Oil and Water

I live a fast paced life.

I never run out of things to do with my time.  In fact, my time generally runs out before my things to do run out.  Somehow I think I get fewer hours in the day that the rest of the world.  I look at the clock in the morning and then again when the coffee starts to wear off and I realize I have nothing planned for dinner.  Fortunately I am blessed with excellent contacts in the food delivery genre.

One of the things I have committed to is Thanksgiving Dinner for close to twenty people and as I looked at my house, I realized I didn’t want to have company without a fresh paint job in my living room.  I’ve been perusing paint colors for months and finally came up with a unique combination that I felt reflected my personal taste and would cover the revolting camel color the previous occupant had used.  But there’s a whole back story to that that goes along with my personal update.

I’ve done a lot of painting in my life.  Some results have been better than others, but I have taken some professional advice along with some personal preference and managed to blend them together in to something I can work with.

When we first moved into this condo, it was the view from the room length sliding glass door that took our breath away.  Somehow, in the middle of this busy and construction filled suburban community, a builder in the late 1960’s built five 5 story buildings that look out onto a peaceful and tree lined lake.  The view is unobstructed and the acoustics provide a sort of echo effect that allows you hear everything when you are outside and nothing when you are inside.  I honestly believe it’s a little bit of heaven right smack in the middle of Orlando.  We didn’t really even notice the paint job until much later.  We didn’t see the broken ceiling fans, the marginally safe electrical wiring or the appliances that were barely surviving.  When we were finally able to take our eyes off the million dollar view we slowly replaced and repaired the most necessary items first and the less important items as we were able.  Regarding the paint, the previous tenant had given the place a fresh coat of oil based exterior paint.  And he had also been creative and ambitious enough to also spray a nice orange peel texture as well.  The problem was that he had textured and painted over every surface – including – but not limited to – the air conditioning return vents in every room, the light switches, electrical outlets and their respective faceplates, and most of the chair rails and of course, the base boards.

Eventually the paint became the eyesore I could no longer ignore.

Now I would have liked to have just done a little taping off and slung on some cheap paint from Walmart and called it a day.  But – I know from some really bad past experience that you can’t throw cheap water based flat paint over oil based exterior paint.  It won’t stick and it won’t cover and you will forever be noticing shadows of the former outdated color dredging through the fresh contemporary façade and it will look like what it actually is – a desperate attempt at a cover up.  At first it will look fine, but every day that passes will find it getting just a bit worse until there is no other choice but to completely start over and do it right.

I waited until Michael was well on his way to his Sunday golf game and I breathed a heavy sigh, made my list of supplies, selected a color combination that I loved and trotted off to the local home improvement mecca where I purchased the best quality paint I could afford on the budget we had agreed on.

I started in the hallway and made my way into the living room.  I replaced light switches and wall plates as I went.  I had the unpleasant experience of getting zapped by not having the correct breaker turned off and I blew the main breaker to the whole building for a couple of hours by hooking up one of the electrical outlets with the wires touching.  That’s another story entirely.

As I proceeded to the second coat of latex satin finish corn silk yellow paint, and my thoughts turned inward, it was almost impossible not to draw parallels between the covering of the wretched color of the walls, my own past and my fledgling outreach to women who have crazy oil based paint colors of their own that they are struggling to cover with watery crayons and childish sidewalk chalk.

You can’t swing a dead cat in Orlando without hitting someone who has a ministry dedicated to helping men.

There are ministries that help men find housing and shelter and food and spiritual rebirth.  They will help them find transportation and jobs and a welcoming church where they can find even more of the same.  They can access services directly from jail, after they get out of jail, help them get into rehab, help them get out of rehab and – once again – help them find a job, a way to get there, a place to sleep and food to eat.  It doesn’t seem to matter what chaos they have inflicted on their lives or the lives of their family, there are multiple ministries that will embrace their desperation and fight over who gets to help them first.  I wish I were kidding about the fight over them part of that last statement, but I’m not.  They literally fight over them.  The ministries.  They fight over who gets to help the men.

Women, however, are another story.   A woman who faces these very same challenges – along with assorted others – is assisted by ministries who dedicate them selves to – and I quote – “Making the Community AWARE of Women in Need.”  You must be kidding me.  You mean there is very little to actually provide something for them?  “Yes!” – I am told.  “We must make AWARENESS our top priority.  We must raise money and form a committee to examine the need and then we will need more money to assemble yet another study group who will then determine how to provide these services and then we will need more money to get another group together to figure out which women we will help and then more money…more funding…more resources…”  And meanwhile time slips away and more women fall into the cracks.  More women go hungry.  More women have no place to sleep.  More women turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain.  More women resort to compromising their bodies and their souls so that they can find a single moments peace.  Just a single second where they are able to lay down the baggage of their life and rest, regroup and stand another day to do it all over again.

You see, women are more complicated to help.  Their desperation is never just about their own circumstances.  They have children and husbands and elderly parents who are in failing health.  They have crushing guilt and immobilizing fear.  They have worries that seem completely unfounded because they are tied up with a history of abuse and neglect and childhood secrets that even they don’t understand.  Nothing about a woman’s worry is connected to any single event.  Her consternation is clouded with recollections she can’t nail down to a specific time frame because even those chronicles are created from other memories and trials that she can’t or won’t talk about.  And the worst thing of all is that they don’t believe they are worthy of a better life.  They don’t believe they deserve feelings of joy.  They are convinced that their life doesn’t warrant a positive outcome.  Quite simply, they don’t expect any improvement in their situation, therefore they usually don’t get better circumstances.

Men eat because they are hungry.  Very simple.  Women eat because they are reminded them of a past time that made them feel good or because they are experiencing emotional pain that is so great it must be fed so that they can experience it more fully.

And the loneliness can bear unbearable.  A woman’s loneliness can show in any number of ways but it usually manifests itself in seeking out another doomed relationship.  I know this to be true because of my own shockingly bad taste in relationships.  The expectations were always too high and I could never meet the bar that was set for me.  I was a study in the ultimate let down in a relationship.  I was an old rubbery oil based paint that was peeling from the corners and bubbling in the middle.  I tried to fix it by covering it up and gluing it down but there was no disguising the old crumbling plaster that was my life.

I remember quite clearly the night that Michael whispered in my ear the he was going to show me how true love felt like I’d never experienced before.  It was on a late January night in 2003 and it was very cold outside.  I was half asleep and the wall that I had carefully constructed to keep all the hurt outside of my personal space had already started to show some wear.  The many years of memories and trials and complicated relationships had worn me down and I was tired…so tired.  I felt guilty for many of the choices I had made.  I felt undeserving or any real happiness and I knew – I just knew – that this relationship would not be any different.  For now – in this beautiful rose colored moment – I was as satisfied as I thought I could get – but I knew the end would not only be inevitable – it would be painful.  I honestly didn’t know if I would survive another failed relationship.  I had also failed miserably at more than one suicide attempt already many years before and I knew I would have to come up with a better method than a prescription overdose if this relationship didn’t work out.  My relationship with Michael was going to be the last thing I screwed up.  He had no idea how much I had riding on this relationship.

When he whispered those words – as sincerely and confidently as he could – he might have well have just put the bullet in my brain himself.  He never knew it, but adrenaline shot threw my body like I was being chased by a big brown grizzly bear.  My eyes flashed open and I was flushed with fear.  There is no way I would be able to meet his honest love with one that matched its sincerity.  It was doomed from that very moment I was sure.  My twisted brain immediately started the process of reinforcing that crumbling wall of emotional pain with whatever muddy stucco I could find.  My desperation and my anxiety had come full circle and I was faced – in that moment of fear and self loathing – with a rare moment of crystal clear clarity.  Maybe…just maybe…I was wrong.

This might be the man who could renovate my life.  I had watched him take months to scrape the paint off of a massive five piece mahogany 1950’s bedroom set, polish it to its former natural glory and replace the zillion little handles with shiny solid brass ones.  I had watched him wash and wax 10 year old cars until the water beaded on the hood like champagne in a crystal fluted glass.   You could eat dinner off the engine of his car.  He took special joy in caring for things that had been misused, neglected and discarded by others.  Could I be one of those things that he could restore back to normal?

Many years later and with a great deal of help from a higher power, I do feel restored.  Renewed. Revived.  And Michael is probably very tired from all the work he has had to put in to bringing me back from the brink of destruction.  And now I struggle to pay it forward and – with the help of other women – and we scratch and claw through the thick gluey oil based paint of their past and help them find a shade of fresh color that reflects their wish to be free from the past.

It’s never easy.

They often lay down their brush out of weariness or a fear of failing again.  Sometimes they choose a color that isn’t appropriate and we have to let them get it up on the wall to see that they have made a wrong choice and they need to re-evaluate their palette.  Sometimes they are distracted by someone else’s color choice, or they just decide they don’t want to paint at all that day.  But – in spite of the challenges, we know the Universe has shown them – through us – that there are better days in front of them and the future is greater than their past and all the tools are there to live a vibrant and colorful life, full of Love, Joy, Peace and Forgiveness.

Me?  Well I still have to start painting the bathroom!