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Escaping the Un-home

by Daniella Libero about a month ago in grief
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Moving back into Life

She and he laughed together as they bought unvarnished, un-sanded pale pine furniture at the end of their lack lustre honeymoon.

Everything will be fine, she thought.

On the strip of grey asphalt, they drove north from the regional centre to the basic chocolate brown brick veneer in the small town on the river.

A week later she began to sand and varnish the furniture. She enjoyed rubbing at the machined door handles until they felt silken. She had no shed to work in. Although laying down drop sheets to protect the tiled floor from the sticky varnish was annoying, she pressed on.

After she had finished the dining suite, they had their first meal in their home seated in style. No hunching over the yellow laminate bench eating off white wedding china with picnic forks. He seemed harried. He criticised the food. She felt herself disappearing into every soap opera and comedy episode about recently married couples. It was just a stage. He would appreciate her next effort, say sorry, perhaps cook a meal himself.

740 days later they had only spent 300 nights at home together. She went to his friend’s house, and knocked on the door, and asked for him. She still cared. He was surprised. He came down the brick steps and stood on the red brick path he had built himself because that was what he did.

She stood between a granite rock and a budding cactus and said, “This may be a marriage in your mind but it’s not in mine.” She noted the moon was a pale, cool crescent.

The next night he stayed home. For the next year he was there 5 or 6 nights out of 7. He didn’t speak much , just ate his dinner between 8 and 9 pm, showered and went to bed. Sex was expected – awkward, at times as awkward as a rough raft on an uncertain river.

Then she was pregnant.

With the baby in the newspaper photo, they look young and happy.

Hard, miserable months followed. Anger because the baby wouldn’t sleep at night. She lay in a heap of tension, exhausted and miserable, as he shook the cot. Guiltily she waited until the times he was asleep or went away to work at comforting and teaching the eldest to sleep.

Adrift in a leaky boat of pride, fund-deprived help services with unanswered phones, and sleep deprivation, she struggled through.

Another 168 days have passed when she finds she is pregnant again. Surprisingly, she finds she feels glad of the life within; it is between her birthday and Christmas when she knows. Tears come later during another long night with the first born when she wonders how she will cope.

With the second baby she is seven days at the bush hospital. She comes home to a sick, miserable toddler with thick red nappy rash and a messy house. Her husband has been drinking with a friend all week and is emotionally distant.

He bonds with the baby OK.

Is it gratitude because this baby sleeps through the night?

All the attempts at intimacy blend into abstract multi-coloured Rorschach forms, daubed with oil paint over-mixed with tears. The misery of discovering stacks of glossy magazines in plastic bags , the missing money, the disappearances that stretch to weeks.

Why, she wonders, would he ever stand up for a real woman when he’s had a thousand paper ladies and he’ll have a thousand more?

With twisted humour she thinks of her ego. Why would I think I could even compete?

His fantasies; his hands of expertise on himself. All the intrinsic denial in her making 90 percent of the effort; she’d never have the energy or stubbornness for it now. And gee, the three-dimensional sex workers cost so much more when they’re used. Only the thought of providing for the children made being used, instead of the experts, bearable. In between were ten brown bottles hanging on the wall: drunken drives and drunken fears.

Of course, the magazines that slipped through the Australian Capital Territory filled the gaps with the unthinkable , to her anyway.

Why complain when I’m too tired, too powerless, and sometimes too depressed to do anything about it? Later I know that some of it was shame, but what could I do? Adults must deal with their own shame. No one can do it for them.

The years stretch on and the solace in the spiritual, the growing children, and her single mother friends form a balm-like veil which allow her to create a duplicity that matches his.

Trying to create intimacy, she thinks, is like being employed by the Department of Corrections: his acted-out misery, his addiction cycles as clock-able as a prison schedule. For a season of 3000 days plus she ignores the lies; for another season of 3000 days plus she weeps and screams and prays to God to round out and bring hope to her routine one-act dramas.

There are brief seasons where they both try, but that becomes troubled when he prefers the counsellor to her in just about every way.

Sometimes she calls him a bastard.

In the bush block house, she tosses back and forth on the crumpled sheets when he arrives at 2 am full of beer slurs and smelling of wood smoke.

In between she builds a house of words. Words which speak of beauty and happiness and truth, words text-designed with shadows of the truth about pain and betrayal; the truth about all the reasons people help create things they can never bear.

She begins to hate herself with a burning fierceness. She runs.

The allegorical images of the wooden Victorian that needs renovating is where she first allows herself to process the pain, in the first year while the wounds are still creating the pus of rage.

She imagines a couple renovating a dryland Victorian farmhouse.

In the imagined story the woman paints a wall.

The man says nothing until all the work is done, then he applies stripes of the paint he would really like over the top. She gets up from bed to find her work ruined and time wasted.

“Why didn’t you answer me when I asked about the paint colour?”

He gets up from the table. He leaves her special preparation of his favourite meal – an attempt to placate – and disappears until midnight.

Later the couple of the wooden house struggle their way through the tests of his mind to settle on another colour. He could erect a scaffold to reach the upper part of the walls, but he doesn’t so she paints to her head height over the patched and sanded walls. He comes home.

“Why have you done it like that?” he asks.

“I had no safe way of reaching the top of the walls.”

“I have the answer. My grandad gave me a ten-foot ladder, it’s fantastic. I’ll leave it by the garage, and you can use it in the morning.”

He hugs her at bedtime and her hopes rise. Truly she just wants to make the home pleasant for them; this is the one space that belongs to the two of them, these four walls. A job that could have been done in a week has now dragged out to ninety days. Soon it will be done.

He leaves early as usual.

She thought she would be alone this much if she married a long-distance commuter, but nothing keeps a man home if he has other interests. She has a part-time job in town. Sometimes she sees him driving by at lunchtime. He seems to be in his own little world; sometimes he waves.

At breakfast time she sits by the kitchen window and thinks how clean and bright the living room will look when she’s finished. She didn’t waste all of the last three months. A man is coming this morning with new blinds to replace the tatty, holey blinds on the kitchen and living room windows. She’s been paying them off slowly with money from her part-time work.

The man with the blinds arrives when she’s standing, staring in numb shock at the ladder her husband has left her. The fourth, eighth and twelfth rungs are missing. It is rickety and splintery. Two fat tears are making their way down her cheeks. The man sees her poor attempt to wipe the tears away.

Trying to overcome the misery she focuses hard on his face. He is thirty years older than me; she thinks.

A fatherly frown appears on the man’s brow.

“Now love, what’s the matter?”

“You probably think I’m silly, but I wanted to finish painting today. This ladder is all I have to reach the high places.”

He looks at her and says, “Now I have some heavy wooden dowel and nails. It will be rough, but I can make this thing much more secure.”

She relaxes and glances at him, “Would you? Thank you so much.”

He fixes the ladder efficiently. She struggles with the ladder but manages to get it indoors and set up in the living room. It works OK. She can reach the nooks and crannies; she can reach right up to the edge of the tape protecting the line where the cornice meets the wall. She has plans to apply a complementary colour to the cornice before she paints the ceiling white with a roller.

The installing of the blinds goes well. This fires her enthusiasm for a fresh laminate bench in the kitchen and a feature wall in the dining room. She runs her hand over the cracked laminate with its yellowed edges; she imagines the dining room with fresh paint. She goes back to the living room and works steadily.

Her stomach is gnawing at itself when she stops for a hastily made cheese sandwich. Eating it on the verandah, she throws the remains to the fat sparrows that hop on the grass.

It’s dark when she turns on the living room light. Even in its’ artificial glow the colour of the wall is as pleasing as the test stripe.

A day’s work well done; she thinks.

It is pitch black when she hears her husband’s truck. Tonight, she has decided to make jaffles from leftover casserole. He seems happy with those most times. He walks in and she smiles at him.

“ How was work?”

He nods, acknowledging her. “What did you do today?”

“ I finished an entire coat in the living room.”

She has removed the drop sheets temporarily and placed his favourite chair and a lovely rug his mother gave them by the unlit fireplace in the south wall. He glances around, nodding in silence.

His eyes light on his grandad’s ladder, lying flat, weighting a drop sheet shoved right into a corner. He pulls himself erect; his fists clenched.

“What the hell happened to my Grandad’s ladder?”

The allegory ends, and the pain is faced.

Let the pain pour out of this allegory for those who know, she thinks. Let each word bring its’ lancing power to the swollen boil; let healing balm cover the festering sores caused by the thousands of rejections, and the feelings of worthlessness. She reflects that this was the story where her creativity and joy became dammed; this was the place where the sense of futility about building anything suffocated her heart.

The mocking voice rose up, “Put your whole self into building anything and it will be spat on, pulled down. Nothing created for love is appreciated, only empty whims, woken in a moment, to satisfy addictive urges.”

She pushes back against the echoes that got down in her and bounced around with painful resonance.

At times they made her scream, irrational with frustration at herself.

How stupid am I to want to build something beautiful!

How stupid am I to waste decades on an impossible dream of love!

The sort of mocking that she despises is living a half-life in her belly and will poison her if she does not tell the truth somehow.

She wants to feel rising thermals on her face and needs to say, “ I must turn my mind from the past being a life sentence or I will still be my own saboteur, even now.”

She wants to climb a mountain, spread her arms and shout to the clouds, “ To build something with love is worthwhile; to create comes from the beauty of God’s image in me.”

The sighs of relief from her eldest shock her.

The blindness has gone now; the stubbornness and pride of the inability to admit defeat.

After many days the joy of life is returning.

And thus are things for now...

grief

About the author

Daniella Libero

Writing and publishing are my passions.Storytelling and word craft matter.

I love to observe people and I fall in and out of love everyday.

I write a lot of in-the-moment stories but I love to dabble in magic realism and fantasy.

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