friend gives you a tube of lipstick and urges you to put some on, and your mom's grimacing in the rearview miror, so that makes it even better as you slide some of that stuff on your lower lip and most of your chin.

Later that night, spend an hour crawling around naked on all fours meowing. When your parents ask what you're doing, say in kitty broken English, "Me Mucous the cat. Meow." Refuse to answer to your given name, so they have to call you by your kitty name in order to get you to put your jammies on and brush your teeth. You've put up with the peaches this week--the picking and the canning and the jam-making and the sorbet-making. You are Mucous the cat, and this night is yours.

3. Nursed your latest bout of insomnia with Jane Austen: While channel surfing last week, you get caught up in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, particularly the Netherfield Ball scene in which the camera dips and floats through the crowd giving glimpses of 18th social hierarchies, maneuverings, and manipulations. This world of good marriages and important connections, of aristocrats and bourgeoisie figuring out how to fall in love with one another, of spirited daughters, plain daughters, imprudent daughters, and stoic daughters is as familiar and comforting as mac and cheese.

So when you're tossing in bed at 4:30 a.m., fretting over everything from problematic chapter five of your book project, to daunting deadlines at work, to all the slowly rotting fruit in the kitchen downstairs that needs something, anything, done to them, instead of your customary walking of the rooms, you dig out that old marked-up paperback from some undergraduate English class you took eons ago, curl up on the couch, and get swept up all over again by Lizzie, who is you and every woman you know, and Darcy, who is every man you know. But what you love most, what settles your mind enough so you can catch another hour or two of sleep, is how how propriety and expectations and order, as restrictive as they were to the Bennett sisters, provided at least some kind of framework, some kind of boundary, within which their lives were to be lived. Because in the middle of the night, your own world seems shapeless--the edges too far off to be useful in giving you a sense of direction or a hint of what's to come. You know the happy ending for Lizzie and Darcy, know that it all works out for everyone, so the constraints of their lives comfort you. You don't read to critique or to understand--or even to feel grateful to be a modern woman, because at 4:30 a.m., that doesn't seem like such a great thing to be at all.


Pete said...

I'm freaked out by this. The combo of Austen and your house being held up by a 2 x 4. Freaky. I can't sleep, either.

DomaMama said...

You'd be surprised at how small a role physics plays in home construction. Wishing, optimism, and Austen-style wit are actually much more important.

disa said...
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