After we did not die of inhaling paint fumes or falling off ladders (because, miraculously, we didn’t fall off any ladders), or heat exhaustion, dehydration, over-caffeination or plain old fashioned frustration, we slept in our new house for the first time.
The bedroom is blue — Neptune Blue and Colorado Springs — and the floor is maple colored. I thought maple would be a syrupy color, but it isn’t. It’s more like a manila folder, which is not the same as a manila envelope. Manila envelopes are ugly. Manila folders are rather nice. Our maple floor is quite nice. Our chocolate brown bed frame is delicious.
When I tiptoed up and down the stairs before bed, at every corner I rounded, I expected to see the woman who used to live here. She is a couple years older than me, a mother of three, a hairdresser, blond and tattooed. When I saw her last, she was crying to her real estate agent, who was also acting as a therapist and chauffeur, because she’d had her kids taken away again, was trying to stay clean, and couldn’t find work. I expected to see her crying, just sitting on the floor or standing in a corner.
I slept terribly. At every moment, I expected to roll over and find her husband standing over me — tattooed, emaciated and blue in our moonlit room. He was (or is) a tattoo artist and a heroin addict, and known to the neighbors mostly for his bad temper, smoking too much, and barging into someone’s house demanding sugar.
All week long, we’ve been talking about Them. We’ve been kicking up the dust of their life, breathing it in and coughing it up. We’ve been tearing up their carpet and selling off their trash — $50 for a wrap-around couch with a Lay-Z-Boy and a fold-out bed. The fridge went for free. In the basement, I found and rummaged through a box of his mementos:
- little league team photo from 1986
- souvenir lapel pin from First Communion
- senior portrait
- every birthday card ever sent “to a cool nephew” and “to a special son”
- Boy Scout patches
- a trophy
Then I threw it all away. On trash day, we occupied an entire curb with this box (addressed to him from what must have been his parents’ address), a broken stroller, 2 recycling bins (full), multiple trash bags, a TV stand, a fake Christmas tree, you get the idea.
When we pulled out the carpet, we found an inexplicable wealth of razor blades, and we spent several days just pulling staples from the floor. Then we scrubbed the walls, and with each stain removed and each box of heart-wrenching hopeful memories of youth toted out to the curb, we high-fived each other and tossed back Red Bulls and congratulated ourselves on getting rid of Them. I sanded off the butterflies she’d painted on the walls of her little girl’s room. I peeled off stickers and took a putty knife to questionable substances stuck to the walls of the two boys’ room.
She had Marilyn Monroe hair and Kat Von D tattoos (almost — there was so much almost about her), and in the shower, though I thought I’d cleaned it, I found a handful of her hair matted to the shower head. There was a spider on the floor, and I washed him away. I fiddled with the knobs, not quite able to strike that balance between strong water pressure and a comfortable temperature.
The living are scarier than the dead. The living really can come back, and so can the bail bondsmen and anyone else they owe money. We changed the deadbolt, but he wasn’t above breaking the window to get in when he lived here, so why would he be now?
In the night I laid awake and listened to the frogs and crickets until they lulled me to sleep. Then, the faintest clicking from a cicada snagged my dreams.
“What’s that sound?”
“The clicking … ”
“I’ll go look around.”
“No. Just listen. It’s … it’s not a person or anything. What is it?”
The night went on like this. Someone let a dog out for a walk. I heard one quick whistle. Some night bird taunted me from the woods.