So recently the lovely first wife decided to have some rooms painted.
The main impetus was the condition of the Child’s room: it still had a fighter jet border around it, plus all those little smudges from plasti-tak adfixtures all over the place, plus all the wear and tear of boarding that particular human being over the years.
I was supposed to do it because I actually enjoy painting. This was back when it looked as if I were going to be retired rather than unemployed, but when I was suddenly back at work we decided to go pro.
And then we decided that we might as well paint the den, which I specifically remember thinking seventeen years ago that we might as well wait to repaint it until one member of the family had grown up and left the premises.
And for some reason we decided that the kitchen needed freshening.
All of this is for differing values of we.
But all’s well that ends well, other than some frustration with choosing colors here and there, and now we have three “new” rooms. It’s lovely.
Have you ever been to an estate sale, or perhaps have been looking to buy a home, and you walk through the house thinking, “Jeez, they haven’t done anything to this place in years”? There are several valid reasons why that would be so.
First, of course, is the expense. Maintaining a home is not cheap, and most people in the last decades of their lives don’t have a lot of extra cash to pay others to paint rooms, for example, and certainly don’t want to be clambering about on ladders themselves.
Second, you reach a point in your life where whatever extra income you do have you would rather spend on other things: travel, weddings (!), art, or quality gin. Who cares whether there are smudges on the wall that a Mr. Clean eraser won’t get off? Who cares that the breakfast nook chairs are beginning to loosen at the joints and will one day collapse? Who cares that the nice hardwood floors betray your daily traffic patterns or long-gone pets’ bathroom habits? Feh—I’d rather drive across the country.
Finally, there is a certain joie de vivre in realizing that après moi le déluge, if you know what I’m saying. Who cares if it all decays into genteel shabbiness? That’s the next guy’s problem.
Now watch closely as I munge this idea with another anthropological concept, that of nesting.
First, here’s a bit of a poem:
Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.
At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it
Moving beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.
—from “Men at Forty,” by Donald Justice
This is what our overall emotional feeling was while starting this project: let’s go ahead and prepare our nest for the rest of time, and then we’re done. We’re through. There will be no more large projects. Our money will go to living the good life, not getting ready for the Tour of Homes.
It is precisely a form of nesting, and I have named it death-nesting. Grim? I suppose, but it’s a whimsical way to admit what we all have to admit eventually: every door that closes now is to a room we will not be going back to. Opportunities narrow; options blink out. We have to set our final course.
And that final course is one that does not involve keeping the house completely fresh. Leave that for those who are young enough to have time to think about a “new look” for the living room. We’re going to Burning Man. For differing values of we.
(And wait until you see our estate sale!)