Another first time: on Sunday morning I took myself to the emergency room at the hospital all by my lonesome. If there were tears in my eyes, it was because of the pain, not because there was a young couple ahead of me, where the man was pushing his wife around in a wheelchair, taking care of her and taking care of the formalities at the same time …
Since the project for this weekend was to clear out the old computer room, paint it, and refurnish it as an all-purpose workroom, I expected bruises, cuts, and scrapes. I seem to have thin skin (or something), because I bruise and bleed easily, so shifting a large quantity of large and cumbersome physical objects was inevitably going to leave physical traces. However, I certainly did not expect to stupidly trip over a friend’s foot trying to find our way into IKEA, and unlike Arthur Dent, when I went flying I unfortunately did not forget to hit the ground. At first I thought I was just a bit rattled, no damage to be concerned about, so we just continued as planned, although I was more than usually irritated that IKEA didn’t even have the shelves in stock that I needed, resulting in a major obstacle to my plan of finishing everything before the end of the weekend – only the first obstacle, as it turned out.
Since Laura and Becky had done an amazing job of clearing everything out of the computer room Friday evening (and so quickly that we had plenty of time to drink a bottle of wine together on the balcony afterward), and Otmar and I had lugged the rest of the furniture down to the cellar in the morning, when I returned from the unsatisfactory and unsuccessful trip to IKEA, three people had almost finished painting all the walls of the room. All that was left was the ceiling, so my delightful nephew Dominik stayed to help me finish that. Unfortunately, we started seriously running out of the specially mixed paint I had bought (“porcelain white”), before we had finished more than about a third of the ceiling. Since I still had some other white paint left, we decided to mix a little of that in, figuring it would be ok if the ceiling was a bit lighter than the walls. About that time, I was becoming increasingly aware of pain and realizing that I could not stretch out my left arm, so I just wanted to get finished. Dominik heroically kept up with me, standing on the ladder with a paint brush to fill in the gaps I was leaving behind with my increasingly erratic swipes with the roller on a telescope handle, and it was starting to get dark, so it looked ok.
In the morning light, after pain kept me awake much of the night, it looked anything but ok. The ceiling was a blotchy mess and there were white blotches around the top of the walls, where I had bumped into them with the roller. Had I been able to move my left arm, I would have started painting again to at least try to make it look plausibly even, but there was nothing I could do about it by myself, so I just sat down and cried. Then I started dithering about whether I should go to the hospital to have my elbow looked at or not. Since I haven’t had to go to the emergency room since before Peter died (which is, in itself, something of an achievement, I suppose), I didn’t even know the “protocol”: Should I tell someone (two friends later said yes, I should have told them), ask someone to keep me company, call a taxi? Or should I just quietly get on a bus and go there, since there was nothing wrong with my legs? I wasn’t even sure I knew how to get there, since Peter always took me in the car, but I looked that up and it was easy.
Once I returned from the hospital with a bandaged elbow and the prescribed pain pills, I started sending out SOS messages, beginning with whining to Christopher that I wanted him to make calls for me, because it’s even harder to ask for help when I’m in pain. By the time I had warmed up a frozen pizza to eat before taking a pain pill, Leo arrived and other people started responding. And what started out as a miserable, hopeless day just got better and better. Although it seems a waste of talent to ask a gifted graffiti artist to just paint a room white, Leo did a brilliant job of fixing the ceiling and hiding my blotches. After we removed the newspaper from the floor and mopped it (which hurt enough to convince me to just give instructions and not try to help after that), Leo and Benji brought the pieces of the old desk back up from the cellar and reassembled parts of it to fit exactly the way Katja had said it would fit (obviously, Katja knows what she’s talking about: she is an architect and understands spaces and how physical objects fit in them, so her plan for the room is working perfectly). They brought the white sofa over from the former boys’ room and assembled the available bits of the shelves – and the room was transformed. In the evening, Laura, Susanne and Elke took over absolutely the most helpful and useful task they could have done: they hung up my beloved pictures in the new workroom and then proceeded to rearrange and re-hang all the pictures in the flat. Despite all the piles of stuff that still needs to be sorted, now I just walk around seeing pictures that make me happy.
There is a reason for all of this: it’s time to start the next experiment in shared living space.
When I was young, “married with children” was certainly not the life I ever envisioned for myself, so for nearly twenty-five years I was repeatedly surprised to find myself in exactly that living situation. On the whole, I think it was a successful experiment, but it’s finished now. My children are grown, my husband is dead, so “married with children” is no longer my life. Now I have a different life. And the next step in that different life is that I will be sharing my living space with two new people. Over the summer I became acquainted with the woman who directed the theater production that took place beneath my office window, and consequently she and her little son will be moving in with me to start a “three-generation flat-share”.
As I have been sorting through over twenty years of accumulated stuff all day (things I can sort using mostly my right arm and sitting quietly in one place), I’m finding it surprisingly easy to discard things I really don’t need to keep, easier than I had imagined. That “sudden halt” feeling that results from spending time in a hospital waiting room and leads to (usually necessary) reflection reminds me that it’s better to take time for what is really important, that I can’t (and shouldn’t!) do everything alone, and also suggests that it’s easier to let go of things for a positive reason: in order to make room for two new people in my life.
And to start with, instead of a dingy old computer room, thanks to wonderful, helpful friends, we now have a bright, beautiful workroom.