“People will see this. That I’m the one here everyday, putting this place back together. Not her,” my dad vents as the two of us rolled paint on opposite corners of the brand new walls of his home.
“She’s nowhere to be fucking found, but when it’s all finished, she’ll want her half of everything. Even though I’m the one who’s been busting my ass to get this place done.”
He goes over how the situation played out in his head all the time. He analyzes it over and over again, but usually he’s alone working on the rebuild of his home. Today I’m helping him, going up and down with the roller as he talks up and down about the same thing: his newly estranged wife.
I tell him that her actions speak a lot louder than her words. That she wouldn't leave like that if there had ever been a chance of her coming back. That maybe their marriage had become more toxic than the paint fumes we were inhaling.
“This was the best thing to happen to you Dad. You weren’t right for each other. You’ll see, just give it time,” I say, as John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane” blasts from an old radio in the other room.
Oh yeah, life goes on. Long after the thrill of living is gone.
I start to sing along to end the conversation. I want him to keep the past in the past, and start thinking about his future.
I’ve always had trouble consoling people. Instead of finding the words that will put their mind at ease I tend to put things more bluntly. I make it sound optimistic, but harsh. With my father, I have to be more delicate. He’s just come off the worst year of his life.
I’ve heard him say the same things for a while now. About where she’s been staying, what she does when his friends see her out in public, and all the people who’ve told him they’re sick about what she’s done to him. His thought process is cyclical.
Unfortunately, it’s all too fresh in his memory. Probably just as fresh as the coat of paint we just put on the walls of his two spare bedrooms.
It’s been ten months since a Blue Rhino propane tank exploded on their back deck, engulfing their entire home in flames and forcing them to rebuild everything aside from the original foundation and studs.
It’s been about eight months since, after twelve years together, my stepmother decided she needed space away from my father and the tiny trailer parked in the yard that they were living in. We thought it was all understandably too much for her to handle. That is, until about two weeks later when she suggested that the two of them “see other people.” How long she’s contemplated leaving is a mystery she’s yet to reveal, and I never saw it coming.
She didn’t seem distant on July 5th in Truro, when she sat on my lap in the living room of the summer house to give me a hug and tell me she loved me. I remember how out-of-the-blue this gesture was, but how natural it felt. It never crossed my mind that perhaps she already knew what she was going to do, but also how much she’d miss my siblings and I.
She and I had a special relationship. Most of my friends loathed their stepparents, and I was among very few people I know who are able to say I loved mine. She was there to pick me up anytime I needed her, and their home was a refuge away from the hecticness of my mother’s. She even covered for me when she caught me smoking weed with my friends at my house after my mother asked her to check on me while she was in Cape Cod.
That’s why it was so confusing when she never reached out to me until my 21st birthday the following October. She has still yet to take the chance to explain herself to me. The truth that I can’t tell my father is that she really hurt me too. Badly.
I’m angry for the way in which she left, and though I may act it, I’m not necessarily apathetic to what she could be going through. What does it take for someone to reach a point where, one day, they decide to walk out on their life and everyone in it?
I’m not sure, but it must be something profound. What I do know is what she left behind: a broken man, forced to deal with the agonizing stress of an unfinished house and a lot of unanswered questions. I also know that it’s my responsibility to ensure that he eventually puts himself back together, starting with the foundation and studs that are in front of him. In order to do that, I have to seem cold.
From what I've seen over the past 12 years, she ran the show in their marriage, and it’s been a long time since my dad made a decision for himself. For as long as I can remember, his laid-back disposition has allowed him to compromise and surrender any control of a situation.
While we looked at paint swatches at Home Depot, he naturally gravitated towards the same hues of beige and brown that the walls were painted before the fire. The ones she had chosen.
I showed him a color called “Silver Shadow.” I offer that the pale grey shade will make the new bedrooms feel clean, airy, and open. If he wants to change the vibe of the room, he can do so by switching out different colored throw pillows and decorations while not having to re-paint.
He isn’t sold on my theories. On the paint color, or the fact that he’ll now be able to try new restaurants she never wanted to go to, or to take the vacations she always said they couldn’t afford.
He’s wrong though. The color I picked out looks great on the walls, and I see his excitement when I talk about the fishing trips we have planned, or about how often he’ll be able to play golf with me now.
My father has an adventurous soul, that for years, had grown complacent in the same place, with the same routine. While I can't relate to ever wanting a life like that, I also can't fathom how frightening it must be to have that comfortableness taken from you so suddenly. He can’t help but feel that, at 50 years old, he’ll spend the rest of his life alone. He hasn’t fully realized what an opportunity this is to live the life he’s always wanted, not being bound to anyone or anything. This is the silver lining.
A lot of people would kill for the blank canvas he’s been given, but he doesn’t yet see how this was a blessing--a blessing in a really fucked up disguise.
Just like the newly painted walls, it’s all a little too grey for him.
This short essay is a piece I've been developing for a few weeks, adding to it whenever I'm awake late and can't sleep. I might expand on it, I might not, but for now I want to let it sit.
This is MY unapoligetic narrative about MY feelings and MY perspective of a personal situation I've been dealing with. It's caused me a lot of stress and the way I deal with that stress is through my writing. It was not intended to perceive anyone in bad light, and both subjects of my piece are two people very near and dear to me. I wrote this to tell a story about picking up the pieces and moving on, that hopefully, anyone going through something similar could draw inspiration from.