Well, the Painter finally came by to diagnose the Apartment, which has been sitting empty since the departure of our tenants last month...funny how when a place is occupied, you don't notice all the cracks and flakes. We were under the impression that the two big high-ceilinged rooms needed "just a few big spots" spackled. This is because we spared ourselves the anguish of actually examining the ceiling and walls in daylight. As John, the competent fellow who spray-painted our mud room a glorious white, walked around, cruelly pulling up shades and opening blinds, the ceilings seemed to recoil like Blanche duBois under the bare lightbulb. "There's not a square foot that doesn't have cracks in it," John said evenly. He is right.
Kind soul, he offered several classses of estimate: economy, business, and first-class, as it were. Economy is patching the really obvious stuff; it could go all the way up to primed-for-Sistine-Chapel-ceiling-mural, i.e., a total covering with mesh and a whole new skim coat. Surprise! We chose economy class. Kill the tortilla-sized flakes, fill in what looks like the Nile Delta sketched under the old leaky spot, and paint over the rest. This will still cost thousands...along with a new range, countertop, and carpeting to come afterwards. John says he can also fix the horror behind the bathtub faucets, where the tiles are hanging like a beaded curtain over empty wall space, because the tub enclosure was built by imbeciles who used regular sheetrock instead of Wonderboard. Wonderboard is a technical term meaning "wall stuff that won't melt around bathtubs." Unlike, say, sheetrock.
It has to be done...the place basically hasn't been touched since we staked it out, the Jamestown colony of our terrifying wild new world, back in 1986-87. That is so long ago that we were technically still in our twenties then, and now we are in our seventies or something. (Well, not chronologically, but psychically...) The pink walls and dusty mauve trim I picked out for my just-widowed mother look sad as hell. And now that our tenants are gone, and I roam around the space, I realize that it's really time for a fresh coat.
Because, in a way, our just-gone tenants were on a continuum of my mother's ill-starred occupancy; when she finally left for a nursing home in 1999, the first person we offered it to--basically still furnished with my mom's modest stuff--was the wonderfully competent Trinidadian lady who had been the best (by far, by very far) of the Mater's many home health aides. Then her daughter joined her from Trinidad after a long and frustrating separation, giving me the emotional satisfaction of having at least one successful mother-and-child-reunion down there. But now that their cheerful working-gal clutter is gone, the marks of the Mater's pictures are still on the walls...the faded pink carpet that tripped her and sent her (and us) on a one-way trip into broken-hip-hell remains on the sloping floor...and a few bits of the Mater's furniture (dating back to my childhood) are down there waiting to be repurposed in spare rooms upstairs. The curtains she sewed (the ones that made it into the shot in the Law & Order episode) still hang on the windows.
And the memories won't fade, rising up like those corny hollow voice-overs in TV movies. A few pleasant ones, a decade's worth of sad and awful ones. Wheelchairs, walkers, house calls (from podiatrists and physical therapists and psychiatrists), ambulances, recriminations. Does it sag like a heavy load? Or does it explode? That would be choice (a).
There will be no skim-coating the past completely, but with luck, we can spackle over the biggest fissures and make something bright and fresh and new. And absolutely no more pink, or mauve.