Cory bought our house a few years ago and intended to surprise me when he closed on it. At the end of the home-buying process, however, the insurance company accidentally called my phone to discuss the home inspection, ruining his plans.
This voicemail started the adventure – the very long and exhausting adventure.
The first time I saw our house, I was thrilled, but also overwhelmed by how neglected the house had been. Thick, green carpet was layered over hardwood floors in the living room. Wood paneling, an old pass-over bar and an unwelcomed chimney composed the downstairs.
The second floor was not an improvement. A narrow stairway led to bedroom walls painted with bold colors and graffiti, more tattered carpet and a bathroom that was in complete disarray – much like my thoughts.
I couldn’t get the vision Cory had for the place. He saw the potential the house offered. I saw dingy wallpaper and outdated cabinetry. I had no ability to conjure the same picture of a beautiful house to come.
The thrill of being a homeowner trumped my initial flood of worries. We soon dug into the house. We would show up in the early hours of the morning with cups of coffee and lots of ambition. I would typically just watch him hammer at paneling or tear up carpet, lending a hand when necessary.
Cory had a knack for learning quickly and had a lot of motivation those first few months. He completely gutted the house to the bones, and this was scary. As it sat in its naked, raw state, I certainly couldn’t imagine it as a home. That had been hard enough before he started the demolition phase.
He spent nearly every waking moment at our house. When I was with him, I loved listening to his design ideas. I tried so hard to picture the same image he had in his mind – but it was a lost cause. I was limited by the reality of exposed beams and broken floors. Cory’s stories sounded more like fairy tales.
His vivid ideas evolved as he began reconstructing. He would build a flight of stairs and then change his mind about its appearance and redo them. He bought a lovely set of beams to place in the downstairs, but decided against them as he applied the final coat of paint to the living area.
The initial, favored ideas remained intact. All white walls with black hardwood floors. A wide open downstairs space with recessed lighting. French doors leading to a deck. Black steps with exposed hardware, transpiring uniformly from the basement to the attic.
The kitchen was my favorite. It was the first completed room of the house, and offered hope that the rest of the house could progress just as perfectly. Maple cabinets, black countertops, a black, sparkly backsplash and new appliances provided an anchor of reality for these fairy tales. That was when the lines blurred between fiction and nonfiction – like an actual story with a beginning, middle and an end.
After Cory finished the main floor, we moved in. That was when the real chaos started. We piled our belongings into the space and placed everything else in a storage unit. Though I am not an organized, orderly person by any stretch, I felt very discombobulated at first. I had no real place for my stuff, and the house soon became a mess of clothes, books and shoes.
Trying to live in the cramped quarters of one floor was really frustrating as newlyweds. We couldn’t entertain friends or family, weekends were reserved for working on the upstairs and I felt disappointed that the house wasn’t progressing. For a long while, there were literally no stairs leading from the first floor to the second. Going to the bathroom in a basement is really no fun when you’re alone at night, either.
My kitchen, however, continued serving its righteous purpose. It stabilized me with its functioning appliances and coffee-themed décor. That room projected its magic onto the rest of the house, reminding me to have faith in my husband and his grand ideas.
Even then, when I would think about the upstairs as completed and furnished, the image in my mind would be hazy and muddled, like a camera out of focus, like a story that hadn’t yet finished. I couldn’t picture the ending without first experiencing the middle.
Slowly but surely, Cory kept at it. He even had some help from friends on the occasion. Most recently, his brothers-in-law have been helping with the dry wall, paint and all of the other odds and ends in need of conclusion.
I’ve been helpful too. I painted the master bedroom and have half of the second bedroom painted. I also sweep the floors with a shop vacuum when needed. I run to the store when they run out of something.
Now, as it’s nearing its finale, I walk up the finished steps and I see a picture in my mind. I see hardwood floors with white molding along the surface. I see squared, porcelain sinks atop a refurbished vanity. I see a large tub with bubbles spilling over the top. I see a bedroom with picture frames and furniture. I feel relief when I imagine my own office, with space to work without all the distractions of the downstairs.
Admittedly, the picture isn’t as clear and sharp as it will be in a few weeks. A thin veil still hovers over my image, but at least I can see through it.
When we finally close the books on this place, I will hold on to this experience, remembering that life’s projects always begin as one person’s single dream, an untold story or even the makings of a fairy tale.
And after all, a couple is supposed to complement one another – to compensate for what the other lacks. And Cory is just my vision when the view is foggy, painting my reality with magic.
Published: June 7, 2012