Posted by Kelli Joan Bennett
Day 12: I hear a delicate chiming sound coming from somewhere in the house. My hands momentarily hover over the keyboard, ears perked. What the hell? Luckily, my synapses fire quickly and I realize, oh, that must be the contractor’s cell phone. My fingers and I go back to editing. I still have so much to do today my head spins from just the thought of all the work. I’m a mixed bag of panic, adrenaline and excitement nuts. The priority is the doc editing and I’m on a deadline. Dan the awesome editor man begins cutting on Monday and I’m stringing out three scenes for him to take and make brilliant.
Obviously, contractor is synonymous with home improvements. I’ve grown accustomed to banging, sawing, sanding, and the occasional, “oh shit,” that come from the soft-spoken stranger who’s in my space and has been for the last two months. I’m not completely comfortable with this “visitor” who arrives early in the morning and stays all day but I’m in the it really sucks to have to stress about pooping before he gets here but I have no other choice stage. Yes, he’s doing work on both bathrooms. He originally quoted three-weeks to get everything done, “so there’s a cushion.” I remember thinking, how awesome…he’ll be done before the holidays. Well, he blew out the menorah candles as we flew past that marker and Santa has come and gone. The fact that his final work is stunning helps assuage the irritation from the extended stay and the, I’ve been invaded feeling. This guy is meticulous and he’s really good, but unfortunately, that combo equals slower than my shoddy editing…and I’m slow.
Early in the time frame before he’d done any intricate building work, I walk by him as he’s fixing the dishwasher. It has come unhinged and annoyingly dangles about whenever you try to open the door. He looks distressed. I stop and ask him, “Are you okay?” Quietly, he says, “whoever originally installed this did not use the proper latch mechanism or the right size screws to attach it to your counter.” I stifle a giggle at hearing “screws” because I’m that much of a teenage boy and think, sorry, not my language, but I listen politely. Shaking his head he adds, “They took a short cut. They did it all wrong.” Very reserved, he doesn’t so much as talk as he whispers but his position on the subject of slapdash effort becomes crystal clear. He goes on to tell me how much it bugs him when people don’t take the time to do it right and how installers are so often not interested in doing their best or being precise they just want it done so they can leave. By this point in his gentle diatribe, I’m riveted. He never raises his voice but his disgust and passion are palpable. He ends with, “I care about the work I do.” Less of a question and more of a dawning realization I say, “You’re an artist?” He doesn’t hesitate, “yes, yes I am. I make jewelry, too.” Enough said. I love artists. His carpentry goes on to prove this and reflects his superb artistry. This new tidbit I discover about him instantly softens me to his relentless presence and makes me feel like we’re kindred spirits. Then he tells me he’s got more work to do on the bathrooms. Crap. He’s still an invader to my privacy.
About 15 minutes after the unexpected cell phone chime ring, I walk out of the editing room to see if one of the bathrooms is available to use and I practically run right into the contractor. “I have to go,” he says, “my father just passed away.” Everything stops when someone dies: my panic about not getting done, my frantic energy, and my urge to pee—all gone. It’s a moment of suspended animation. Then I rush back. My face contorts in surprise and disbelief and I can only repeatedly stammer, “I’m so sorry.” He’s eerily calm. “I packed everything up. I guess I’ve got to go take care of things.” Again, I offer another useless, “I’m so sorry.” Then add, “oh my god. I’m so sorry.” I stop muttering, “I’m so sorry,” long enough to ask him if this is expected news. “Has he been ill?” I hope this is the case. Somehow that will make it better, easier. “No. This is sudden.” Like I can’t control my mouth, “oh my god. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” I try not to cry as he stands there, stoic. I have just spent this past weekend with my Dad for his 75th birthday, making my empathy all the more poignant.
He remains expressionless. I can tell it isn’t registering. His Dad is still alive to him. Just like mine is to me. I worry it’s not safe for him to get behind the wheel. “Are you okay? I’m not sure you should drive, I think you’re in shock.” “I’m okay. I’m okay,” his mantra. I repeat mine, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Oh my god, I’m so sorry.” I hug him. He accepts it. After we pull apart, I know I’m not helping and he needs to go. I step aside. He walks outside. I stand at the door. He turns back, halfway to his van, “I’m sorry for the inconvenience. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to work tomorrow.” I shake my head and wave that worry off. Even though this is not my tragedy, I’m working hard to keep the waterworks at bay. I squeak out one last, “I’m so sorry,” and manage, “condolences to you and your family.” I can see the emotion finally whacks him in the face. His jaw clenches, his lips tense as he fights to keep his composure. He gives me a wave, gets in his van, starts it up and drives away. I close the door and burst into tears.
There it is again—death. It takes my breath away. No, it’s not my dad. Yes, the contractor is technically still a stranger even though he’s an artist and has laid one hell of a hard wood floor. No, I don’t know whether the deceased was a good man. None of it matters. In the five seconds it took him to utter, “My father just passed away,” I am instantly and deeply connected to him. My heart melts into the hurt and sting of his unexpected loss.
Until tomorrow, create from what you have…and from what you’ve lost.