Sunday morning, my dog barked like the world was on fire. It was 7am. Expecting a garden-devouring bunch of vicious rabbits, as is often the case, I opened my door and found, instead, a bouquet of flowers, a bag of chocolate hearts and a note. I caught a glimpse of my neighbor's backside as it ducked into her house. She left a gift from her four-year old daughter. The note, scrawled in large, pink and some backwards letters told me that I am loved.
Sometimes I forget.
Sometimes it takes the enormous, wide-open heart of a small child to remind us about the vast reach and expansive depth of unadulterated, unsullied and unconditional love.
Though it happened to be Valentine’s day, this love extended beyond the one-day celebration and into the infinite. Sidewalk chalk letters and hearts often decorate my steps and copy-paper watercolors are often taped to my door. She is not my child, but she is.
When my daughter was four, she announced that she would like to marry me when she grows up. She had seen enough princess movies to know that marriage meant happily ever after, as in forever. I said a hearty 'yes' and then explained to her that she need not reserve that space and time for us, because, as her mother, I was already her forever. She agreed and then told me that she was going to marry the dog, too.
Since then, I’ve had a few other offers but from people my own age. None of the offers were as sweet or sincere as that of my daughter’s and I’m not about to lower that standard.
My daughter’s love showed up in so many ways: crayons on paper, pens on the wall, markers up her nose, songs on bike rides, car trips, bath time, chitty-chatty walks to the park, hand prints everywhere and for every gift giving opportunity, and lots and lots of excitement and honesty. It was these last two, the excitement and honesty, for which I was able to multi-task my love giving abilities along with my DIY handiness.
One day, after a War and Peace amount of time in the bathroom, my mini-me walked into the hallway. She bee-lined to the linen closet and grabbed a fresh roll of toilet paper. She marched back into the bathroom and shut the door behind her. I was so proud of her for doing what so many adults cannot: replacing the toilet paper roll when it’s out.
But that’s not what she was doing. I knocked and a little voice called out, “yeeeessss?” I asked if things were okay in there and she opened the door, placed her little dimpled knuckles on her adorably round and surprisingly wet, middle and stated, “No. Things are not okay. Did you know that it takes an awful lot of toilet paper to get that water to stop going down the sink?”
The Barbies were trying to have a pool party, but it was failing due to the slow drain of water from the sink. You see, my once-husband wasn’t nearly as handy as he was practical. The stopper on the drain had stopped stopping so instead of replacing it, which he felt was labor, he simply removed it. At the time, it seemed like a viable solution. But now, with two full rolls of toilet paper crammed into the space where the stopper should have been and a sink full of disgruntled Barbie dolls, I was left to figure out how to fix this situation on my own since he-who-was-not-yet-my-ex was away for work.
I called my dad. I asked him to come over and fix the sink and he refused. It was my sink and my problem, he said, and I was an adult and had to figure this stuff out. In my defense, I had. I called him.
He agreed to at least walk me through the process of my first ever plumbing job but not before repeating his favorite adage, “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach him how to fish, he eats for a lifetime.”
After that, all I heard from my dad was blah-blah-blah ‘J-trap’ and ‘snake’ and ‘bucket’ and ‘teaching you to fish.’ What I had wanted to hear was, “I fixed it for you. Who wants ice cream?” but I knew better.
As disappointed as I was, I knew he was right. This would not be our last Barbie pool party or issue with the sink.
My daughter and I set to work gathering towels, a bucket and a plumber’s wrench, while having a conversation about what types of paper go where and why. I asked her what kind of paper went in the toilet and she correctly answered, “toilet paper.” I explained that toilet paper doesn’t clog the toilet; that it was made to flow with the water versus stop it. Following that same thread, I asked her what kind of paper goes in the sink. “Sink paper!!” She was very excited about this answer. “Right!” I said before asking, “Do we have any sink paper?”
“No,” she said, and then asked, “can we get some?”
“No,” I said explaining that no such thing exists because paper isn’t supposed to go in the sink.
She got it much like I had gotten my dad’s lesson.
I sat her down next to me, giving her the title of assistant, and walked her through the whole process of unclogging the sink.
The pipes were stuffed FULL of toilet paper. She clearly worked very hard to get the water to not go down the drain. She concurred. The toilet paper had reached the wall pipes.
My dad’s words rang in my head. “If the toilet paper is in the wall, you’ll need to snake it out…but be careful. Your house is old and the pipes are probably original which means that snaking runs the risk of poking a hole in the pipes. If that happens, you’ll be needing a plumber and it will be a costly repair because he’ll have to open up the wall…”
Son of a bitch.
I wasn’t upset with anyone other than the plumber that I didn’t want to call. I kept hearing dollar signs for money I didn’t have.
Sure, necessity is the mother of invention, but poverty is its ass-slappin’ daddy. This was the one time I had both parents intact and I was determined to get the pool party back in full swing.
I considered getting the wet-vac from the garage to suck the tp out but settled on getting the bent-nosed pliers from my jewelry making box instead. I made a long ‘J’hook out of a beading needle and fished the toilet paper safely out of the wall. No poking holes through old pipes and no need for a plumber.
The Barbies moved their party to the tub, and I lost my assistant to a bubbly bath, a gaggle of dolls and lots and lots of giggles.
And this is what love is to me. It is a patient teacher—especially in the face of a tantruming and unwilling student such as myself, a quiet determination, an equal partner even if one partner played with barbies instead of handing me the wrench, an undeniable faith that things will be okay, a soft hand, a big hug, and sometimes it’s a bit of fun.
Sometimes love comes like bubbles or like sidewalk chalk or like a note written in a pink marker. It doesn’t need a day like Valentine’s Day, rather it needs an experience where the expression becomes everlasting.
I know I am loved, and I love in return…and I am also slightly handy, thanks in part, to a lazy former spouse and a father who didn’t want to be bothered but who bothered anyway because that’s what love is to him, too…even if he finds it slightly annoying.
Trying to write a blog post with a right thumb that won’t bend has made for long work in both trying to decipher the hand-written notes and then rewriting them into coherent sentences.
I’ve had some issues with thumbs in recent years. The first time, when I was solidly pet-less, there was a floor involved. This time it was a cat.
As the pandemic settled in like an ass-indent on an old couch, the fabric of a predictable and sometimes mundane existence wore bare and frayed the threads that held us all, especially couples, together. I found myself unforeseeably single once again.
In a desperate need for companionship and touch that I couched as “I’m better off on my own anyway,” I found myself forking over loads of cash for some ball play with collars-and-command action.
Her name is George and she’s a sweet-as-they-come, velvety hound mix. She’s my 60-pound lap warmer and 2am alert that a leaf may have fallen from a tree. She buffed my right arm while nearly dislocating its shoulder as we attempted to leash train this un-walked, three year old yard dog.
It has now been 10 months and four consistent methods of certified training and she still doesn’t understand the leash, basic commands, or that she will never gain traction on the wooden floors.
A month after getting her, I had to go back to work. Every morning, she barks at me from the front window as I leave for the day, and howls from that same window when I return. I suspect it may be an 8-hour show, but none of the neighbors complain.
George and I develop our routines. We settle in like an old couple but her inconsolable need for my presence gets a bit bothersome. She’s needy. Typically, that’s my role and I learn, firsthand, how very annoying that is. As much as I appreciate the mirror-as-lesson of her behavior, I find myself longing for a fenced yard. Boundaries are good in any relationship. Somedays I think about a fence with a hole in it…but a fence all the same.
So, I adopt a cat because that’s how the pandemic affects our decision-making abilities. I’m not sure how I missed the turn for hardware store to pick up fencing materials and ended up with a loaded cat carrier in my car instead, but there you have it.
It will come as no surprise that the new cat and the needy dog do not get along. Not on days one, two, or three anyway. One lapse in this knowledge left me with a cat shredding my right wrist while circumcising my thumb and the dog, for some reason, whining while wagging her tail. It was as though she was having a very passive-aggressive gratification ceremony at my expense.
The bath of blood that was once my hand became nulled in comparison to the pain of a pierced thumb. It was worse than the first time I had a thumb injury in this house.
At the end of summer, 2018, as hurricane Florence worked to transform the piedmont city of Charlotte, North Carolina into Atlantis, I was a castaway at home with a hammer, a small piece of 2-by-4, and twenty-seven boxes of snap-together wood laminate flooring.
The nine-month kitchen remodeling project, borne on the clamshell of a leaky dishwasher that rotted the cabinets and floor, was coming to its completion. The new floor was waiting to be installed and I, out of financial necessity, was going to be installing it myself. The entire project was DIY with small exceptions. There were no exceptions for the floor. It was going to be all me.
I watched instructional videos. I read the directions on the box. Then, trapped and grounded by mother nature, I figured it was as good a time as any to turn my knowledge into a skill.
It is obvious, now, where I started. It is also obvious when I actually purchased the flooring tools needed to install the floor properly…months and a new project later.
There is a little divot in the floor where a part of my thumb marked its final resting place.
The deluge of rain over ran the gutter capacity and washed the windows in blankets. My back yard became a lake that I could not see from inside the house. It was loud. Trees bowed and snapped, pleading for mercy from the sky while kissing the ground where the roots dug in deep to hold on. I felt helpless, powerless and afraid, certain that my house would be collateral for the debt I owed God for all the shit I had done in my life and all the times I asked Him to damn just about everything. The damning requests were more verbal habit than actual appeal but in the moment of a hurricane, I assumed God and Karma came together, and, like the parents that they are, had a few things to say about those habits.
High on anxiety, fear and a tinge of guilt, I set out to burn off this energy by putting in a floor that I only had an inkling of how to do and a piece of 2-by-4 in lieu of actual tools. I set to work, and hours passed.
By early evening, I had successfully made my way through more than half of the boxes and was gaining confidence in this task when it happened.
With full assurance and determination, my right hand swung the hammer like a 9-iron towards the scrap wood being used as a tool to help snap the floor together. My left hand, thumb on the outer edge, fingers on the inner, never thought to move out of the way. The head of the hammer hit the nail bed of my thumb, popping it like a water balloon and simultaneously skidding my left hand over the edge of the floorboard and shaving off the tip of my middle finger.
The immediate pain teamed with the blood, the throbbing, the damning requests, a whole bunch of fucks thrown in for good measure, created a new form of anxiety called absolute panic.
Survival guide manuals from back in the day when I thought camping was fun taught me to raise my hand higher than my heart. I put it over my head like I had one final question to ask. “Is this really how it ends?”
A two-spicket sprinkler of blood held high over my head stained the subfloor as my mind catastrophized an eminent death. No ambulance could traverse the submerged roads. A helicopter could not manage the winds. I was almost certain that this was it. This was my lonely, isolated demise in a house partially repaired and submerged in the rath of Florence.
It took an eternity of seconds to figure out what to do.
I ran cold water in the newly installed kitchen sink, rinsing the massacre I call a hand, while trying to scoop ice cubes with the offending appendage. By the time the bleeding slowed enough to survey the damage, the tears were a hurricane of their own.
Bandaged but alive, I wrote a note on the subfloor with a sharpie before gingerly finishing the work that needed to be done. A prayer for the sacrificial digits.
My left thumb nail bed is permanently flat.
The issue now is the right thumb. It was double pierced by a cat who didn’t know that this was the hand that would also feed her. My left-hand struggles to help out sometimes.
The spike of her teeth, sharp, swift, and without mercy, felt like it ruptured a nerve. The pain was electric. About an hour and three trays of ice-cubes later, the swelling became concerning. I went to work anyway, complaining of the pain and yet fascinated by the hot-dog appearance of my thumb. I was sent to urgent care.
With a pharmacy bag of antibiotics and not enough ibuprofen to dull the sting, my thumb had ballooned up to the size of a brat. A bright red line was making its way across my hand and towards my arm. A cat’s venom is staphylococcus aureus or some similar quasi-lethal bacteria that not only earned me a trip to urgent care and a caricature of an extremity , but had put me, once again, in the full-on panic about my end-of-life scenario.
Sleep was evasive.
Two weeks and a completed round of meds later, and my thumb still prefers to not bend. The knuckle has a couple of solid knots in it yet where the stab of feline jaws made their way into my bloodstream. The doctor assures my daily inquiries that time and warm water hand baths every half an hour are the new best medicine. I cannot meet these demands. I pray and apologize.
I am learning to trust the doctor’s expertise just as the cat is learning to trust this space where there is a dog, and the dog continues to learn very little. This is pandemic life. This is what it looks like to have a lot of love to give and no one special person to give it to. This is what I mean when I say that I am unforeseeably single and slightly handy…though occasionally without the use of a thumb or two.