A sneaker-print in the adhesive, with a hand-print nearby. Evidence. That he was kneeling, putting down the brick laminate floor. For himself? Or on hire? Just who was this man, exactly? All I’ve been given is a sneaker print. Yet, from what I’ve observed here in the canyon, he was the owner. And I know it’s a “he” from the shoe size and shape, unless Amazon women roamed these parts in the ‘70s.
One of the things I’ve noticed about canyon people --
along with a good heart, solitary nature, and gun ownership -- is that they do
the work themselves. Very rarely do you see professional roofers, or painters,
or handyman trucks. But you do see your neighbor down at the lumberyard. That’s
just how it is up here. If you hire someone for home improvements, you’re
obviously a newbie -- someone who very likely won’t make it through the next
winter. Which is why I haven’t hired jobs out -- aside from not having the
money to do so, I’ve wanted to fit in, to blend into a community of old timers
who told me I wouldn’t make it.
Like archeologists, we read the truth from what is
left, which is sometimes not enough. Houses, toys, writings, cooking pots -- artifacts
-- tell us about a person. Their stamp that they were here...in this
very place...centuries before you. When I was a kid, I buried things --
yes, as the funeral director for birds, cats, cattle and goats. But I also
buried bits of myself there in the dark Iowa soil, dug deep; kept safe in a
mason jar. A small pewter horse, a favorite paperback book, a plastic cowboy
and indian. And a heart shaped rock I’d found in the creek. They’re there,
somewhere still -- in our old south pasture, along with a note about my name,
age, date. In some way, I wanted my personality to be remembered -- my soul, my character, to
live on. I wanted people to know me outside my physical bones.
Yet, there is a lot that could be determined from
my bones -- my left knee has a knot from beginning to run
too much too fast; my jaw is compacted from a horse riding injury in high
school (it always hitches when it opens); my left hand fingers are bent from
practicing the guitar five hours a day at conservatory; and, my bones would show periods of malnourishment from celiac
disease and a struggle with anorexia. Times of plenty, times of drought; like age
rings on a tree, my bones can be read.
And when you strip a home down to its bare boards, it
can be read too. If, that is, you care to take the time -- to tear up, scrape
down, lay flat, clamp straight, and hand nail -- one by one. Inch by inch.
And when you do, the floors talk -- when you’ve
stopped trodding over them for a precious few days, and bust up their hiding
places to let their stories out instead -- it’s kind of like you’re reading a
mystery novel back to front. And you take your time with it. The front door
used to be the back, the driveway used to be on the west side of the pine row
where my sister ran over the gutter the day I moved in, and the spare bedroom’s
floor was cut into and patched because of water damage from the bathroom tub.
There are dates written on the plywood of the basement steps and on the bottom
of closet doors.
There’s something very meaningful about old homes or
“fixer-upers” as the colloquialism goes, and about the first big home project
-- as if we’re animals peeing out our territory. This is ours, here,
within these boundaries. We did this. And this, is
our mark. Over top the last alpha’s.
And this past week at the end of a fifth
fourteen-hour day, sitting on the couch, sipping wine that will no longer stain
the carpets (thank god), two of us become silent -- staring into the wood stove
that’s burning the carpet stripping we’ve torn off. These walls have heard a
lot, we think at the same time. They have heard the arguments and
screams, divorces and bankruptcies; and all the tears afterwards. Yet they’ve
heard the laughter, too -- and the lovemaking. They have been full....and
empty...on and off again for years, like a bad relationship.
Love and hate, and so it goes.
People have seemingly wanted this cabin, but have
been unable to handle it for one reason or another -- or a few. And to
be honest, when I bought it a few years ago, I wasn’t sure I could handle it
either -- I had more than a few things going against me. But I had to try
because I was in love with it, and with the idea of home, stead,
and sanctuary (which, as Lemony Snicket defines, is “a small, safe place
in a troubling world.”). And so I made my mind up to romance this small
place...and figure out what I am made of in the process...my best chance. I
would dance all alone on the kitchen floor partner in life or no -- which
worked out well because I had always learned the man’s part anyways. So I’d
dance both parts, until somebody else had the guts to give a tap on my shoulder
and cut in.
And eventually, somebody did.
This cabin was safe, I knew, but not entirely --
which is what made it good. It couldn’t hurt me as another human could
-- but still, it could break my heart. I was aware of that. And I was
ready for it, but I was ready for somewhere I could live and breathe and sprawl
out and let myself out safely, even more. I was willing to take the gamble of
loving this place, and seeing if it perchance would love me back.
And it has -- it has loved me back...through elbow
grease and sweat, and paint and nails, and a dug out well of tears -- it has come to
form a sanctuary for me, a man, and a dog.
Which is what I’ve always wanted.
And someday when we are many years gone, when someone
decides to pull up the boards covering our nailed down secrets, they’ll
find that we loved this life and that we wanted to stay...scribbled on plywood