Mr. Fix-it

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I recently got a text from my scholarly couch potato husband, which read: “I tried to hang the mirror. Please don’t get mad at me.”

I arrived home to this:

…and I was mad.

It reminded me of another incident when my husband tackled a home improvement project that proved to be more complicated than he had anticipated. It was a sultry summer day in Virginia…the kind of day when you can see wavy lines rising up off the asphalt. We were living in our first house in Charlottesville.

Back then I spent most of my days holed up in that south facing bedroom over the front door, struggling to write my dissertation. My desk was right against the window and I felt like an ant being burned alive by a sadistic kid with a magnifying glass. I was hot and crabby, and – as is my wont – I whined about it.

Sidebar: my husband is from Keep Calm and Carry on England. This is the same stiff upper lip England where the simple act of washing one’s hands is a high adrenaline sport for which one alternately risks third degree burns and frostbite in the pursuit of cleanliness:

Do your people not believe in comfort?!” I once asked my husband reproachfully, raising my newly-washed, throbbing red hands so he could bear witness to my suffering, “Would a mixer tap be a frivolous luxury that only shameless hedonists would ever consider installing?!”

“Huh!” my husband replied with genuine surprise, “I never even noticed that!”

And why would he take note of such an insignificant inconvenience? He grew up at a time when the consumer public had to purchase plugs for appliances separately and do the wiring themselves. That’s right. You would buy a curling iron or a washing machine, say, but then to make it actually work, you’d have to buy a separate plug and wire it yourself.

Having dealt with this throughout his young adulthood in England, if there was one home improvement project my husband felt confident about, it was electrical wiring. One day after patiently listening to me complain about how hot I was, he said he would install a ceiling fan light for me.

“Really?” I asked anxiously as we drove back home from Lowe’s with our new ceiling fan, “Are you sure? Shouldn’t we call an electrician?”

“We don’t need an electrician!” he scoffed, “Just leave it to me.” He never likes me to be anywhere near him when he’s trying to fix things so he shooed me downstairs and got to work.

After a rather long time, he passed me on his way to the basement and informed me that he was going to have to turn off all the electricity to the house. He was worried that he might electrocute himself, and since he wasn’t exactly sure which breaker controlled the light switch to that particular room, he would shut everything down just to be safe. And I mean everything…including the air conditioning. Almost instantaneously it became unbearably hot in the house. I sat quietly in my corner in the dark, trying not to expend any energy and pretending not to hear the expletives that were coming with increasing frequency and volume from upstairs.

In the end, my husband was forced to ask me for help. I’m quite sure this was as supremely painful for him as it would have been to say…remove his own appendix with a butter knife.

“I need you to hold the fan for me while I try to attach it,” he said grimly.

We dragged a chair over to the spot so that I could stand on it and hold the fan up for him. If you’ve never held a ceiling fan, I can tell you that they are surprisingly heavy. I stood there silently with my spindly arms trembling under the weight of the fan, unable to wipe away the rivulets of sweat trickling down the sides of my face as my husband tried to figure out the wiring.

Finally, he uttered the most exquisite words I ever heard fall from his lips: “I’m going to have to call an electrician.”

“Oh, thank God!” I said, immediately lowering my arms and unburdening myself of the monstrously heavy ceiling fan. I ran outside into my garden, where it was actually cooler than it was inside the dark and unairconditioned house.

In no time at all, an electrician drove up to the house.

“It’s the room at the top of the stairs!” I practically sang to him, “You’ll see my husband in there.” He headed inside and I turned back to tend my garden with a beatific smile on my face.

In no more than five minutes the electrician was back outside.

“Wow! That was super fast!” I exclaimed when I saw him emerge.

“Uh, your husband didn’t let me install the fan, ma’am,” he said.

“What?!” I asked, certain that I must have misheard him.

“He asked me to show him which wires were which and he said he wanted to do the rest himself.”

I blinked my eyes and took several deep breaths as I watched the van drive away.

About a half hour later, my husband called me back inside and led me up the stairs to inspect his handiwork.

“I’m cross, because it was impossible to get the screws to fit exactly in the holes, but I think they’re pretty secure. It’s probably best to avoid sitting or walking directly under the fan though…just in case.”

I tried to hold it in, I really did, but later that evening, I just couldn’t hold it in any longer: “You do know the electrician could have installed the fan in ten minutes, right? And we wouldn’t have to be worried about getting our skulls crushed in by a fan falling on our heads. And we’re going to end up paying him the same amount for coming out and not installing the fan…I don’t understand why you couldn’t let him do his job and you do your job! He couldn’t write books on political theory or give seminars on philoso…”

“Isn’t it sooo nice to be able to work in that room and be comfortable?” he interrupted me with a satisfied smile playing on his lips. And, of course, I had to admit it was.

Not too long ago I was feeling heartbroken. I wandered around in a daze with tears steadily leaking out of my eyes. One day I couldn’t get myself out of bed at all. My husband had absolutely no idea how to fix it, but that didn’t stop him from trying. He made all kinds of suggestions that were preposterous and that I rejected out of hand. He cracked corny jokes that did not make me even lift my head. He tried to distract me by dragging me out of the house and taking me places. He sent me texts to say he was sad that I was sad. He even installed this new light for me:

I used to fantasize about how amazing it would be to have a professional handyman around for a week or even a day to tackle all my home improvement projects. I’ve come to realize that I have something far better. My Mr. Fix-It doesn’t always know what he’s doing, but by God, he never gives up trying. And somehow he always manages to figure out a way to bring light into the darkness. For that and for so much more – I love him.

Related Post: My Scholarly Couch Potato

5 responses »

  1. This is one of my favorite pieces you’ve ever written!

    The first home we owned was in Arlington, VA. JJ is actually quite handy but he took the words of a master electrician to heart…”Two things you need to know about electricity: you can’t see it and it WILL kill you.” Gave us pause. He still rewires things, but cautiously 😉

    • Awww, thanks, Liza! I think we’re just following each other around Virginia. Didn’t we discover that we had at separate times lived down the street from each other in Arlington? (25th Rd. between Buchanan and Columbus for me).

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