Tuesday, February 16, 2016

It Doesn't Have to be Beautiful to be Perfect

Two Christmases ago, Cory and I were gifted a fifty dollar bill. It fell at a time where a fifty dollar bill seemed like an extravagance. When we married, barely into our twenties, we thought we knew some things about life, one of which was this: you start with nothing and you build from there. Up and up; you're doing fine if each year ends better than the last.

Well. Last year was our fifteenth year, and that cold fifty felt every bit as lucky as it had twenty years before, when my uncle slipped one into my high school graduation card.

We talked about splitting it down the middle, but twenty-five apiece lacked a certain chutzpah. We could put it back, but that was just boring. We could go out to eat, but we did that all the time.

We weren't poor and we weren't as rich as we'd been before.
We were somewhere right in the middle, in no-man's land, where all it takes to stoke a dream is an unexpected fifty dollar bill.

In the end, we bought a little rug off the shelf at Target.

We put out an open call for free couches and began collecting them in our basement - the in-laws' love-seat, the "come and get it" 1980's Chesterfield-wannabe, the curvy-legged floral found aging better than I could hope to at her age. For two long nights we shoved cardboard boxes filled with dusty books and Christmas decorations against one wall, plastic tubs of vintage fabric against another (I have a fabric problem.) We stacked quirky chairs in the corner and pretended it was architectural sculpture. Cory created a make-shift gallery wall with my out-of-rotation art and, it seems, I also have a chair problem. And an art problem.

There were choices to be made and trust to be dealt, and if I say authenticity is important to me, well, it was time. Inviting people into my kitchen had never been hard. Inviting them into the dark corners of my extremely unfinished, unheated basement in the eye of Snowpocalypse was a whole other thing. But I was land-locked and longing. A bit lost at sea. I could keep it cute or I could keep it real, but I couldn't do both.

So, we set out to invite new friends and a few near-strangers into our literal mess, the place in our home where all the junk is shoved before company arrives then bolted behind a closed door. Ever aware of the risks this posed, I did what any reasonable woman would do. I dug out the two boxes of Kroger strand lights and strung them overhead.

For three years we had talked about opening our home in some way, cobbling together a community of misfits like us. We imagined platters of sloppy Joes and sheet cakes, wild kids, and the space to be known. It was never long into the conversation before we circled back around and squashed our own dream. We don't have enough room. We have too many kids. Our neighbors aren't ready for us. Our friends aren't ready for our neighbors. No. No.

In the end, our craving won.

We dared to believe we were free from overthinking a good thing.
Staring Ulysses S. Grant in the face, we found the guts to try, even to fail.
If it was all going to go down, we were going down with it.

The rug wasn't large enough for the ground it had to cover. But it helped. It warmed our toes, or at least half of them.

The kids ran wild circles overhead, they ran down and interrupted us twenty times.
We went back for seconds. We sat across from each other in the dim, cold basement, and I tried not to worry that all of my junk and every problem was on glaring display.

Over time, I stopped caring. I pulled more up from under the dust and made room for it in our circle.

We confessed old grudges and waded through a few that were just setting to a boil.
We laughed sometimes, but we also shared the burden of the anguished and uncertain.
We spoke with the salty tongues of men and we wondered about angels. 

It looked nothing the way I'd imagined it might. Everything was mismatched, there still wasn't enough room and the ones we hoped for hardest didn't stay.

But somewhere down there in the dark, light was seeping through.We sprung for our little rug's twin. We shoved them together, piece-mealing something better, something necessary, from what had been lacking on its own.

The ground between us narrowed again.
I saw myself in different faces - misfits to the end, each of us.
We were starting to get warm.

*The title of this post goes out to my homegirl, the Nester, who keeps teaching us, "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful." It's true and important, no matter which we you spin it.