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Just when I think I’m over the hill and I’ve put the worst of the depression behind me, another weekend like this one comes along and sucker-punches me back to a darker place. 

Usually I can tolerate other people’s pregnancy talk.   A pregnant woman who shares my office is the reason I have this job; I’ll be replacing her and taking over her caseload when she has her baby.  But at this school where it seems all the women are married to doctors and in the acute stages of their child-bearing years, it’s not just my office-mate.  Someone else had a baby in September, and 4 others are displaying varying stages of the Bump.  Last week, at what was supposed to be a relaxing faculty pizza lunch, a break from the students, I had the misfortune to sit next to 2 other pregnant women who are similarly far along.  I was treated to an unending discussion about ultrasounds and flu shots and nurseries and heart-beats, and feeling the kicking, and maternity clothing, and morning sickness, and everything pregnancy.  They’re cooing and obsessing about how nervous they were to hear the heart-beat during their first ultrasound and it about knocks the wind out of me.  Because my first ultrasound happened when I was pretty sure I had lost the baby. 

Add onto that a weekend of home improvement failures and a Sunday night in lonely anxiety, and it adds up to my overall despondency this morning, and accounts for one of the reasons I couldn’t summon enough enthusiasm to dress up for “Clash Day,” part of Spirit Week.  Those who know me know I would usually embrace such a day with fervor.  I have plaids, I have stripes, I have fluorescents, and multi-colored sneakers.  This morning, I have on a navy blue and green striped sweater, and navy blue slacks.  I couldn’t do it. 

We tried this weekend to finish – I mean really finish – the kitchen floor.  There were only 2 steps left: doorway thresholds, and trim under the cabinets to cover the gaps left behind by the mandatory 5/16” spacing of the floor planks.  Stumbling block 1: the vinyl toe-kick (under cabinet trim) must lie flat for 24 hours prior to installation.  Stumbling block 2: metal is hard to cut with a hacksaw.  But, between some vigorous sanding and an accidental slicing of my finger, we installed the doorway thresholds.  They may actually work, though the backdoor doesn’t open quite as well as before.

It was the toe kick that sent me spiraling into self-doubt, criticism, and self-loathing.  The vinyl, which we had thought designed for this very purpose (hiding the expansion gaps between the flooring and the cabinetry), turns out not to be wide enough at the base to hide the gaps.  Despite bending it and a lot of cursing, it would not yield to our desires.  That was when the self-stick foam plan hatched.  We set off to the fabric store. After procuring the foam, we had to misfortune to see a deer running amuck in the shopping center, bashing its head into glass doors and windows, its mouth bloodied by the attempts.  We called the police, who probably came over and shot the poor thing.  The unlucky deer sent me into a jag about the dangers of commercialism and development impinging on natural habitats of innocent animals who don’t care about holiday sales at Old Navy or the latest scents at Bath & Body Works. 

I felt a little better once we got home and started our next mission – building up the base of the cabinets with 2mm self-stick craft foam.  There was a plan, and I knew how to execute it.  I did a trial with our 2mm foam, and it still wasn’t enough to hide the gap, so I suggested we add a 2nd layer.  Now 4mm thicker, it wasn’t ideal, but my desire to have the thing finished overcame my desire to do it perfectly.  Looking around at the various stages of the floor installation project, all I had seen were imperfections – blue tape shellacked into the stain; bits of stain bled onto the lemon-colored walls; millions of dog hairs sealed into the polyurethane; and huge gaps between the flooring tiles and the walls.  Hiring a professional wouldn’t necessarily have yielded better results.  As we saw when they came to paint, they broke off a window lock, used the wrong color in our bedroom, and some of the paint in the office is peeling already.  And had we wanted to hire someone, chances are, it wouldn’t have been done at all, since paying for floor installation typically doubles the price.  Somehow, I came around a corner from all of this imperfection, temporarily forgave ourselves for being human and never being able to do anything to my specifications, and became bent on finishing the project.

So we did.  I planned my Facebook status, something humorous like, “I may have just used rainbow-color craft foam to finish my kitchen floor.”  We applied the vinyl.  We hoped we’d never have to think about it again.  Of course some of the foam stuck out above the baseboard. Of course some of the gaps in the floor showed.  I was just so tired of thinking about it.

Hours later, I had to.  The baseboard was peeling off.  Turns out the foam’s adhesive is no match for the vinyl’s adhesive, and the vinyl, unhappy with being bent around corners, decided to peel off one layer of foam and collapse on the floor in a rainbow-colored failure. 

To top it off, Mr. Apron had to go to rehearsal.  Daylight Savings had just lost me an hour of daylight.  It was 6:30pm, pitch-black, the puppy had just peed on the nice rug upstairs, and as the door closed behind my husband, I felt an instantaneous surge of loneliness.  The second I saw him disappear into the night, that familiar lump rose in my throat. 

 I am no good at being alone.  I avoid it at all costs.  Doing homework at the kitchen table in childhood, seeking out common areas in college, I try not to be alone, if I can help it.  I couldn’t help it last night.  After a lackluster trip to the grocery store, I sat on the couch, had a tantrum, and waited for my husband to come home.  I tried calling my mother, under the pretense of asking my father if he had any ideas for the kitchen, but I never actually reached him. I was sidelined by my mother’s trying to “help” by telling me to call in a professional, never do a home improvement project by ourselves again, and find something to do.  She does always try to change the subject.  Either it’s dog antics, some client of hers, or some inconsequential “project” she’s taken on.  I called her on it.  I said, “I have plenty of things I could be doing – things I want to do and don’t want to do – sewing, making lunches, baking, cleaning up, writing letters, paying bills, but I am not going to do any of them.  I won’t be distracted.” 

Sometimes I don’t want her to fix everything.  When I’m in the throes of being miserable or feeling sorry for myself or disparaging myself, I don’t want her to mitigate these feelings with her distraction techniques. 

My husband finally walked in the door after rehearsal.  “I didn’t do so well tonight,” I said, not to make him feel guilty for going away, or to seek pity, but just to let him know.  He recalled a long ago conversation we’d had one time after I’d been upset.  Apparently, he’d had a sprout of insight and had told me, “Buddy, sometimes I guess you don’t want me to fix everything.  I just need to let you be sad.” 

When it all snowballs together and takes over my weekend, all I can do is feel sad.  I can fake my way through a day of work, put on a happy face when I need to be “on,” and function pretty well in zombie mode, but I haven’t yet processed all the garbage that happened.  Sure, some of it is out of my control and bad luck (Daylight Savings, the dog’s accident), while other bits just dig up my old feelings of mediocrity and inadequacy, and still others are things I need to accept make me sad, like being alone.   

I hope I can snap back this week and try to enjoy the silly things the kids are wearing.  I don’t like living my life in constant anticipation of disappointing weekends.  I don’t like hanging my ideals of happiness on how well the kitchen floor turns out, or how “productive” I was during an evening alone.  I don’t want my mood to bounce up and down dependent on positive and negative events, as if keeping score.  I want to take it all in stride, and enjoy it before it’s too late.

Before you think this is just another new-homeowner blog wherein I needlessly detail all the minutiae of our latest home-improvement project, and then make you seethe with jealously as you drool over pictures of recessed lighting, exposed beams, sparkling appliances, and gleaming woodwork, rest assured you will never have to see those pictures; our home will always be a mess. 

However, in our can-do, suburban spirit, we will always keep trying.  After all, how American can we truly be unless we are continually remodeling our home? 

For a while, it was a matter of putting out fires.  The drain was stopped up, so we had 3 real plumbers and Mr. Apron with a coat hanger make various attempts until we could finally wash our hands while leaving the water on.  The roof leaked, so we misguidedly replaced the windows (at the advice of a roofer who clearly had enough work elsewhere), then fixed the actual roof itself.  The 30-year-old oven scorched my precious cupcakes, so we had it hauled to the curb.  Our new built-in microwave was just the icing on the cake.  Sometimes when I enter the kitchen, I can’t believe that modern piece of appliancery is ours to keep. The giant air-conditioner that is responsible for making 2/3 of the first floor habitable all summer (well, this year, from April till mid-September) was just making a whole lot of noise, so we had that bastard replaced, too.  And on it goes.  However, none of our improvements have been strictly our choice, as in, “What do you want to tackle next?”  They’ve simply been old-house things that have up and died and demanded our attention.  And with the exception of the bright red backsplash I picked out to go behind the stove, none have been aesthetic, merely functional, practical, comfortable. 

Until now.  I chanced to mention to my parents that (one day) I’d really like to dig up our kitchen floor and lay down something beautiful and modern, as opposed to the vomit-colored cobble-stone design vinyl sheeting that was somehow impossible to keep clean besides.  The very week I spent up at my parents’ house, Mr. Apron became inspired to mop that stupid floor, after multiple failed attempts to Swiffer it, both wet and dry.  The week after he mopped it shiny clean, my father descended upon our house.  Ostensibly, he was there to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with us, but, after we returned from services, he was at once examining our kitchen floor as if a surgeon deciding the best way to remove a malignant tumor.  Before we knew it, he had changed his clothes, taken tools out of his car, and ripped up a corner of our floor. 

Just to see what was there, you see.  Just to peek and measure and investigate.  Under the vinyl sheeting, he found a layer of ¼” plywood.  And under that, he found vintage red and yellow linoleum.  Real linoleum, in 9” tiles, which probably means they were original to the house, which dates them to c. 1928.  For a moment I considered the appeal of the vintage tiles.  I considered the ease of just leaving them there.  I considered the incredible coincidence of the color scheme we had picked out for the final product – red and yellow.  We’ve been collecting red-handled kitchen gadgets from the 1950s; we’ve had the walls painted lemon meringue; we have a red vintage enamel-top table with red vinyl-covered chairs.  We have curtains in green, red and yellow fabric from the 1940s sporting all manner of kitchen gadgets. 

Alas; it was not meant to be.  The tile was in poor shape due to the tacks used to hold the plywood layer down, which had left thousands of neat little holes in the linoleum.  I thought, too, of resale.  Though I’ve sworn I’m never moving again, I do try to think of the mass aesthetic or practical appeal of the home improvements we do.  While I might adore the quaint appeal of the original 1928 red and yellow floor (without holes), someone else (who otherwise adores our home and wants to engage in a frenzied bidding war) might look down her nose disapprovingly at the “vintage” (read: “old”) flooring. 

Plus, my dad had already begun ripping up the lino, leaving us fewer choices in the matter.  Under that was solid wood floor.  Not the type you find in televised remodeling project homes, where they discover Mercer tile in the fireplace under layers of paint, and solid gold switch plates.  No, the type that is the sub-floor.  At least, there’s nothing beneath a subfloor. 

Not being able to turn back and pretend we didn’t know what lay beneath our feet, Mr. Apron and I dug in.  Dad left, giving us homework until the next time he visited: measure the floor, buy whatever flooring you want, and Rip. Up. Everything. 

Initially, I was petrified, but now that a corner had already been peeled back and dug up, it seemed the task had already begun, and that we had to move forward.  Even though it wasn’t pretty, and wouldn’t be a one-day project, we had a task ahead of us. 

I came home one night from work or tutoring, or my basket weaving course at night school, and found the refrigerator in the middle of the floor, and my husband of almost 4 years sitting in the space where the refrigerator used to be.  He was hard at work ripping up flooring.  The next day he tore out an 8 ft x 4ft chunk of flooring (vinyl + plywood together) in one He-Man-like gesture.  I think Mr. Apron has bought into the home improvement spirit.  He’s certainly turned up his doing dial.

Now, this story doesn’t have an ending yet.  Our cork flooring, which was surprisingly hard to track down, isn’t scheduled to arrive until Sunday.  After last weekend’s Adventure in Sanding, Dad will be back to help install this weekend.  It may actually get done, but that’s kind of not the point.  

I could just wait until this is all finished, put up my pretty pictures, and drone on and on about the Dali pattern in our Lisbon cork, how it’s naturally mold-resistant and eco-friendly, blah, blah, blah.  But I’m not gonna.

What’s most important about this project is that my dad heard my hopeful dreaming of new flooring, and decided to do something about it.  He’s not one to be afraid of failure on a project.  He’s not one to be intimidated by having never installed click-lock floating floors before.  He’s not afraid of delving into the unknown beneath the shiny vomit tile.  And that’s what I’m grateful for.  Who knows how many years we might have had to wait to love our kitchen floor? Who knows how many wasted hours I might have spent researching floor installation before taking a pry-bar to the floor itself?  I’m grateful for my dad’s support in this project.  I don’t feel like we’re taking advantage of his can-do spirit or his man-power.  After all, he made us tear up the floor ourselves, till our backs were aching and our fingers numb from ripping out tacks with vise grips.  After all, it was my husband who hauled 380 pounds of trash formerly known as flooring to the dump and flung it all into the abyss (Side note: genuine linoleum tile is a heavy motherfucker.  DENSE, y’all.)  We are doing most of the physical labor ourselves.  Were it not for my dad’s initiative, his support, and our blind faith in his know-how, we would never have even begun the project.  And for that I am already grateful, even as we traipse over foul-smelling backer paper of our unfinished sub-floor while waiting for the glorious cork tiles to come in.  It’s going to be beautiful.  Make no mistake, I may gloat. 

But first I’ll thank the Academy, and my father.

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May 2020