The Handyman

“We’ll have to scrape off the old paint,” the handyman says. “Won’t look good if we just put another layer on top of the old.”

He looks up at me, likely wishing there was a man of the house who would better understand his diagnosis. Doubt if he appreciates this woman who seems to be counting dollars as he talks.

Yes, I'm counting costs, but my faraway look is also linked to memories on this porch. I see me sitting on the top stair, my golden retriever, Buddy, tucked tight next to me. I see Tommy rounding the corner on his Schwinn. The dog barks in joy; I smile with relief that my impaired husband has made it home safely.

Once the handyman has finished inspecting the front porch, I'll lead him to the back deck, which will need new staining. Nothing to strip here, just another layer to bring the wood back to a healthy shine. Again, images will interfere with his chatter. The glass-topped table is now stored in the basement along with the wrapped umbrella. Four chairs with rattan arms peeling off and rain-stained seat cushions are the table's companions.

When Tommy was healthy, we'd host pre-Labor day parties year after year. Some 60 friends and neighbors would claim spots at the outdoor table, or at the green bench in the yard, or scatter themselves in the kitchen. "No, no more parties," I told guests who were wondering at the absence of e-mail invitations this year. They didn't ask for explanations, already privy to Tommy's aphasia that made him unable to join in on conversations and enjoy social situations.

The basement floor is the last area that needs the handyman's review and estimate. The space still holds a treadmill, but the workman's bench my husband used in the early days of our 12 years here, is cleared of all tools. Two golf bags have already been donated to Goodwill, and I will gift the scores of balls Tommy couldn't resist buying.

Against all advice typically doled out to recent widows-- such as don’t make a major move for a year following a husband’s death – I have already decided to sell our house. There are
rational reasons: a three-bedroom home is too large for just me. There is no longer a dog, so the fenced-in backyard and proximity to the park, are not necessities. There is no gardener husband, so the vegetable plots that were only tended by him will lie fallow. The upkeep is more than my limited budget can handle.

While some may think my reasoning is limp, and I am rushing into things, in truth, this decision has been simmering for several years. “When Tommy can’t take care of the house any longer,” I’d tell loved ones who worried over the burden. “Then, we’ll consider a move to an apartment.”

At times, I’d pose the idea to my husband: “Wouldn’t it be lovely to be in a high rise overlooking the lake with someone else handling upkeep?”

“Feet first,” Tommy would reply, confirming his desire to never move from this house.

So, without his vote, I’m eyeing one-bedroom rentals in downtown Chicago, with maintenance included in the rent. My new home should have a doorman, a balcony, a washer and drier in the unit, be near public transportation so I can turn in my costly leased car, and be walking distance to attractions. A health club in the building and an outdoor pool would be lovely, too.

While the handyman does his part in prepping the house for a Spring sale. I will go through closets, shelves and files and decide what must be transported to a very downsized apartment. I will continue donating Tommy’s clothing and sporting equipment to Goodwill. On Wednesday mornings, before the trash trucks arrive, I’ll dump clutter and old files into the bins at the curb.

When the realtor brings prospective buyers to my house, I will leave the premises. While I'd be happy to see a young family as the new owners, with children occupying the bedrooms, with a dog who frolics in the yard, with a handyman husband who'll fill the workbench with new tools, I'd rather not be in earshot.

Moving forward, independent, that's where my thoughts must travel now: New year, new chapter, with Tommy’s spirit as my dear roommate. I’m sure he’ll adjust.