My Empty Nest

It's not always empty.

Afresh

Changes - large, small and life altering.

 

It was time for a change: The carpets had to go. Fifteen years of hard wear could no longer be ignored. Fifteen years of dogs and kids running up and down and in and out, tracking in all kinds of stuff. Mud was probably one of the nicer things. But you see I'm not one of Those Women - the ones that make you take off your shoes before entering the Sacred Domicile. My body may be a temple, (another time, another essay) but my house, not so much. My house is my home - clean, yes - but not to the point of obsession. You can take off your shoes if you'd like, but I actually wish you wouldn't. I don't like the sight of socks, or other people's feet. I prefer shoes, really I do. You can wipe them off on the mat before you enter. That's ok. I'm old school I guess. I can't imagine Myrna Loy taking off her heels before walking into Cary Grant's place.

But because I am not one of Those Women, our carpets had gone past the point of rescue by an annual professional cleaning. They were looking more than worn; they were veering dangerously close to yucky. And with our kids and their attendant crew all gone off to college it seemed the perfect time to freshen up a bit.

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Easy, right? Wrong. The reason - I'm not good at this sort of thing. Freshening up, yes. I can dab perfume behind my ears, pull back my hair, redo my lipstick and voila I'm all freshened up. But we're not talking about me. We're talking about my house and although I can do many things I am not an interior decorator. I lack the necessary mettle required to make those earth shattering choices involving woof, warp, weave and such. And color? Please. If I had my way everything in our house would either be hot pink, purple or red. Liberace would have loved it. But my husband is not Liberace. And this is a good thing for so many reasons, not the least of which is my irrational fear of candelabras.

So at times like these when new carpet is inevitable I do what I always do. I call my brother in law. He's an interior designer. He's very good at what he does. He makes a living at it and not just from family members. My husband and I have learned over the years to agree with him at once because inevitably we discover that his choices are right. We call it the five stages of Griff (his name is Griff, short from Griffin). Denial (we don't need new carpets) Anger (he thinks we should pay how much???) Bargaining (couldn't we just redo the bedroom carpets now and the rest next year?) Depression (is this all there is to life? Carpets?) And finally Acceptance; the carpets Griff picked out were just the right color, just the right price. Dag nab it, he's done it again.

He's so good at what he does that we've continued to work with him even though technically he's not our brother in law any more. Two years ago, his wife, my husband's sister suddenly ( or so it seemed to us) decided that Griff just really wasn't what she wanted. She wanted to start afresh. The first twenty years had been ok but she wasn't looking forward to the next twenty or more so she left him and their kids and her career as a photographer. You could say she left her dark room and left everyone else in the dark.    Full stop. She stopped taking pictures, stopped being a mom, stopped being a wife, and she also stopped eating meat. Not that there's anything wrong with that, the not eating meat part I mean. The rest of it wasn't so much a midlife crisis as a midlife vanishing act. We keep waiting for an explanation. We may be waiting for a very long time. I'm old enough though to know for sure there are several sides to every story, and sometimes all of them are true. In other words she had her reasons. I don't agree with the choices she's made, but frankly it's none of my business. Griff is pretty much a single parent now. I love his kids, my niece and nephew. One is in high school, the other one's in college. I stay in touch with them (they live in New Hampshire) and work with Griff when a project, like carpets, comes up. I've tried to stay in touch with my sister-in -law too, and recently she's left a couple of messages on our answering machine. She sounded like, for lack of a better description, herself. It's a start. She and I share a past; maybe we'll still have a future.

But Griff and I also have a history that spans two decades of picking out couches and paint chips and furnishings. He's tall, blond and Danish. He has a reserved sense of humor. The end of his marriage hit him like a truck going 90 on route 95. He had his own five stages of grief: this isn't happening, this isn't fair, maybe she'll take me back, what's the point of anything; all right then. All right. It took a long time and it took a lot out of him but finally he's fine. He has his kids, a therapist and a sister in law with no design sense. He's also started dating again. Good for him I say.

And Griff as I said before was right about the carpets. Our house seems cleaner, brighter, better. Not so drab and dingy. Amazing what a little wall to wall can do. I was feeling oh so fine about the whole re-carpeting thing and then I remembered all the tiny feet that ran and skipped and tripped on the stuff we threw away. Before we got the new carpets I could put my hand on the floor and feel where those feet had been. I can't do that anymore. Our son and daughter won't be walking on this Griff-approved stuff for another three weeks when they come home for Christmas. And no, they won't be eating upstairs. Not if I can help it. I may even make them take their shoes off. In the mean time what I've got is truly stylish but also sterile. Devoid of memories. And mashed potatoes.

Darn those dirty carpets.

I should have kept a piece.

 

Madora Kibbe is a Christian Science practitioner and writer who lives in New York.

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