Before I became a widow, I don’t remember hearing much about triggers. Possibly in relation to war veterans, but otherwise, not so much. Perhaps I was just living in my shiny, happy bubble. You seem to learn a whole new vocabulary when young widowhood hits. I had to literally look up what some things meant as I ventured into young widow chat sites. There was no need to look up triggers, however. Triggers find you. Boy, do they find you.
Triggers are tricky buggers. They can be predictable, but can also hit without warning. The kind where you are minding your business, driving down a road, and a random billboard for something like fatherhood.gov announces to you that KIDS NEED THEIR DADS TO BE INVOLVED IN THEIR LIVES! Thanks billboard. Now I’m sobbing in my car. Suck it.
I have a few predictable triggers. Home and car maintenance/issues are 2 of the biggest. We had fairly “traditional” roles in our marriage. When things around the house broke, he fixed them. He also did all of the flooring, painting, and wallpapering. This was mostly because he was entirely a perfectionist. When we bought our first (and only) home together, we started repainting one of the bedrooms together. When he could not refrain from “correcting” my methods of whatever I was doing at the time in the painting process, I told him he could either keep his mouth shut, or do this and every other project alone from there on out. He immediately opted to go it alone, and never once complained about it over the next 15 years.
Without him, when things go wrong with the house or cars, it destroys me all over again, every time. Even writing about it is difficult. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve ended up screaming/crying/lying in the fetal position after trying, and failing to fix something, or solve an issue myself. Of course, I’ve gotten better at some things. Just yesterday the garbage disposal died. Not even gonna attempt that one…I’m happy to call a plumber. But some other things that fall more under the heading “home projects,” rather than maintenance are different.
Remember the story about painting the room together? I had honestly not touched a brush or roller since that day. I’ve had some painting done in the years since Gary died… but I either had family help, or hired a professional. Until this summer. As my kids have grown up, and one has flown out, it was finally time to deal with the fact that my youngest, now 15, was still in a bedroom with jungle wallpaper, which his father put up over 20 years ago when our oldest moved from the nursery into that room. So I made a plan to move our teen out of the toddler room, into the now vacated larger room, and redo jungle room into a spare bedroom.
If you’ve never taken on removing 20 year old wallpaper, I don’t recommend it as a fun hobby. As much as I hated that initial step of the project, it wasn’t the trigger for me. Tearing something apart is “easy.” It’s the replacing it with something pleasing when you have the ghost of a perfectionist in your head that sets me off. Gary was the guy who literally painted and/or wallpapered every room in our house without using drop cloths, and it always came out perfectly. I’m the one who lays drop cloths everywhere, wears old flip flops specifically so I don’t ruin anything, but manages to walk on a drop from the cloth, onto an uncovered patch of carpet. It’s just how I roll.
I pulled up my big girl pants, and got the job done. Ceiling, walls, trim, and doors. It’s not nearly up to Gary standards, but I knew that when I started. Perhaps buoyed from confidence in conquering one fear, I made the bold decision to take it a step even further. …
Over the years, I’ve made adjustments in getting household jobs done in a way I can manage. Heavy outdoor equipment like gas powered weed wackers and leaf blowers were replaced with lighter (and not quite as efficient) battery powered models. (Yay, environment!) One of the things I had never had to courage to attempt was drilling holes anywhere in my house. No new holes had been drilled in my house in the past 12 years. I’m the one who walks through my own paint drips. I’ve always been sure that any attempt I make to drill a hole in a wall would result in the complete destruction of said wall. It’s just how I role.
But my beautiful new Sea Island Cotton guest room needed new window treatments. And that meant new curtain rods, which meant drilling new holes. I fully had a plan to continue to avoid the drill. I ordered rod holders on Facebook that promised I could just hammer them into the window frame. But I’m also incredibly impatient. My room was nearly finished, I had a curtain, curtain rod (with hardware), and stuff ordered off of Facebook takes an insanely long time to arrive. So I ventured down to the basement to pull our the dreaded electric drill.
I was so nervous! I was so proud of my paint work, and feared I would ruin everything. I had no idea what I was doing. I dutifully read all the instructions, and thank God for You Tube videos. Let me assure you, it was not a perfect success. The plastic thing-a-ma-jingies meant to secure the screw in the drywall completely fell apart. I’m still not entirely sure the whole window treatment will not come crashing down at some point. This is where my husband and I were always very different. I get frustrated, and go with “it’s good enough,” where he would keep at it until it was damned near perfect. But for me, it was a small step and big milestone all at once. I used a freaking power drill!! The house didn’t fall down! And, I truly like what I created.
Triggers are so hard to overcome. I’m not sure they are ever completely overcome. I will not eagerly await the next opportunity to paint or use power tools. But at least now I know I can.