I’ve always considered myself a truly competent woman. But after my husband Ted left for the Great Football Stadium in the Sky, I realized how specialized the tasks in our relationship had become. Ours was a late-in-life romance. The moment we met, I distinctly remember thinking, “Huh? Big deal.” Then we became friends and later, it progressed to … well, never mind. You’ve all taken health class by now.
For years, on and off, I’d been a single parent, and if that doesn’t say home repairs, then I don’t know what does. I could change a light bulb with the best of them. And it only took one – one single mom – to do it. I was woman and you could hear me roar. I was actually singing, but you know how things get distorted between apartment walls. So it surprised me when, after Ted passed, I started to understand how things had changed. I could still change a light bulb, but I roared much more when cooking great breakfasts for us, while he tended to house repairs. Apparently when I said, “I do,” the tool shop in my brain posted an “I don’t” sign.
“Guess what?” I ask my friend. “The inside doorknob in the bathroom came off.”
“Oh, no,” she says. “What are you going to do?”
I outline my plan to her.
Step 1: Think about the workings of a door handle.
Step 2: Have lunch.
Step 3: Think about asking my grown son if he can fix stuff.
Step 4: Have coffee.
Step 5: Think about calling a hardware store.
I call my girlfriend back.
“Denise,” I say. “If I can’t fix this doorknob, and my son can’t figure it out, and if …”
“My husband would be glad to help,” she says.
See, it’s one of those things Ted could easily have done, I just know it. It is very, very frustrating to lose a spouse because of things like this and also the crying every day thing and not having that particular chest upon which to rest one’s head.
“Let me try my 5-Step program first,” I say.
“Promise you will let us know?” she asks.
I promise. I promise I’ll tell her if I need help. I promise I won’t shut the door (only the interior knob is off – the rest is on, iron-clad) because after all, there’s no one else here, I say between sniffles, so what difference does it make if the door is open? And I sure as heck don’t want to get stuck. I have a doctor’s appointment coming up, and I’m already having auditory visions (I know that’s impossible, just bear with me) of being locked inside the bathroom and hearing a sweet voice from the answering machine in the distance: “Hi, Kathy. This is Sarah at your doctor’s office. Um, wondered if you forgot your appointment?” I certainly don’t want to get stuck somewhere with no food – although a forced diet is always useful, and there’s a lot to be said for cleanliness and access to tweezers 24/7. But no worries, because I am, at the core, super careful and self-sufficient. Yup. Self-reliant, that’s me.
I call my son.
“Will,” I say, “Are you any good at fixing things?”
“It depends. Hey, did I tell you I just bought a mint condition Black Sabbath LP?” he asks.
And we’re off, talking music and all things non-hardware. In fact, I don’t even remember to say the word “doorknob.”
Later, I look up the number for the hardware store to ask preliminary knob-related questions.
“Bet you think it’s pretty funny that I’m turning to the big box hardware store you loved and I hated so much, eh, Ted? Oh, ha-ha!” I shout to the bedroom ceiling.
Over the next few days, there are movies, church and writing, then a desperate trip to the grocery store for fruit, nuts and vegetables, as I cram for my physical exam the very next day.
Using my self-dependent mind, I jot down my questions for the doctor on scrap paper, plus “Doorknob!!!” about 20 times.
The next morning, as I review my list, I realize I need to pick up the pace to get to the doctor’s.
Throw PJs into bathroom hamper. Check facial hair.
“See, Ted? Taking good care of myself,” I say to the towel rack.
Turn on shower at one end.
Pull shower curtain open on opposite end.
Swing door sh–.
Kathy Eliscu is a humor columnist in Westbrook, and cannot be reached for comment until she figures out how to get out of the bathroom.