Friday, February 14, 2014

What The Oil Man Taught Me

The oil guy came an hour early. The oil guy showed up an hour early, which is why there were piles of (almost) folded laundry everywhere, and several bags of trash near the door waiting to go outside, and I was still wearing my glasses as well as a bit of baby spit-up on my shirt. I don't think he noticed, however, because he was too busy shaming me about not calling earlier to have our furnace serviced. The thing had startled rattling, you see, and emitting some fumes, struggling to cough the heat out. Not a good thing in New England, in February, in the midst of the biggest snows of the season.

So the oil guy was lecturing me, and I was biting my lip and biting back tears. One of the worst things you can do is insult me or the way I care for my home. It's a touchy subject. I lived my first 10 years in a shabby apartment, although my parents did their best with what they had. Our home was clean; our home was nicely decorated (my mom is far more crafty and has a better eye than I ever will). But there was the hole in the bathroom wall and the drab gray shingles and the upstairs bathroom that didn't have a sink. And just when I thought I could get past all that and still lift my head high because these things didn't make me any "less" of a person, my brother was diagnosed with autism, and started doing crazy things like attempting to eat Ajax and destroying the furniture, and God-forbid if I was going to have anyone over. Then we moved into a series of other apartments and rented houses and just before I moved out my parents bought a home of their own.

Then I got married and we got a nice little apartment and then a house that had its issues but was cute enough, and I realized that this was all lovely, and that time had marched well beyond my childhood...but I hadn't. This whole issue about anyone walking into my house and judging was like a sore spot, a wound still tender, or one that hadn't healed perfectly right.

And so the first time we had a few guys over to take a look at work we should get done in the house, and they emerged from the basement laughing at the ridiculous washer hook-up, I felt the sting. When they handed us a laundry list of items to fix that would cost thousands and we knew would take every last dollar and years to rectify, my heart sank. We did some of the improvements. But life gets in the way, you know? And in a house that's nearing 70 years old, every small item was of course not small and was linked to bigger, costlier items that would need fixing.

A plumber came once and what was supposed to be a fixed bathtub turned into a diatribe about how they needed to rip up our bathroom for thousands of dollars or else leakage was going to destroy everything. Then there was of course the other plumber recently who brought in his camera to take a picture of the way our toilet was set-up, snickering and incredulous. And Mr. Oil, wagging his imaginary finger, telling me why I shouldn't let things like getting the furnace serviced slide, especially with a "relic" like the one we had in our basement.

Do you know, I wanted to say, that I DO care about taking care of our furnace; that I'm not a lazy, thoughtless slacker? Do you know the kind of autumn we've had (the time normally people attend to such things)? Do you know my husband is working crazy hours and this fall I was running around working as well, while expecting baby #3? Do you know money is a little tight right now and while we're not careless, we also thought something like this maybe belonged a little lower on the priority list? Do you know I have a newborn upstairs who's going to start crying any minute and I know my house is a mess but darn it I'm doing the best that I can??

He spent two hours puttering away in the basement, and slowly my own steam started to leak away.

He wasn't evil; he was the repair guy from the oil company. He just happened to be the person used that day to remind me there are still things I'm working on; insecurities to overcome; past memories to let go.

Beyond that, his flippant words steeled my resolve to try to remember, before issuing blame, before jumping to conclusions, the other person's story, and the story behind the story. What's that saying? Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

Oil Man came out from the basement. Those words whispered in my head, and when they did, I saw him -- no longer as the master of insults, I saw him. I saw his missing bottom tooth and the gold one next to it. I saw that his smile was actually rather kind as he saw me holding Chloe. I heard him try to temper his words as he mentioned what was going on with the furnace. He spotted some brochures from our business and asked to grab a few so he could do something "fun with the family."

He did indeed charge us way too much money, but as he loaded up his van and drove away, I couldn't be angry. Sad maybe, because my same insecurities seem to come up again and again. I felt raw and exposed, but at the same time, maybe that was okay. Knowing my trigger points, and knowing that the reason someone was bothering me SO much was because of me, not them, had to be part of winning the battle. And remembering I'm not the only one fighting a battle, that we all have our very human moments, is one way to defeat that long ago lie that somehow I'm just not good enough.

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