Think of this, perhaps, as a sketch of something I’m still working out:
The door jamb between our kitchen and the laundry room is unpainted on one side, littered with pencil marks — initials, dates, hash lines that predate our moving in. It was one of the things clear in my imagining of our future, this particular door jamb. Look how you’ve grown! I would say, as new marks were made on a spot higher than the lines of the previous year.
That piece of raw pine is a story told in cave drawing increments: My children, marching slowing from toddlers to teens, year by year; my sister’s children, as both toddlers and teens but with great gaps in between entries; my new brother-in-law’s arrival; my shrinking with age and stretching back tall after a year of yoga, Pilates, and vigorous exercise during the pandemic.
To be clear, this is not the only unfinished piece of wood in the house, still, after almost 20 years of living here. We moved before the house was complete, when my mother died quickly after years of dying so slowly that I’d almost forgotten the inevitable. The kitchen and bedroom walls, mostly, got painted. Two bathrooms were painted. Most of the rest waited for us to get settled and then complete the work when time allowed.
After a temper tantrum outburst several years ago (“Are you ever going to fucking finish this fucking house?!” I had yelled), I drove to Sherwin Williams and bought paint to complete or touch up all of the places that had remained half-done, more than a dozen years after we moved into this house. I am trained as an artist, but I’m no house painter. That I reached the level of frustration required for me cut around a wall and touch up trim should tell you something about this event.
I dropped drop cloths and painted away, leaving a wake of furious brush strokes behind. I painted the kitchen trim, nicked and dinged over time by children and dogs and moving furniture. I painted the hallway walls, similarly marked by life and time. I painted the unfinished plinth blocks that hadn’t even been installed.
I painted over the Sharpie markings in my son’s room, the marks I’d allowed him to make after reading The Last Lecture and understanding, in a flash, how quickly life would unfold.
But the intentional markings of time, those hash lines on the kitchen door jamb, I left alone.
That one piece of trim remains untouched by paint, still today. I bump it with the laundry basket so often that the once-pristine and sharp corner edge is long pockmarked and dull. I walk by it every morning when I escort my daughter to the door as she heads to school, when I take the dogs out, when I leave for work.
It’s the storyboard of how my children have outgrown me, the way they were supposed to do.
There is a part of me that imagines adding a new generation to this simple piece of wood, years from now, when I am even older and toddling around in this overly large house the way old women do, at least in novels I’ve read.
There is another part, a stronger one, that sees this pencil-mark story as complete, exactly the way it is.