Many people have said things like, “You know, at some point, not now, but at some point it’s going to be fun, you get to design whatever house you want, and buy brand new things.” There’s always extra emphasis on “brand new things” when they say it.
While I know logically this is probably the case, I will most likely finally get the white cabinets with the white subway tile in the kitchen and hardwood floors throughout, it’s still so hard to process, and look beyond the destruction. My brain still trickles back to the 1200 square feet of hardwood floors we had salvaged out of a tear down in the heights two years ago that was neatly stacked in our garage, waiting to be installed this summer. I think of the new things and I immediately think of the loss.
We are do it yourselfers, it was how I was raised. I think I was maybe 9 when my mom taught me how to change a washer in a dripping sink. Growing up I spent many weekends with my dad helping him with whatever project house he was currently working on. I’ve hung, floated and taped drywall. I’ve trimmed out rooms with floor and crown mouldings. I’ve installed light fixtures. I’ve built furniture. Heck, our last anniversary I looked at Bill and said, “Babe, can we buy each other a set of nail guns for our anniversary?” Yeah, he should consider himself lucky.
Over the last 8 years we’ve put our thumbprint on our house. At the beginning of January I sat on our 3 month old Joybird couch with Bill, the one I’d been dreaming about for 2 years, looked him right in the face and said, “I finally feel like our house is ours, you know?”
In September I’d finally chosen a gray for the living/kitchen/dining/hallway. We’d had a variety of paint swatches taped to the wall since we moved in. We painted all the space within the course of two weekends, giving Issa her own wall to paint in each room. Sam tracked paint paw prints through the laminate floor, but I didn’t care cause it was all going to go away this summer when we installed those reclaimed hardwood floors. We painted as a family, and after 8 years, we’d finally painted every room in the house.
Two weeks before the fire my dad came over and helped us install my dream ‘chandelier’ over the kitchen table. We had to move the electrical box because the original builders put it right in a walking path and I’d always thought it was weird. We actually had to tack up the chandelier because Bill would hit his head on it regularly.
The fixture I chose was a industrial vintage looking fixture complete with those beautiful edison bulbs. The last fixtures to replace were the fans and I’d already saved them to my Home Depot wish list.
Three years ago, after I’d sketched out an idea and while Issa and I were visiting family in New York, Bill spent his entire alone time building a custom banquette seat in our kitchen. Not only did he build the seat, but he installed beadboard and chair rail and sanded the heavy texture on the dining room wall and painted it with chalkboard paint even though he swore up and down “the chalk is going to be EVERYWHERE”. I think when he saw Issa draw on it for the first time, he got my vision. She wrote her name for the first time on that wall. A picture I’d painted after my Grandmother died also hung on that wall.
I had all the perfect kitchen gadgets; immersion blender for dump ranch, spiralizer for zoodles, crock pots for pulled pork, ninja blender for Issa’s smoothies, my black kitchen aid which was the #1 thing I wanted for our wedding, and the perfect sized food processor for making my grandmother’s pesto and chicken salad.
I actually walked through Target a few weeks ago and thought, you know, I don’t really need anything. There’s not even anything I really want. It’s not that we had everything or the best of the best. It was just that I was really content with what we had.
What we had.
One day this will be fun.
Genius moment, I’ll make a wishlist on Target.com of all the things I want to buy for our new house. Perfect. It will be fun. It will take my mind off the loss…where to start.
Before the fire, I’d thought about buying white dishes. Ok, shopping categories…home (don’t have one of those anymore), dining and entertaining (we used to do a lot of that), dinnerware, shop all dinnerware. Ok, so let’s narrow it down. White only, click. 372 results. Nope. Next.
I had those Nate Berkus fluffy brown towels. I’d gotten a blue one as a gag gift in college from an ex’s brother and ended up kind of loving it. Later, we registered for a whole set of them in brown. They don’t make them anymore.
Those were brown, what color do I order?
What color is my bathroom.
It’s black and covered in ashes, and char and smoke and broken drywall.
It was cream with chocolate brown trim. We’d redone the whole thing in year two in the house when we realized the toilet had been leaking and had rotted out the vanity. A friend came over and taught us how to lay tile. We did the whole thing on a strict budget of about $500.
I don’t have a bathroom.
I will have a bathroom, but I don’t know what color it will be.
Let’s skip towels. Let’s look at something that doesn’t depend on design. Vacuum, we’d bought a Shark when our hand me down vacuum died. Sharks are really good vacuums. I’ll add our Shark to the list.
What are these Sharks? These aren’t my Sharks. Where is my Shark, I liked MY Shark.
They don’t make my Shark anymore.
Ok, breathe. We’ll read about the new Sharks, research, again, figure out which one is the right one. Ok, carpets and hardwood, perfect. “Great for pet fur.”
We’ll choose a vacuum later.
Kitchen appliances, that’s easy. A blender is a blender, a food processor is a food processor. I look up food processors…cup size? What cup size was my food processor? I don’t know, the last time she was in town my aunt had commented that mine was big, is big an option? It was the perfect cup size, is that an option? I try to remember it, I see it sitting in the banquet seat Bill built, burnt, covered in soot, and sitting in three inches of dirty water. I can’t remember the cup size. I close the computer and say out loud, “I can’t do this.”
This is how most of my online shopping trips go.
Shopping in a store is about as equally successful but with it’s own set of challenges. I start out excited. I start out thinking, “I can conquer this”. I grab a shopping cart and press forward. I quickly get overwhelmed. I see all the things I had, and all the things we’re going to have to buy and the price tag and I feel like all of Target caves in on itself, swallowing me in, mixing me up with adorable kids room decor and unavoidable $1 section deals.
There is a part of me that wants to sit, balled up in the middle of a rack of clothes, hidden from sight. Maybe if I go there, I can have a complete melt down and no one will judge me.
Today we went into half price books. We searched for some of the books Issa lost from her library. “What was that book with the cats, the I love you mommy one?” We try to think of the title, and everything there is categorized by author, then we pull out phones and search and I can’t find it. I think of reading that book with her. I can remember all the words, she would recite them with me.
We’d sit in the rocking chair in her room, the one my aunt had bought me, it made me cry when she gave it to me. “I want you to have rocking chair you can rock your babies in, like I rocked mine in, and you can rock in long after they’re grown and remember how you held them.” I remember that the rocking chair is gone. I remember that the I love You Mommy book was given to us by a dear friend, and she’d inscribed a message on the back about how she thought I was going to be the greatest mother. And then I remember how it’s my fault that the house burned down, that I left the candle burning and how the ‘greatest mother’ would never do that.
I have a lot of guilt.
While all this is transpiring in my head, I shut down on the outside. I go somewhere else. My responses to people are short and crisp. I walk to another section of the book store.
I notice all the old books on the top shelf. I run my fingers along their bindings. I read their titles. And then, it hits me. For the first time I think about the two books, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, an early printing with beautiful binding. My mom had given them to me in my early teenage years, I read them cover to cover. I memorized sonnets. I stayed up late sitting at my desk, hanging on every word. I remember where they were, in the bookshelf in my office, where I kept most of my favorite books. I remember seeing them there, and then I remember what it looks like now. The only thing left is 12 inches of ash and a bit of the bottom level of the shelf, the insides of it, unrecognizable as a shelf.
I shut down more.
I shared a lot of this with a good friend of mine. The same one who had the forethought to bring me a Lara Bar the day of the fire. She told me to back up. She said, “Chris, you’re a designer…design your way out of this. Start with the bathroom, choose a layout, pick tile, pick a paint color, pick a toilet. Design your way out and work your way towards the towels.”
She’s really an amazing friend. I think I’ll keep her.
So for now, I’m designing my way out. We still need to choose a contractor. I’m praying God will lead us to the right person, the person who is going to let me design my way out. The person who is going to put up with this do it yourselfer who helped her dad hang a door at age 11. The person who will be ok with me, eventually living in a rent house down the street and completely intent on taking a walk daily, while drinking my morning coffee, just watch them work. The person who is also going to let me kind of be my own contractor, because I’m thrifty and fully convinced that I can find a lot of things a lot cheaper. The person who will respect our budget. The person who will not screw us over.
That person is out there.