The previous owners of our house loved color. A different one for each room.
When I got the phone call my dad died, I was working in my plum purple bedroom.
I passed tan stairs as I staggered down the stairs and leaned against mustard yellow basement walls to call my boss and spread the horrible news.
I kept working in my off-putting “home-office” for a few weeks more. I sat by myself, staring at the pillars, willing two contrasting colors to blend as my eyes glazed over with inability to concentrate. Mustard yellow and sky blue will not blend. Their stark contrast refuses to budge and kept reminding me of the day he died.
And then I lost my job. And time kept moving.
I had to reclaim my bedroom and cover the purple with a lighter shade of wasabi green last summer. The primary colors remained in the basement and I hated being down there.
I’ve been nagging about the walls in the basement for a few months. For some reason, after three years, I was ready to turn my attention to reclaiming my creative space. Dylan and my in-laws helped me rip down, paint, and repurpose the old cabinets. They hang on fresh drywall in our built-out laundry room. I’ve picked up a roller and Dylan cut in, covering spaces where ceiling and wall and floor and carpet meet.
We need four gallons of “Veil White” Behr paint to cover up the hideous mustard yellow and sky blue. One coat will not cut it. Two may be insufficient as well. Despite primer and luxuriously plush roller sponges, the old is still infiltrating the new.
As we apply the silky liquid, I keep thinking no matter what we do, that gnarly yellow will still be there, underneath our applications of white.
With each arm extension and application of the brush I am not erasing the grief nor the trauma created as shock moved through my back and into the radiant walls. The yellow remains under fresh layers, a muted witness to where I once stood, shaken and weeping. I cried as I rolled blue to white, wishing Dad was here to remind me to add more paint to my roller. More tears came for the beautiful truth that I’m capable of transforming this pain. Whispering to myself and my experience, ‘Take that – this grief need not be the top layer forever.’
As I painted, our garden sat ready and waiting for love and attention. Six months ago we filled our little plot with all kinds of leaves. We dragged in detritus and waited – hoping the simple act of covering would encourage nature to do its thing, turning the leaves into something useful.
This morning, Dylan threw four bags of soil on top of the crunchy pile and set about to mix and mulch two forms of earth together. Our rototiller machine failed to break up the mounds which had not, like we’d hoped, decomposed in time. Our attempts to cover failed. Too much matter remained.
I got out the shovel and he the rake, and we moved mound after mound of material into the green trash toter. The more we removed, the less resistance we faced and the fresh soil was able to mix with the old organic material. Rake, sweat, stomp, mash, repeat- all to prepare the pile for its next life.
Dylan did the math. We still need more cubic feet of soil to sufficiently cover the leaves and turn the mixture into something capable of growth.
We can’t cover our pain. It has to move and mix and honor the layers it added to our lives. We can, however, transform it.
We can use handcrafted brushes, and cushy rollers, and salty tears from our hearts or crumbling earth and warm, wooden rakes and heavy-handled shovels to do the lifting. The chemical components of what you started with still remain. Traces of previous layers compound adding thickness and texture to your heart.
And clean slates and fresh plots of earth come together, eager and waiting for what you will create next from your new form. What a beautiful thing.