I met his house on the third date. It wasn’t that I was unhappy with the little craftsman cottage I shared with my sons – I had made it mine with years of hard work. But upon driving through the curvy, hilly path of this quiet, wooded neighborhood, counting the houses on the right until I came to the sixth, I stopped my car and opened my mouth.
I should have expected his house to be like him. Grown-up. Stately. Respectable. Solid brick. And most like him, private. Surrounded by beautiful mature pines that reluctantly dropped pinecones like bits of treasure. Yet, as with the man who lived there, I was surprised at its beauty.
Months later, boxes and bags were carried in by old hands with new wedding rings. My sons and I moved into this house that was his home, gently at first. Our first year of marriage was complicated, filled with some of our best and worst memories. We made a child, we lost a child. We were elated and deflated within weeks. We experienced the best love and the greatest sadness. And in the midst of it all, we tore down a wall.
It was an odd wall, separating the middle of the house into two small living rooms. One his and one hers, I suspected, the “her” being his ex-wife, of course. She was nowhere and everywhere in this house. No photos, no mention of her by name, but the ghost of her lingered in the Gone With The Wind curtains, the country-blue sponge painted walls, floral wallpaper border, and more mauve accessories than a 1986 bridesmaid. I hadn’t met the woman, but I was pretty sure she was about 74 years old. The wall between the living rooms told me that they spent a lot of time apart in this house before their divorce. It was his idea for it to go, and I wholeheartedly supported the demolition.
Carefully and methodically, my husband dismantled the wall. He destroyed it piece by piece, leaving no dust, making no show, and one night when I returned from a meeting, it was just gone. Together we laid new flooring (except for the times mathematical calculations were involved and I fled,) painted the walls, and hung new shelving. Within weeks, we had finished our new space. The ex-wife had been exorcised from one room, at least.
I said we moved in gently, and we did. My things remained in storage for quite a while. The living room project was massive, as was the healing from my miscarriage and the adjustment to our new marriage. Slowly I began to heal, we began to grow, and piece by piece my stuff made it into the house. A photograph here. A decorative plate there. An end table. A bedspread.
After the first year, I felt a need to remove all evidence of the former Mrs. from the house. During a week of vacation, alone in this house, I began the process. I replaced her handwritten phone numbers in the address book with my own. I threw away the leftover napkins from their wedding, faded and no longer applicable. I took down the emerald green, lace trimmed monstrosities from the kitchen windows and replaced them with decent window coverings.
One evening, after I had freed the country geese that lived in the wallpaper in the laundry room, my husband questioned me.
“Why was that important? Nobody sees the laundry room, anyway. Why are you wasting your time?”
Are you kidding? As I stood there, covered in paper bits, sweaty and tired, my gentleness in invading his space ceased.
“Everytime I see that ugly-ass wallpaper, I think of how your ex-wife hung it. I think of her, there in that room, folding your underpants. I have lived here for two years and I still see her in nearly every corner of this house, Gregg. This isn’t her home anymore. It’s mine. I want to see myself in these rooms, and myself hates geese. I. HATE. GEESE.”
He stood in stunned silence for a moment, and then hugged me and said, “I see. Do what you have to do.” I loved him very much in that moment, that moment he fully invited me into this home.
I have since painted each room, and I have delighted in bringing them not only into this millenium, but bringing to them my own fresh paint. Like a mutt marking his territory, I have left my mark from wall to wall. In the neutral coffee tones of the living spaces is my steadfast desire to provide calm stability to my environment. In the dark gray and white of my bedroom is my yin-yang view of our marriage. In the Morrocan stenciling in my bathroom is my often hidden exotic nature. In the removal of the brass chandelier above our bed is my desire to not hit my head on that goddamned thing anymore.
I love this home – our home, my home – more and more each day. To make this home (and our marriage) completely ours took some reconstruction and redecorating. It took time and effort. It took persistence and tolerance. It will change and evolve throughout the years, I am certain, but it will remain only unto us, as long as we both shall live.