Time to Paint
Two days before my youngest daughter was set to go off to college, we painted her room. I went in and looked around as she was selecting things to take off her walls to take to her college dorm. There were piles of stuff everywhere, exposing the dust bunnies, the blemishes and the scuffmarks on the walls, the never-treated rolling closet doors. I looked around and sensed change breezing in through the window, between the panels of Swiss dot curtains. I felt charged with that mild current that slips into your psyche when you can feel time propelling itself forward, and you are helpless to stop it. Remnants of what was now past occupied the space. The recycling bag filled with high school papers. The graduation cards on the corner of her desk. Pictures showing off the years, highlighting the milestones. The walls of little girl pink. I have three daughters. I have never liked pink.
I rarely go in my daughters’ bedrooms these days. Together we frequent the communal spaces of kitchen and family room and the patio out back. It is seldom that I go upstairs, except to my own bedroom to fall into bed exhausted, usually much later than I had intended. The girls retreat to their rooms, too, when they want to relax alone, study, listen to music, clean out the closet, or sleep in.
“Why did we ever paint your room pink?” I wondered aloud.
“I have no idea,” she said. Indeed, we had tossed around the idea of painting her room a few times in the last couple of years. We had even gone so far as to tape up an assortment of paint chips procured from the home center.
“I think I have some sample pints in the basement,” I said casually. Often these days, between the upstairs and the basement, I might forget what I went downstairs for in the first place. But that day, I quickly found the samples and a slim paint brush on my husband’s workbench, even an extra stirring stick, and hurried back up to her bedroom. “Let’s just put these up in an inconspicuous spot,” I said.
It isn’t as if I had nothing else to do. My own classes at the high school where I teach would be starting up in a few days. My father-in-law had to be driven to doctors’ appointments for an injury that had incapacitated him. There was a pile of paperwork I could not neglect so that bills like tuition would get paid on time. And the rest of my house, which I had vowed to organize at the start of my summer break, was upside down.
I blame the rest on Dove White. It looked like sweet vanilla ice cream next to the sickly sweet cotton candy pink on the wall. It was warm and soothing, yet cool and awakening. Fresh as summer air after a thirst-quenching rainstorm. Our eyes could not get enough. My daughter’s room is small, about ten feet square. It houses a twin bed, a desk, a bookcase, and a dresser. I considered the cotton curtains and the jute area rug. They could use a good washing, a good airing out. “I think we can bang out this paint job ourselves in no time,” I said with total confidence.
I instructed my daughter to remove everything she could from the room and enlisted her older sister to pitch in while I jumped in my car to buy a gallon of Dove White in matte and a pint in semi gloss for the trim. I was the only woman in the paint store in the middle of a muggy “end of summer” day. The guys behind the counter seemed languidly surprised at my enthusiasm as I asked for advice about brushes and rollers.
Back home, determined not to slow the momentum, we pushed the furniture into the middle of the room as much as possible. This still gave the three of us little space in which to work. I pulled three worn out white undershirts from my husband’s closet. “Put these shirts on, and take off your shorts so you don’t get paint on them,” I commanded. My daughters thought this was ridiculous, but I soon had us all painting in our underwear and old white tees, hooting at the spectacle of ourselves. We listened to music on Spotify, streaming old tunes and new ones. It was a lot of work, but it was fun. By the middle of the afternoon, we had covered up the pink. The bedroom was well on its way to becoming a tranquil oasis, and in those hours, the angst of being on the cusp of change was held at bay.
Last year around the holidays, we had lost my husband’s mother. This year, I was finding it hard to get into the holiday spirit. Usually, a great burst of energy inspires me to write the cards, dig the Christmas CDs out of the basement, put up the lights, and deck the halls with greens. The look of Christmas in my home is usually warm and inviting, but this year the pumpkins were still on the porch in December. One evening in mid-December, my oldest daughter’s boyfriend paid us a visit, asked for our blessing as he planned to propose to our daughter before Christmas. We were happy but surprised he wanted to get engaged so soon. There was so much going on, I could hardly think.
About a week before the engagement, I received an email advertisement from a painting company I’d had used a few years back to update the faded exterior shingles of our home. The ad offered free estimates and discounts on any painting job planned within a short time frame. On impulse, I clicked reply and wrote: “I’d like to get an estimate to paint.” Within a day, the owner, an enthusiastic man, came over to see the job. I started with the idea to paint the kitchen and family room and ended up expanding the project to include the living room, the foyer, the trim, the doors, and the staircase. We shook hands when he left as if it were a done deal. The next day, when he sent the proposal, the subject line read, “Would you like us to start on Monday?” When I read it, my mind deliberated: Monday? But there’s so much going on, and it’s so close to Christmas. Against my better judgment, I hit reply again: “Monday’s fine,” The Christmas tree my husband and I had just bought and lugged home half-heartedly, which stood as of yet unadorned by ornament and light, would have to sit on the front porch and wait.
Now, with the holidays past and the New Year fresh with brightness, like my house’s walls, I look around and feel at peace. There is something about life’s shifting that unsettles and disquiets. We become comfortable with the norm, the usual routine in our lives and the way we relate to one another. It is so much easier to be static, to look at the same walls the same way, to leave the apple cart un-toppled. Giving in to the impulse to paint at times of change is my way of plunging into the water rather than testing the temperature with my toes. I have faith that the leap will be refreshing, resulting in a baptismal kind of renewal.
I chose the color Bone White. Not quite white, but solid and strong, like its namesake. There is a weight to bone, integral to being alive and living in this world. It is something of substance that I trust will sustain and move us forward until the next wave of change sweeps in, and it’s time to paint again.
Laura Pochintesta is a high school English teacher, wife, and mother of three children ages 18, 21 and 24. Her pastime and passion is writing. Last summer one of her short stories won the Peter Hixson award through Writer’s Relief. It will appear in an upcoming issue of The MacGuffin literary journal. She recently completed a semester course, The Art of the Personal Essay, where she first shared this piece.