dimanche 9 mai 2010

Thunderheads

Frog eyes, they're watching you
seeing your every move


Hell has no fury like an architect scorn'd.

The rain never came, but the storm did. The thunderheads burst at the dinner table, late. It was over headless nails.

"Ils sont moches," stated my husband. They are ugly. It was exasperating. I was exasperated.

"On ne les voit même pas!" I shouted. I believe I said it tolerably civil like the first time. It was only the last ten or an hundred or so times that I lost all semblance of self-control. "On fait comme ça tout le temps! Tu les fonces dans la surface du bois, tu mets un tout petit bout de pâte à bois, et la peinture couvre tout! Même si tu laisses le bois clair, ça ne se voit pas!"

This was about when and how to attach the wood trim and who would win. Our marriage is about power and control at its dark heart. That's what you get when your husband is the eldest of a large pack of kids, and mother maintained control through absolute authority. You didn't pinch your brother and feed the peas to the dog? No matter, you're getting the rings on the backhand across the cheek to transmit on down the long table of siblings until it reaches the guilty party. The Sun King had nothing on her, and every woman becomes the "mother", a force to be subdued lest you lose your own. Forget that this time, you chose her. At least our marriage has another heart, struggling in that never-ending combat of good and evil, light and dark.

"J'aurais aimé que tu me laisses la décision de comment organiser le travail puisque c'est moi qui le fais."

"Pas si tu veux le faire n'importe comment. On met toujours le BA13 avant les boiseries. C'est les boiseries qui font la finition et passent par dessus. Si non, comment veux-tu passer le BA13 derrière?"

I knew he didn't really want to slide the sheetrock, otherwise called "Placo", short for "Placoplâtre", ou "BA13", behind the wood trim. He'd already told me how we didn't need to redo the old wood trim in the living room because it was perfectly fine to glue the Placo to the existing finished walls and leave the old trim, even where the new wall surface would stand out past the wood trim. I never forgave him for thinking that, and to be perfectly honest, it is at the heart of my anxiety and funk since we started the inside of the house: I know what is alright with him, and I know what is alright with me, and I know they are far, far apart.

It might have been salvageable last night had he stopped there, but no, he took it farther.

"Tu aurais pu me montrer les dessins pour que je voie comment c'est fait." I gasped. I had shown him the drawings. "Maintenant je sais pourquoi les ouvriers ont eu ras le bol." That did it. I lost it.

"Je te les ai montré, mais tu ne te souviens jamais de rien de ce que tu vois!"

Yes, I really did put the exclamation point in there when I said that, breaking all my rules concerning remaining calm to carry the point. Besides, there had already been all those other exclamation points since the beginning of the fight. "Tu dis que c'est beau, mais tu ne sais pas les lire pour voir comment cela doit être fait." I put my head back in my hands and pressed them to my scalp. The better to not throw my glass of wine across the table.

"Mais bien sur!" he returned the shot, "mais tu ne me montres pas où on va! Si c'est moi qui fais le travail, c'est moi qui décide comment on fait le travail!" So there!

No, it doesn't work that way. You see, there are ways to do things that we all learn and that we all learn to respect. We don't do whatever we can figure out on our own and call it good enough.
But, it didn't stop there, either.

"Tu es architecte --" he began, but I didn't let him add another word. I knew where that was going, tu as passé ton temps à faire des dessins de ce que tu voulais, mais tu ne savais rien faire toi-même.

I'd have forgiven him this raw assumption had I not told him a million times that I had spent the majority of my working years in the field because not only do architects in the States make pretty drawings of their reveries, they also oversee the execution of the work in the field, and I did an extra dose of that because I was perpetually assigned to fix the jobs that had gone wrong. My job was to satisfy the frustrated contractor and the nervous and angry client. Get it done, and get it done right. I also had the benefit of the best contractors, subs and woodworkers in all of Southwestern Connecticut for the highest-end work.

This I cannot forgive my husband for not allowing me.

I pressed my palms into the table and half stood, staring him in the eyes. I was in the zone out past rage. I was scarcely articulate. I sucked in air and struggled for enough calm to come close to syaing what I felt.

"Tu sais très bien que ce n'est pas le cas, et si tu ne le sais pas, c'est parce que tu n'écoutes pas ce que je te dis, tu ne le donnes aucune importance, et tu refuses d'accepter qu'oui, je sais faire, et quand les méthodes de travail et les matériaux changent, comme entre les States et ici, je me renseigne auprès des professionnels, et j'accepte leur savoir faire. Je ne fais pas n'importe quoi que me vient à l'esprit."

I also do not tell you how to do your job. I do not belittle the experience you have gained over the course of your professional life. I cannot take away the theater of your practice because it is outside the realm of the shared home. I cannot pretend I know how to do it because no one pretends there is DIY medicine, or at least not surgery. The Internet is full of DYI medicine, which is about as good as your average DIY home fixer-upper. There is no Home Depot or IKEA, stocked with everything you need to save the cost of visiting the doctor.

My profession isn't one. That's what this is about.

We have friends. Really. Can you believe it? Despite how we behave. He is an architect and she is not. They bought an apartment, a beautiful apartment in Paris, and they commenced to do work on it. As they described that work over dinner one evening, seated around their lovely dining table, the atmosphere thickened when they got to the storage system in clear wood he had designed and had custom built for a long, narrow space just beyond the wall of French doors that separate it from the living room. It took up the entire length of the rear wall, and it projected rather egoistically into the remaining space. The strip of room that remained appeared engulfed. She had a perfectly valid point. The cabinetry wasn't particularly suited to the circumstances, but he had carried the day, and she lives with it.

I understand that it doesn't always go well. I do. But, I show my husband the ideas I have. I do show him the drawings as they develop, and I hear him tell me and other people that it will be beautiful. I feel reassured. But, to make it really work, it absolutely has to be done properly. There is no negotiating on that.

And he has failed to understand what it meant to me to leave the practice of my profession and settle into the countryside, taking care of the raggedy family, the garden, the few things I could claim for myself without having to fight like a dog for a bone. To be credited with experience and knowledge for which I was actually once paid and for which I was even praised, for which we once won an award.

When I think of all the years of feeling like I knew nothing and had so much to learn, and the raw fear of having to pull it together or sink, it is the most painful to have that called into question by my husband. He has never seen my work. Never seen me at work. I have seen him at work. I know what he does, and I know what it is worth. My work was only a vague concept.

My home is not only our home, it is my opportunity to do something for us that others will see. To do it right so that it will show well and so that I can be proud is the least of what I ask. It is a way of reclaiming part of myself, of feeling competent and whole again. All I really ask is support for that, and we fight about back-nailing or headless nails and who gets to decide.

"C'est beaucoup mieux quand tu mets les boiseries avant et tu les fixes de derrière, et puis tu poses le Placo."

"Pourquoi si le tout petit trou est parfaitement invisible? Jamais je n'ai fais un projet -- jamais, et là on parle des projets qui vallaient dans les millions de dollars et furènt de la plus haute gamme -- l'où on posait les boiseries -- ce qui sont des finitions -- avant le Placo. Jamais. Même si'on laisse le bois clair, les clous de face font de tout petits trous qu'on ne voit pas de tout, mais nous allons peindre le bois!" And on and on.

Why did I have to fight something so basic as putting up the sheetrock before the window trim?

Why?

But the best thing about having done the summer room? I have a choice of where I wish to sleep when I quit the marital bed.

He brought me coffee, dates and dried apricots this morning.

"Je voudrais ton avis," he said when I had come back into the house, carrying my tray. I'd like your opinion.

"Es-tu sûr? Je suis très bien là," I said.

"Je sais," he said, "mais je ne suis pas bien là," he glanced up towards the ceiling, "seul."

We're back at work. For now. Or he is. I have to get back to the drawings so he can see exactly how it is done and organize his work.


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