I am the wife of a handyman. Because of him we live by the mantra: “If you want something done and still want to be able to afford to buy Cheerios, we do it ourselves.” I came to terms with this concept early in our marriage when we were young and naïve and took on the complete strip-down of a shag carpet, hot-tub-in-the-living-room remodel that brought a 1974 Brady Bunch house up to the times of hardwood flooring and no hot tubs in the living room. Seven thousand hours of staining and varnishing and stripping and sheet rocking, a few dozen arguments and one head stuck in a ladder later I began to fully understand what it truly meant. Wife of a handyman=this is your life, forever and ever amen.
Fast-forward twelve years and here we are, proving that I was right. We’re still working on our house. Because just when it starts looking like it’s going to be finished, I come up with an idea for an addition or a remodel. I guess that’s what happens when your tool-belt-wearing man can make anything happen, you start to feel empowered with your vision.
Anyway, lately he’s been empowering me by requesting I help him put rocks on the new fireplace in our new living room, to which I say: it could be worse. I could be trembling on an eight-foot ladder on top of ten-foot high homemade scaffolding with my arms above my head because we decided that 20-foot ceilings were a good idea without considering that one of us is deathly afraid of heights.
Plummeting to a bone-crushing, bloody, mangled death is what I pictured every time I walked across that homemade scaffolding, boards creaking in my attempt to bring a nail-gun to my dearly beloved who thought positioning his ladder on the tippy-toe edge of the ledge, standing at the very top rung and then leaning out into the abyss of death that is now our living room was an acceptable risk to take in the name of homebuilding. The urge to scream “screw the board, save yourselves!” and run to lay on solid ground is a hereditary condition spawned from my prairie dwelling ancestors who passed up the terrifying mountains to come live in houses with one floor, low ceilings and basements.
My dad has the condition too, and so that’s why this memory of recruiting him to help install a wooden beam on our tall ceiling is etched in my brain. I suggested calling the National Guard, but my husband just told me to go get my dad. And the task I approached him with was one straight out of his nightmares: Stand on this tall ladder on this shaky scaffolding and hold this 15 foot beam up to the top of the 20 foot ceiling while my husband climbs and dangles and runs and jumps and back flips with nail-gun in hand to get the thing to hold.
My job? Same thing, only with trembling, holding my breath and throwing up a bit of my morning eggs.
And so there we stood, my dad and I, conjuring up worst-case scenarios as Ninja Bob Villa went from one near death position to the next. Dad told me not to watch as my husband stretched his ladder across the stairway and stood with nothing but a thin board between him and a fifteen-foot fall.
So I didn’t watch. And neither did Dad.
I remember us working hard to hold it together. The two of us only hollering “be careful up there!” and “don’t fall!” like fifty-five times during the course of fifteen minutes. But just as we thought we were out of the woods, everybody’s head in tact, my husband climbed down from the ladder and put his hands on his hips.
“Looks good,” he said.
“YES! IT DOES. GOOD WORK,” shrieked Dad and I.
“I just need to nail one more spot,” my husband said scratching his head. “I wonder how the hell I’m going to get to it?”
We followed his eyes to where they rested on a piece of the beam that towered past the edge of the scaffolding, too high for a regular ladder, un-reachable unless you had wings.
Dad used our best material to try and convince my husband that a nail in that particular location was not necessary. We suggested putting more nails in other places to make up for it. But my husband wouldn’t have it and before we knew it he had his ladder on the ledge of the scaffolding, his feet on the top rung, his back bent at a 90-degree angle out over the staircase with a nail gun in his hand reaching for the ceiling.
And that’s where we both lost it.
I whimpered and squeezed back tears as I white knuckled the ladder. And while I was saying fifty prayers to Jesus, Dad threw down his tools and grabbed on to his son-in-law’s belt buckle as my husband leaned further back over the abyss.
“Son, if you fall it would be sure death,” my dad declared.
“And if either of you tell anyone that I grabbed your belt, I’ll kill you both…”
So there’s that story. Now if you need me, I’ll be hiding from both my husband and my dad.