Shelter

Mr. A is nesting.

Mr. A, bless him, is always possessed of an endless list of things about our current domicile that annoy the living daylights out of him. The door squeaks. You have to kick that cabinet or it won’t close. The light switch doesn’t dim, or doesn’t dim properly. The local handyman and I exchange glances (from 6 feet away, masked) as he is explaining his projects: a label on every switch, motion-sensor lights, ceiling fans in every room.

The handyman is there because, although Mr. A has a list of endless things to fix, he doesn’t trust himself to fix them correctly. This distrust is not unfounded.

“Do YOU want this,” the handyman asks me, as I am “the wife” and presumed to be “the boss,” though I really “don’t care” as long as it isn’t going to “bankrupt us.” There are things I do for my mental health, after all, around the house and outside of it. Usually the projects are small: one day, perhaps two.

Since the lockdown started Mr. A has begun obsessing. We’ve never had a washer and dryer in this house; when we bought it, we were pretty broke, and the laundromat was nearby. The laundromat was always skeezy, and now that skeeziness is unacceptable. A washer and dryer arrive next week. The basement is being reconfigured. The cats’ litterboxes and food bowls have been moved and they are UPSET.

Our backyard is fenced on one side by a massive stockade built by one neighbor, a rusty metal contraption on the other side, and has no back gate, Would a simple gate do, to enclose our stamp-sized yard? Of course not.  A fence fellow showed up last week to measure and estimate for our own stockade.

We are building shelves for our storage space. We are, daily, examining the drainage on our tiny lawn. There are seeds growing on every windowsill and I have ordered enough plants from the pick-up nursery to feed an entire village for a month. Kick does scavenger hunts and work sheets and sounds out the word “symmetrical” and I ponder ordering her a trampoline.

A playhouse. A swingset. Golf clubs. An archery range. She has so few outdoor toys, why does she have so few outdoor toys?

We have never needed our home to be enough before.

I always looked askance at families with mountains of complicated outdoor toys because — the park’s like right there, dude, what do you need a whole ass teeter-totter of your own for? The park has caution tape around it now and every time I drive past I want to stop, put my head against the steering wheel, and cry.

Why would we need a chest freezer to buy a quarter of a cow, there’s 4 grocery stores and a bulletproof bodega by the bus stop. Sometimes people acted surprised when we said we’d never go back to two cars: the bus picks up two blocks from my house, drops me at the train, drops me two blocks from my office.

We didn’t need to be secret and self-contained. We had a whole world: a park district with a million programs, open fields, miles of trails, hell go out on the block on any day above freezing and there’s a million playmates. Oh, you can’t get your kid off the iPad? I can’t get mine ON IT, there’s too much other stuff to do. We’re barely in our house, even on the weekends. Just because the world wasn’t ours alone doesn’t mean we didn’t think of it as ours.

We just didn’t think of it as a luxury. We thought of the people with the enormous stockade fences and massive private playground equipment as living in luxury. Privacy was luxury, and it was loneliness, and we wanted no part of it.

I struggled, during one of our endless discussions about house projects, to explain to Mr. A why everything he did to make us more safe made me feel less. It never occurred to me that I felt safest with the doors wide open, and always have, ever since childhood: neighbors within shouting distance, people who shared what they had so that there would always be enough, friends upstairs and down or at the office or around the block, and I am purposely, recklessly, deliberately unafraid to go anywhere in this city any time, day or night, to find help or deliver it.

I so carefully built a life with, I thought, a thousand backup plans, all a block or a drive or a bus or a train or a quick bike ride away. Friends, family, backups to the backups to the backups. People I could call on. I always joked that I should handle the start of the apocalypse because I knew how to organize an escape and a rebuilding. I thought well, we’ll need a vehicle. We’ll need supplies (I’ve always hoarded yeast and flour, take that Instagram bakers), old people who can read paper maps, ways to hunt and fish, I can put a team together.

I never considered we might be the team. Just the three of us. That there might not be anything to escape. That this house might be the only vehicle.

And we might need a tall fence around it. We might need supplies to last a year.

A.

2 thoughts on “Shelter

  1. James Shirk says:

    That’s incredibly sad. Cities are the basis for well, you know, civilization. This country has been biased against cities since Jefferson, and now we’re seeing the triumph of acreage over people. Social distancing removes the city’s advantages and enhances their disadvantages. The only people ‘going to the streets’ are the terminally stupid, but we’re living in the same towns. Stay safe and sane – at least you don’t have to worry about sea level rise.

  2. Cheryl says:

    Bittersweet, but stellar writing.

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