You buy a house. Alone.
You paint your living room. Alone.
One Saturday in October, you force yourself to drive to the hardware store, buy a sander, a pry bar, a carpet knife, a nail set, three kinds of sandpaper, and a can of finish.
You have plans to rip up the last of the brown carpet in your hallway and refinish the hardwood floor underneath.
This is how you prove adulthood—competency—without pursuing domestic bliss.
This is how you rationalize being single, nearly 31, and not moving towards, or seeking, domesticity.
You put on 10-year-old Carhartts—the ones you bought because all the cute boys in college wore them—and a muscle tee.
You are prepared to be independent homeowner woman.
(Estimated cost of hiring a fancy carpenter to come do it: You’d rather not know.)
Except it turns out some brilliant person (man, no doubt) built the staircase OVER the carpet.
Your carpet knife, the long utility razor blade, does not cut a clean line along the baseboard.
Fibers holding 50 years of filth run ragged along the wall.
At 3 p.m., you take a break, make yourself some coffee because this is how your friend Laurie, the one who loves her chainsaw, says she works on her house. (She has long, strong fingers from laboring on painting crew; yet, when she tells you about her frequent coffee breaks, she extends her pinky in a dainty gesture, and you imagine her crossing her legs while sipping her Guatemalan brew.)
At 6 p.m. you give up on this floor business, arms shaky, dirt in your snot, and no real progress to document.
The knife, you fear, may slip.
You put on red cowboy boots, drive to your friend Amy’s, describe the dramatic failure, and drink wine.
Her father, who is visiting, offers to cut the carpet for you.
“Oh, I can get it,” he says.
That carpet is impossible, but you know he’ll get it.
He is the handy man of all handy men.
Except you don’t want him to.
But you nod, “If you want to …”
You decide, after a walk in the woods yields a stumble a collision with a galloping dog, and a sore ankle, that doing battle with a carpet knife is not a good thing for this day.
You do what you always do on Sundays: Ask yourself, “What do I feel like doing today?” because there is no one to figure into the equation, no one to tell you to rake the leaves, or that a big breakfast on the table would be nice.
You think that being homeowner woman is not so desirable today.
You call Amy and say that you’ll leave the door unlocked, if her dad wants to come over and cut the carpet, but you’re going out to play.
After a bike ride, a session of solitude and writing in the woods on the kind of warm October day that usually shows up on 2-page photo spreads in magazines, you wander around town, skin flushed and mud on your legs, and stop by to visit Alison, who’s stuck working indoors.
You describe your inability to use a utility knife to cut a carpet from the floor: the dashed dream of refinishing this hardwood floor all by yourself.
A failed independent woman.
Alison, a newlywed, describes the tears that fell last week when she got home from work and felt obligated to think about what to make for dinner that night.
“I don’t want that to be my life,” she says.
“Don’t,” you say. “Don’t let it.”
You decide the two of you could both be the world’s most resentful housewives, if given the chance.
The kind of women who would become bitter about making dinner three times a week, even if they got home first five times a week and it made perfect, logical sense.
It could be bad, you predict.
Though, in Alison’s case, the chance is at hand, and in your own case, you know you leave anything that hints of becoming a domestic partnership, given your admitted propensity for becoming such a resentful woman.
It is not so much the cooking or the cleaning as acts themselves but the idea of those verbs becoming a role, an expectation, an expression of a domestic partnership, a marriage.
Too, it is the symbol of growing old, of unwanted routines, of life becoming bland, of everything falling into some predictable order where bowel movements and sex are as scheduled as television programs.
Some call this a form of feminism.
It feels more like being a cowgirl galloping off into the sunset.
All of this, most settled couples will say, is the classic: “We will not let this happen to us” syndrome of freedom-loving men and women everywhere.
They don’t quite know where it changes, where that domestic bliss hypnotizes, so they never notice when the bliss slips out the window and it becomes just plain domestic.
And thus, here you and Alison are, one Sunday afternoon, formulating a plan to avoid old age and domesticity without forsaking men:
To drink a bottle of wine some nights.
To not be the maker of each dinner.
To avoid routines.
To maybe, someday, live in some strange country for a year.
To laugh at 40, the way you laughed at 20.
Maybe, says Alison, we won’t buy a house right now.
Maybe, you say, I’ll get drunk and sleep on your couch next Monday.
Perhaps it is ironic, perhaps it is fitting, that you, the single one, go home and make dinner for yourself that night.
Alison has given you her recipe for chili.
At home, you toss a throw-rug over the half-bare wood floor.
Alison walks to her apartment and waits for her husband to tell her what’s for dinner.
You drop two tears—wondering if your heart and your independence are truly on the same page.
The trim on your window, it appears, is also half painted.
Your bike, you realize, is better kept than your house.
You shrug your shoulders.
Maybe next year.