(Update: I have edited this post substantially since I first published it – it was way too long, and included too many huge photos – blog and learn. Hope you like this streamlined version.)
My book is called, “Love, Death and Carpentry:
Detour in Cancerland: In Which A Ridiculous Woman Attempts to Defer Widowhood Through Remodeling (and Lust.)”
Which is the origin of the name of this blog, and a pretty good description of me.
The remodeling was for Mike.
The lust was for The Bulgarian.
Allow me to explain.
A few months after Mike was diagnosed, when the chemo seemed to be working and he felt better, I decided to just go ahead and do it. I couldn’t let Mike die never having had a decent kitchen in this house. He spent a lot of time in the kitchen, cooking for, and cleaning up after cooking for, our autistic daughter.
He washed dishes in a harvest-gold double sink, under peeling paint, atop striped, multi-colored, 1970’s indoor-outdoor carpeting blackened with decades of grime. He toiled before a cheap department store stove that barely concealed the mouse highway running behind it.
I found a contractor and signed.
Enter The Bulgarian, who built the new kitchen for me, for Mike.
And with whom I fell school-girlishly, madly, ridiculously and very obviously in love.
Right in front of my dying husband.
I’ve read about other widows who were overcome by lust for a younger man – but they had the decency to wait until after their husbands had died. Me? Nope. When I wasn’t picking up prescriptions or reminding Mike about appointments or trying to help him find a comfortable position in which to rest, or something he could eat without feeling sick, or taking the laundry to the laundromat because the basement had also been demoed, I turned into Sally Brown following my Bulgarian Linus around, with little animated hearts pulsing and floating around my head. Mike saw it. So did all the workers who came and went, and they snickered and sneered.
Mike understood why it happened, and forgave me for it. We talked about it. Eventually we laughed about it. And we forgot about it, during those last few months, when the job was done and Mike made it through, to enjoy and cook in a decent kitchen for a few months, at last.
What could possibly have possessed me?
I plead temporary insanity. I really think that finding out my husband had eighteen months, maybe two years at the most, to live, sent me over the edge. Which is what I told The Bulgarian when I apologized to him for it.
And you know what he said? He said I had nothing to apologize for, nothing to be embarrassed about.
“It happens on every job,” he said. He seemed to be referring generally to highly emotional behavior – all clients lose their minds as a remodeling job drags on and on, I suppose (but not all of them are trying to get a job done before their spouse dies). The Bulgarian made it very clear, though, that he didn’t want to talk about my specific type of emotion.
But because of his patience, his kindness, his listening and his magnificent, deep, calming voice, I could easily believe that “it happens on every job” meant that every fat, middle-aged woman The Bulgarian ever worked for fell madly in love with him. Besides which, he knew how to do everything.
I explained it to Mike, when he asked how this could be, how could I possibly be making such a ridiculous fool of myself, drenching myself in perfume, suddenly using vats of skin products, fixing my hair every day, for this…this…Bulgarian? this way:
“It’s very simple. There are three reasons I am in love with him. First, even though he’s getting paid for it, he listens to and actually remembers everything I say to him. Second, he does what I ask him to do…eventually, and third, HE NEVER YELLS AT ME.”
“Ha. In sharp contrast to me,” said Mike. (We talked like that. One thing we had going for us was honestly. Sometimes brutal honesty).
I didn’t say anything to that. Which was a way of acknowledging its truth. Mike could remember every move of every chess game and every shot of every tennis match he ever played. But he couldn’t remember a damn thing I said to him, for 26 years.
Widows aren’t supposed to admit this sort of thing, that their marriage was difficult, hanging by a thread. There was nothing remotely normal about our marriage (if there is any such thing as a normal marriage.) And although we had many happy times, shared lots of laughter, enjoyed reading to each other and listening to music and watching hockey and goofing around, for years and years, Mike’s communication with me see-sawed between sullen silence and terrifying, frequently irrational or inexplicable, screaming rage. I learned to let him yell it out, and then, days later, to go back and talk about whatever it was that set him off, if he could remember, and we’d move on.
While he was a difficult husband, he was a fantastic father. We stuck together for that, and we made it through. And for that (in addition to the new, beautiful kitchen), I will always be grateful to the Bulgarian. Having him around gave Mike a chance to remember what I looked like when I was in love, and, I think, to want to be the one on the receiving end of that look again. Once the Bulgarian was done with the job and out of our lives, and the house was finally quiet again, something about it all seemed worth it. Mike and I found our deepest love again.
I want to believe that, seeing me in the throes of that crazy crush, Mike saw that I might try to love someone new after he was gone, and was, in some way, comforted by that. I hope that’s true, anyway.
Until then I remain, your humble, obedient, etc.
(the “humble, obedient etc.” stuff comes from my obsession with the Aubrey-Maturin books. Other devotees will understand.)