I am sitting downstairs at my computer, trying to write. This is harder than usual.
Upstairs, my husband is doing something semi-mechanical. I hear a drill whine. Then I hear a series of thumps and bangs. Then, a scream, “Goddammit, son of a bitch!” More thumps and bangs. Another, more profane scream.
“Are you still alive?” I screech up the stairs.
His answer is unprintable, but he still seems to be breathing, in kind of a huffing and puffing way. So I slink back to my computer and contemplate the relationship of two people who can do very little around the house without losing control, massively screwing up and finally driving the other person to beg and plead that he or she will pay any price and shoulder any burden to get an outside handyperson to come in and do it right, do it without screaming and swearing, do it competently, cheerfully, well. Any price! Just stop the mayhem! Drop that drill! Walk away now!
I believe I started the whole intervention-at-any-price routine when we were dating. I was allegedly going to fix a dinner for him at my parents’ house, where I was living then. My mother, sensing the magnitude of my ineptness, left detailed instructions about how to broil a steak in the oven. It worked fine till I set the oven on fire. My then-boyfriend ended up cooking the steak himself; at least he could never say he entered into marriage under false premises about my total lack of enthusiasm and non-existent talent for domestic pursuits.
And so it went. When we moved into a house years ago, my husband announced he was going to take care of cutting the grass. Fine, great, we would save money, I thought naively. Ha. The first time he cut the grass (when it was about three feet high, I should add), he wore a facial mask so he wouldn’t get an asthma attack. (And I’d thought his asthma was just a good excuses for not getting drafted.) It’s kind of odd and humiliating to have a person with a mask cutting your lawn. I wanted to die. What would the neighbors think?
As it turned out, the mask wasn’t the worst part. After the initial grass-cutting, I had to listen to days of loud complaints about how terrible, how excruciating, the whole experience had been. Machines! Grass! The horror! There were a couple of days of respite before he started preparing himself to cut the grass again. More complaints, more moaning, more angst. I might as well do it myself, I thought, even though, of course, I had no intention of pushing a lawn mower.
So, we finally hired someone to cut the grass — an elderly alcoholic who lived across the street and nearly got sideswiped every time he crossed over to our house. He loved to talk. God, he loved to talk, as he paused between swipes with the mower, rang our doorbell to report on his progress, and reinvigorated himself with long swigs from a container of suspicious origin.
I might as well do it myself, I thought once again, as I listened to the same stories over and over and over, punctuated by long, languid pauses and loud swigs. Mowing our tiny yard usually took him several hours, by which time he was staggering when he hit the street and almost got run over by a mail truck.
But, hey. You learn over the years. You learn not to hire drunken neighbors, you learn never to trust the other person’s do-it-himself handyman dreams, you learn to open your purse whenever something around the house requires repair or maintenance. Whatever it costs, it’s cheaper than the domestic drama.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)