The funny thing about the exchange at the birthday party was this: I already knew The Departed had a new girlfriend, already knew she looked a lot like both me and his first wife, and hadn’t given it much thought. I don’t think of him very often anymore, and when I do, it’s usually because I’m glad I can do something without a lengthy, draining discussion.
For example, the family room. When we bought our house, all the walls were painted white – a dull spray of base paint left behind by the builders fifteen years ago, dulled further with the passage of time. The Departed bought a power roller set from Home Depot, painted three bedrooms (pale green for The Child, and for my ex-stepson’s room and the master bedroom, a hue my father dubbed “schizophrenia blue”), and promptly stopped. I wanted bathrooms painted, but he said it was too complicated, and since I don’t have any clue how to remove a toilet tank to paint behind it, it was not an argument I was going to win.
The family room involved lengthy discussions of colors, and of course, since it’s connected to the kitchen, it was going to be difficult to paint around all those cabinets. And then we needed a massive, difficult-to-move wall unit for the TV, which became larger and more immobile every time I raised the issue of painting even part of the room.
After a while, it didn’t matter much. The family room is a large L-shape, with the L clearly intended as a space for a desk, and that is where The Departed’s desk was placed, and thus, where he spent the bulk of his time, in front of the computer. The Child and I spent the bulk of our time avoiding that part of the room, and eventually the room itself, so the color of the walls was irrelevant. He solidified his claim to that corner by building in shelves over his desk.
When we were in mediation and The Departed demanded nearly all the family room furniture, I gladly agreed, and tried to get him to take the wall unit, which he refused. And so it sat there, immobile to the end, as the room rearranged without it: new sofas arrived, the TV moved to a more logical location, and gadgets that he claimed could not be moved because they needed to be tethered by cable to some box or wall turned out to have WiFi capabilities.
It sat there as I spent an entire afternoon removing his built-in shelves, which were supported by brackets and strips of wood, tightly screwed and molly-bolted into place, with a layer of heavy-duty wood glue adding an extra layer of security to the setup. I must give The Departed credit: he built the shelves to last, and he succeeded. If an earthquake struck Seattle, the house might have collapsed, but those shelves would have remained, immobile, eternally secured by the force of his will, molly bolts, and wood glue.
Still, I fought the shelves and won; the real loser in the battle was the wall they were attached to, but that’s what spackle is for.
I spent two years glaring at the wall unit and trying to wish away the blank dingy walls; I painted every other room in the house – even a couple of bathrooms – but never got further than taping a series of paint chips to the family room walls. I couldn’t decide on the color, couldn’t figure out what to do with the wall unit, couldn’t find the time. Finally, I scheduled a week off work, figuring it would take me at least that long to deal with it all. Three weeks before the week arrived, I listed the wall unit on Craigslist.
It was sold within a day and removed within a week to a nice family in Everett. I hoped its bad karma would fall off the moving truck on the way, and pocketed some welcome cash, which I took to IKEA, where The Child and I ate Swedish meatballs and bought a bought a small TV stand, and a console table that displays all my favorite cookbooks. Most people don’t consider IKEA furniture to be trading up, but the room was so vastly improved, it was hard to see it any other way.
Still I couldn’t decide on a color, swapping out paint chips and ideas, until one day I found the paint chip for the color I had used in my bedroom, and stuck it on the wall, and The Child and I both pronounced it perfect in every way.
The week my vacation began, I bought two gallons of paint on Saturday morning, and by early afternoon, the Child and I had moved all the furniture and taped everything and we were trading spots on the ladder, working our way surprisingly quickly across the room. We stopped when we got to His corner, because The Child had something important she needed to do. I took a break.
When I returned, I admired her handiwork: THE DEPARTED IS A BUTT PIRATE was painted in a warm almond tone on the wall where the shelves once were.
Once she had photographed it for posterity, we painted over the graffiti, the spackled holes, the worn white, and the last of the room we always avoided.
By Sunday evening, the painter’s tape was removed and the furniture was back in place; after ten years, it took only two days to get the job done.
You can still see a little bit of The Child’s graffiti, but only if you know to look for it.