Every other year, a high-end group of interior designers in NJ seek out a local mansion in need of remodeling. They find homes in disrepair, many of them impossible to sell in their current state, and they offer design services to fix them up. After many months of work, they charge the public an entrance fee to show what can be done with an unlimited budget and some serious talent. Most of the homes are unoccupied at the time, allowing for complete access to every crumbling wall and rotting ceiling. Each designer is given a specific space and free rein to repair and dream and embellish to their heart’s content.The current owner of this year’s Mansion in May lived in the home while many of the rooms crumbled around him. However, he decided to move out while the designers worked hard to refurbish it. He stepped away from the mess, trusting the vision of others to fix it for him.
My husband is a fan of the fixer-upper. He fancies himself a jack of all trades, capable of running electrical wire, repairing plumbing, and creating any woodworking project you can imagine. This is every woman’s fantasy, until she finds herself losing sleep to the incessant slamming of a jack-hammer in the basement at midnight. This predilection for home improvement is both a blessing and a curse. M recently installed new lighting in our living room, which somehow resulted in a need to re-route the bathroom plumbing and the inevitable creation of a gigantic hole in my ceiling. I long for the day when one of his projects does not require a car-size length of sheet rock or produce dust so thick it kills my vacuum cleaner stone cold dead. Like the owner of this year’s remodeled mansion, I want the option to move out during the heavy work. All that noise and dust and chaos–sometimes it appears easier to live with things in disrepair than to go through the trouble and expense of fixing them up right.
This week, we’re celebrating eighteen years of home improvements together. Over half of my life, I’ve walked with this man by my side, cursing and cleaning up his messes, cheering and celebrating every job well done. Our marriage is the biggest diy project we’ve undertaken. Through the years, we have experienced seasons when it would’ve been easier to easier to throw up our hands or turn a blind eye to the parts of our relationship that fall into disrepair. This life we build together is a work in progress, one that requires we stay on the premises during the repair and design process. It requires a vision, a dreaming together of what can be, while living through the hard work of tearing down and rebuilding the things in need of fixing. At times, we’ve needed to strip this love back to its foundation, back to fresh starts and new beginnings again and again and again.
Eighteen year on, our life has taken on the shape of something imperfectly beautiful. When it feels as if we’ve reached the limit of our resources, with a little digging and rooting around, I find there is always more to give. There is no way to out-spend, out-love, or out-dream each other in a marriage. There is no moving out from the deep soul work required or the daily re-building. We cannot circumvent our mess. There is no turning over the challenging areas to a third party to fix them up and make them look new again. There is only this tenacious grip on a shared vision, and our unwavering willingness to embrace the hard work that accompanies it.