It’s last Thursday morning. I wake up and reach for my iPhone to see what time it is. I put on my glasses, pull back my sheets, say to Tim, “It’s 7:15,” and step onto the light oak wood floors we spent at least three days of our life sanding and vacuuming and sanding and vacuuming and sealing and waiting and sealing and waiting and sealing again. Every time I look at these floors, I will think of the night I crouched, hand and knees to the ground, pushing a hand sander in circles around the edges of the office/guest bedroom, trying to rough up the sections that the floor sander missed. Some of Tim’s buddies came over that night, to help us paint and sand and, when they walked by the room, where I crouched and pushed my vibrating hands, I eye-smiled to say hi without stopping, a dust mask covering my mouth. These floors, original hardwoods, were orangey when we bought them, finished with that classic finish I guess everybody was using in 1964. Now they are somewhere between white and light tan. When the stone fabricator came in to measure our kitchen counter space on Tuesday, he said, “Wait, these floors are finished?” because the light, Scandinavian look we knew we wanted maybe hasn’t caught on with the mainstream home renovators yet.
I take a shower in our newly refinished bathtub. It had 50 years of cracks and dents and stains in it when we bought it, and even every home remedy we could find from Bob Villa wouldn’t take those marks out. Herschel, the veteran bathtub refinisher who came Monday morning, spent about four hours in the bathroom, with paper covering every square inch of tile and a giant vent/pipe stretching from there to the bedroom window. When he came out, he left us a bright, shiny bathtub as good as a new model from Home Depot. “Practically a miracle!” I said to Tim. We couldn’t use the tub for a day, and for the next 90 days every time the tub (and the sink, because Herschel upsold us, that magician) gets wet, we have to towel it off until dry, so we’ve essentially taken on a bathtub of a pet, one that needs regular care and attention and love. I towel off the tub and hang the tub towel on the tub hook and get dressed and read my Bible and sit down with my laptop at our table to work.
Our kitchen table—the table Tim built me just before we got married now three Octobers ago—is in the dining room, just next to the bones of our kitchen, where the cabinets are painted and reconfigured. This is where I work, sandwiched between sliding glass doors and giant front windows, around me all kinds of light. Behind me, in the kitchen, there are the one-and-a-half-inch wood floors that we bought online and had delivered and Tim and I carried, bunch by bunch, up stairs to the living room. Skinny floors take longer to install, but they match the floors in the rest of the house, so Tim spent 15 hours of his life laying them in the kitchen, plank by plank, nailing the tongue-and-groove pieces together. When I came to pick him up the first night, back before we were sleeping in this place that’s now home, he was so punchy from exhaustion, barely anything he said made sense.
There are no countertops in our kitchen yet and, because the sink gets mounted into the countertops, there is no sink, but there is a working refrigerator and we do have the working oven/stove we bought off Craigslist and tied with cords in a truck, so if we weren’t babying the bathtub right now, we could probably eat almost normal and wash dishes there. I think we are gluttons for more work because after reading articles on WaterSoftenerGuide.com we definitely want a water softener installed.
When people come into the house, people like Herschel or the counter guy or the conveyor belt of plumbers who have visited us over the last week to diagnose and give estimates on the massive plumbing surprise in our 50-year-old cast-iron pipes, they say things like, “So, huh, you’re living here like this?” or “Doing it yourself?” and, my personal favorite, from the first plumber, who happily sat down on our fireplace hearth when we couldn’t locate a chair: “I bet this sounded like a lot more fun when you were talking about it.” It did, when I was looking at loft conversions Plymouth magazine and dreaming of the different ways it would be, this was not it.
This is what living in a renovation is like. Every other day my eyes catch on the missing baseboards or spots needing paint touchups or the room downstairs filled with boxes (one side: kitchen, other side: books) still unpacked, and my heartbeats quicken and my breath almost stops and I say panicky things like “What are we going to dooooooo?” in a whiny voice like I’m a preteen girl. Tim’s hands are covered in callouses, we’re both black and blue, I’m pretty sure I still have lingering white paint on my big toe and everything costs so much money, more money than you can possibly estimate when you’re doing your due diligence of getting a home inspection and asking for a home warranty and setting aside an emergency fund. We talk about the impermanence of life, the way nothing is ever perfect and finished, never for always, even when it’s done. New things become old things. Fixed things become broken things. Even as we restore and redeem and make new this space with walls around us, our bodies decay every day. We are working for a house that will someday perish. This world is not our home.
Tonight, Tim makes a salad, our stumbling, staggering almost-return to routine. He fishes a bowl from the basement boxes that he will later awkwardly wash in the downstairs pedestal sink and combines Romaine with sliced apples, avocado, simple dressing and salt. He spreads this dinner on two paper plates, and the familiar pain in my chest is replaced at least in that moment by real joy that if I am standing in this chaos, at least standing in this chaos is a tangible reminder to hold this house loosely and at least when I am standing in this chaos I am standing in it with him.