Saturday, January 15, 2011
I’ve seen an upside-down hot tub once before. It was one of the more remarkable absurdities we’ve witnessed along I-5 over the years, making the journey to Oregon to visit Mr. Black’s parents. We couldn’t tell what it was at first . . . just this huge, amorphous, pale yellow heap with forlorn bits of PVC pipe sticking out here and there. Reminded me of terrible scrambled eggs. As amusing as it was, there was something a little horrifying about it, too. How did it get there? How must it feel to lose one’s hot tub on a major interstate highway?
We had a hot tub of our own, believe it or not – an old classic from the 1970’s built into the back deck of our crumbling Seattle bungalow. And it worked. Well . . . after a little maintenance it worked. We used it every night that first year, scarcely believing our good fortune.
I guess we felt that way about a lot of things in those days . . . those soon-to-be-married, first-time-homeowner days. We had a dishwasher! And our own washer and dryer! And a yard! We could hear birds singing and neighbors having barbecues instead of the ambulance pulling up to Meth Towers Apartments down the street. Life was sweet.
It’s adorable, really, to remember how charmed we were that first spring and summer in this house. This. Damn. House. With its leaking oil tank. A bathroom with no insulation; just decorative paneling nailed to the studs. A prolifically leaking basement. A huge window that slipped out of its pane during a particularly cold December.
And on and on it goes, the never-ending parade of repairs and shortcomings. It’s like marriage itself; the constant evolution and falling-apart and rebuilding. And yet, you still love. You still have these flashes of remembering how you found each other and made each other so happy. And you want to keep trudging along, making it work.
This year, it was the back porch. We’d known for a while that it wasn’t in the best shape. I remember when pieces of its roof blew off. I was up late nursing infant Little Girl in the rocking chair, gazing up at the Christmas tree while an epic windstorm ripped through our neighborhood.
“Hmm. Maybe we should do something about that,” Mr. Black and I thought when we saw the damage the next day. But there were more pressing home improvement fiascos to attend to. Not to mention the new baby. Every year, we’d patch it up here and there, but neither of us wanted to do a full-on deck rebuild. We didn’t even want to do it this time. But the damn thing went and fell down.
Because real life has no writer’s workshop telling it to tone down the heavy-handed symbolism, this happened during the same week as The Boy’s gifted/Aspergers diagnosis. It was eerie, actually, how well that metaphor fit. Not because a child with special needs equals a falling-apart house. Not at all.
More like...something about the house wasn’t working. It needed special attention. It needed major repairs. But for years, we said “Oh, we’ll just give it a fresh coat of paint. We’ll just wait until summer and then replace those rotten boards. We’ll just send it to public school and hope for the best. And if the over-worked school psychologist tells us he doesn’t qualify for services and he’ll probably “outgrow” his very Aspergersish behavior, we’ll just conveniently believe that. Because if there really were a problem, then surely the school will be understanding and forthcoming with free services.” See?
Anyway. A patch-up job wasn’t going to do it for that porch. We needed to tear the whole thing down and build it right. And so it is with The Boy's situation. We had to face it. And the minute we did, we began the process of building something strong and functional for him. Cheesy, extend-o-licious metaphor, for sure. But impossible to avoid when the guys were right there every night during those post-diagnosis weeks, like Eldin on “Murphy Brown,” banging away on our new porch while I contemplated life’s circumstances.
And what of the hot tub?
We had to let it go. Our contractor was pushing for that option from the start, and he had a point. The thing was old. We’d had to detach the plumbing during the Great Basement Waterproofing of ’04, and never had the finances to get it up and running again. I worried that if we ever did get the hot tub going again, it would be a drowning hazard. Or a lock-your-friend-in-it hazard if it stood empty.
Even in the glory days of the hot tub, it was a hassle. The constant maintenance, the water bills, that Disneyland-water-attraction smell. And that night when one of the pipes cracked and we had to bail the whole tub out in our pajamas while water sprayed all over our basement floor. Why not trade all that for a nice big back porch?
Next thing you know, that fallen hot tub on I-5 all those years ago was in the middle of my backyard. There was some interest on Craigslist, but in the end it was the junk haulers who took the thing away.
The right choice. But still a little unnerving to see that hot tub go. We’d spent time and money on it, cared for it, loved it, sang bad renditions of Eddie Murphy’s “James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub Party” to it. And there it goes, into the back of the junk truck. Gone.
And here I am, in the same old living room we painted together that first spring, before we’d even moved the furniture in. Such incredible hope we had back then, and so much of it was actually realized. We don’t live our days in starry-eyed “How did we get here?” wonder anymore, but maybe we should. One look around this room strewn with Playmobil figures and library books proves how lucky we are. Yes, things are constantly evolving. It’s never finished, because there’s always something else about to fall down. There is persistent imperfection and impermanence. But such joy, too.
I’ll try to remember that the next time something breaks.