A Fresh Coat

The family room is done. (Thanks, Jean, for schooling me on getting the second coat up and the tape off in due time!)  I’ve just kept painting, right into the hallway.

After not getting help from the first paint store, I found much better service at a second store. They’re on my list now, as reliable folk.

The people there show me samples, ask me what I don’t like, and we narrow it down to what I was looking for.

I still haven’t mastered the art of choosing white paint, but I’ve gotten a lot better at it.

I make some mistakes painting. I learn from them. I can fix them, or live with them.

I just do a few sections at a time, to do what’s manageable and not overwhelm myself.  Then I’m surprised at how much I can do in one shot.

These are all the practices I use in widowhood. I’ve learned a thing or two about widowhood, though, through this painting project. I’ve realized that it’s now routine for me to eliminate options until I make a decision. That’s because I never know what I want, and that’s because I don’t really want anything. But I know what I don’t want, or what doesn’t feel right. 

I gotta trust my instincts. Despite all the home repairs I’ve had to do, I haven’t done much to improve the place. That was something I used to do with my husband. As I’ve wiped the paintbrush back and forth, I have visceral memories of fixing up this or that crummy apartment with Steve in our twenties, or making things nice for the kids later on. Those thoughts would have been met with too much pain a year ago. Making things nice was something reserved for us as a couple, not for me alone. It has seemed so pitiful to make things nice, just for me and the kids.

Something changed. Maybe it was a month of really good sleeping pills that provided some much-needed rest. That was followed by a break that I devoted to minor home improvements, and once I finished them, I looked around and thought, “It’s time to spruce this place up.” I found myself saying to Daughter, in response to some minor inconvenience, “That’s no way to live. Let’s fix that.”  Suddenly it seemed like the dinghy hallways were too dark, there were lots of scuff marks and mysterious splatters. This is no way to live, and there is such an easy solution. Simply painting walls was unimaginable a year ago, not only because I couldn’t bear to do it, but I didn’t even see the scuff marks on the wall.

I see those scuff marks now, and I paint right over them. The painted hallway is so bright that it looks like I added a new light. As I tear the tape off the wood, I step back, I see it, and I take it all in. 

And here’s the final lesson I’ve learned, the hard way–I don’t get my hopes up. Freshly painted walls are not going to change everything. They’re an improvement, but not an escape or a transformation. A fresh coat of paint is just a fresh coat of paint. That moment of admiring my handiwork, of seeing the effect–that’s the moment. That’s it. That’s all there is, and it’s everything.  

Now, onto the next hallway. And there’s a wall downstairs I’ve suddenly noticed. Onward.


2 thoughts on “A Fresh Coat

  1. If I was your mother I’d be really proud of you right now. It may be just a coat of paint but like you said, a year ago you wouldn’t have even noticed the need for one. That’s a giant step towards the top of Widowhood Mountain.

    I still have one doorway with wheelchair damage on the plaster. I need to borrow your line and tell myself, “that’s no way to live” and just fix the darn thing.

  2. Oh, golly, Jean, that is a high compliment. It’s funny that you say that, because my students shared their intellectual progress last week. I was so moved, and when we packed up our papers, I uttered, “Your parents must be so proud of you.” I know what it’s like to see that, and thanks for seeing that in me.

    As for your own scuff marks, I do hope you just fix the darn thing. Pay a guy, if you have to. It’ll be easy for him, and a world of good for you.

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