There are many things you love about your house. You love the stunted front-yard fence with its heart-shaped cutouts, one half-heart per picket. You love the vintage mailbox with its copper patina, the white lamp post, the twin flower pots on the front porch. It’s those little things that make a difference — things like your burnished gold door-knocker and hand-dyed jute welcome mat that’s chemically treated to resist sun fade. Curb appeal is important, so that’s why you prune the hedges and hire someone to clean the gutters on a regular basis. A well-tended exterior proves to the world that you care about keeping your neighborhood a safe and welcoming place. Plus, curb appeal is one of the most significant factors in selling your house quickly once it’s on the market.
But your house isn’t on the market right now. You just bought it two years ago and, like many new homeowners, you have spent a great deal of time and money on improvements. Some of the improvements you love, others you don’t. You love the trio of wire-cage pendant lights overhanging the kitchen island’s stained cement countertop — they create a steampunk-industrial vibe that encourages your friends to relax when they stop by for a glass of wine on First Fridays. You also love the neutral tones in your living room and that you ripped up the carpeting, heavily stained by the previous owners (seniors now in a nursing home because they can’t care for themselves any longer), and used Home Advisor to find a reputable flooring contractor. The dark tone of the new living room floor is a fresh and modern contrast to the furniture you recently purchased from Art Van, a sectional sofa upholstered in beige micro-velvet paired with a light-blue floral-print armchair with tufted cushions and charmingly stout peg legs.
The bathroom is where you made a few mistakes, but it’s common for new homeowners to lose their focus when transforming an outdated space into one with all the perks of modern living. In the thrill and excitement of attacking the old-school pink and black ceramic tile with a hand axe, you forgot to properly measure the walls for the new coverings and had to cut a large number of tiles with a wet saw, which you did not know how to use. Some of the tiles broke into odd jigsaw-shaped pieces and — when you went to Home Depot to order more — the only available replacements were a slightly different shade of white than the ones you’d already affixed. You also fucked up all the fixtures, forgetting to create consistency between the bath, shower, and sink faucet sets. Making this problem worse is that the goddam electrician installed a polished chrome dome light, a maddening mismatch to the sleekly styled pine ceiling panels that were supposed to give the bath a spa theme but instead make it feel like a Tennessee outhouse.
Not everything that is wrong with your house is your fault. It’s not your fault the previous owners paid a fortune to put a tacky faux-brick fireplace in the basement, or that they never ran the dehumidifier and caused the entire rec room to fester into a damp and clammy mold dungeon. Waterproofing sensitive areas of the home is one of the most important investments you can make, but it’s also an invisible improvement that isn’t as personally rewarding as those you can see and enjoy every day. Things like the custom-built shelves in your kitchen, where you display cookbooks, whimsical signage, your dead grandmother’s Van Briggle vase, electric candles, and a collection of tinted glass bottles from Pier One. You spent a Saturday accenting the area around the shelves with LED smart lights, framed photo collages, and a wreath of dried lavender and chamomile. The kitchen is your happy place, or so you thought until that one afternoon when you sat at the mid-century bistro set that fits perfectly in the breakfast nook and considered swallowing an entire bottle of Xanax all at once, leaving your final words on the sunflower pad your daughter put in your Christmas stocking.
But suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, you know. And your house is a temporary problem. In fact, your life is a temporary problem. There is no problem that can’t be solved, no problem that isn’t fixable. Even the shamefully ignored master bedroom with its vomit-yellow paint, even it can be fixed. You can scrape off the sloppy fleur de lis mural over the bed and call a contractor to sand the drywall and spread some Venetian plaster. Or is Venetian plaster over with?
It’s common, you know, for those who are alive to wonder why they are even here. Like many, you are searching for meaning — searching inside the walls, under the floors, through the closets, tearing and ripping until your fingertips bleed, carrying plastic bags of destruction to the curb on big objects day. You cover the crudeness with contemporary things, the trendy decor that makes your friends envious and you proud. But you cannot cover the gaping aching hole inside yourself, not ever ever. Still, it’s very common to realize your shortcomings in this way, to accept them and move on. To keep on living and shopping for the perfect accents and feature pieces to arrange in thoughtful and inventive ways. To walk the pretty interior that is yours, all yours, until that day finally comes, the day when you are taken to a senior home or hospital, to a generic place where the bed sheets will not have a thread count higher than one hundred and the lamps will have their original shades (which are only suggestions, did you know that?). That place where, finally, there is no longer a need to fix anything at all.
Anne-Marie Yerks is a creative writer from metro Detroit, MI. Her short stories have appeared in journals such as Juked, The Penn Review, and several anthologies, including the forthcoming Best Small Fictions 2022 (Sonder Press). She is the author of Dream Junkies (New Rivers Press, 2016) and LUSH (Odyssey Books). Her novel-in-progress, Not That Fat, was a finalist for the YARWA Rosemary Award. She has freelanced for many magazines, publishing nonfiction articles about wellness, fashion, real estate, crafts, home improvement, and education. A longtime writing teacher, she loves traveling to literary destinations and occasionally presents at AWP and the Winter Wheat Festival of Writing. Anne-Marie is also a certified seamstress (but prefers the word “sewist”), a fiber artist, and a beginning gardener. Contact her on Twitter @amy1620 or through her website (amyerks.wixsite.com/home).