I Have No One to Blame

When I found myself on my knees last night, I had to take a moment and ask myself what I had done to end up here, like this. What point along my timeline marked the moment I could have made a different decision, a better decision that would have avoided this pain? As I inched along the baseboard with my putty knife and razor blade, gently prying off the tape and cutting away the stuck bits of plaster, I knew that this time I would have to go all the way back to the beginning, to the day when I impulsively stripped the old wallpaper from the walls and declared that we would prime and paint instead of repapering.

That’s usually how projects go in our house. I do something impulsive, insisting I’ll be done in a minute, couple hours tops, and my husband comes in with a mountain of equipment and schools me in the fine art of doing things right instead of just getting them done.

So, here we are, six weeks into this let’s-repair-the-walls-before-painting-but-not-skim-coat-haha-just-kidding project, and we’re finally (almost) ready to prime. Along the way, I’ve learned the value of a good dust mask with a respirator, the importance of drinking enough water, the limits of both household vacuum cleaners, and the art of blending new plaster with old. I’ve also gotten to see every crack, crevice, and wrinkle in my skin since I’ve spent much of the time covered in a fine layer of dust. I’ve never been more grateful for running water and cool showers.

We could have pushed ourselves harder last night, finished getting all the tape off, washed down the walls for the umpteenth time, but in a moment of kindness and pity, we looked at each other and said, “Enough.” If we stopped, we’d have time to clean up before the Game of Thrones finale started. We could shower, eat something, put our aching feet up, and enjoy the rest of the evening. So we’ll stop, right? We stared at each other, then at the walls and the tape. It was coming off slowly, taking much longer than we anticipated. I’ll put my tools down, if you do. Agreed. But then:

“The tape above the doors and windows is hard for you reach,” he says. “I’ll just get that.”

I pick up my knife and go back to my baseboard. What have I done?

I’m stubborn enough that I won’t be the one to walk away first. If he’s going to push himself, so will I. Now it’s a matter of pride. And stupidity. I pause. This is one of those moments, this choice matters, right now. I stop, face red, dripping sweat and look at him again.

“Why don’t you go shower while I finish this?” he says. “I’m almost done. I can take the trash out while you shower, then take mine.”

He’s appealing to reason: we have only one shower. Can I trust him? Will he actually walk away from the room, leave the rest for me to tackle tomorrow? It’s a gamble. I can see he actually is almost done. I look at my knife, I can feel my feet, swollen and sore, begging me to listen to him, trust him, walk away. It’s not a competition.

“Okay.” I finally agree. “But I’ll get the upstairs trash while you do that.”

Score one for me. Oh, wait. It’s NOT a competition. If it were, I’d have lost before we began. The truth is, he can outdo me. He’s taller and stronger and has more stamina. His vision is sharper, his knowledge broader, his attention to detail more acute. I can’t win against him when it comes to sheer endurance or to utter perfectionism. The nice thing is, I don’t have to. When I stripped off the old wallpaper, I knew without asking that he’d throw himself into the project, and that we’d end up with a much better result, no matter how long it took us. And I knew that I could learn to do what needed to be done and hold my own doing it.

That’s how I ended up here—I had someone willing to humor me and challenge me and push me just a little harder than I would have pushed myself. The walls and I are stronger for it.