Chapter Twenty-Five: The Home Stretch
The kindness of family, and one last flurry of activity before we open our doors to the world.
After the visit from the kids and their mother, the rest of July wore on eventless. Since the garden was mostly mud and also the outdoor lounge of Lilian and Paul, idle suntanning, one of my favorite summer pastimes, was out of the question. Other than Georges and Geneviève, there wasn’t a ton of socializing. Normally with first time meetings in a region dictated by more formal, old school etiquette, and with many fewer outside venues than Paris, you would invite new acquaintances over. By then I was well aware of France’s gracious hosting culture, and how you get off on the right foot by serving wine in nice glassware and laying out some thoughtful hors d’oeuvres. But without furniture, I didn’t want to impose on total strangers by going around knocking on doors, knowing they’d feel obligated to let me in and entertain me. There was an annual village party in mid-August, which was minutes away. The painters would have come by then, and my furniture would have arrived, so I figured I’d just hold off and throw open the doors then.
God, those painters. Even though Lilian and Paul were pure gold, I had declined Marius’s €36,000 bid for them to paint the house. (Yes you read that figure right.) Instead I leaned on the ex’s network, and called the fellow, Toni, he had used on previous house projects before our Paris place. I had seen Toni’s work at the ex’s old apartment, and the house where the kids’ mother lived, and even if the ex and the kids’ mom swore by his honesty, I wasn’t entirely convinced by the guy. But I had a hard move-in deadline and was running out of money, and so when Toni said he could spare a couple of his painters for a week, and gave me a bid 30% lower than Marius, I said yes without hesitation. We’d leave out the living room, which was massive, covered in ceiling beams and wooden shutters, as I was still deciding on the color. They’d do the rest of the house.
Big mistake. Where Lilian and Paul were impeccable, careful, and quiet, the three young guys Toni sent over were a boisterous, big mess. They set up camp in the living room, and by the first night, the foot smell descended on the space like a poisonous fog. Once it was time for them to apply the paint, including to all the floors upstairs, we agreed that I’d get the cats and myself out for a weekend. I was quite ready to go.
I called the ex to see if he could babysit Fred and Penelope while I put myself back in a Perche hotel for a few nights. He missed them terribly, and they knew him well, it seemed like the best idea for all concerned. And since he had already done me the solid of putting me in touch with Toni, it was clear he was of a mind to do favors. I wondered if this was lingering guilt over how things ended between us, and just thought, well, if so, then fine. I also remembered that he was generally menschy with services, one of his more winning Virgo qualities.
And indeed, he was all for the idea. Enthusiastically. Couldn’t wait to see the cats again, he said. And so the poor guys got bundled up for another road trip back to Paris, to an apartment they never knew, even if half the furniture would smell familiar, as well as all the humans. The ex was working on some movie project or other, but left me a key, and so I visited his new apartment for the first time without him there. It was very cute, with an open kitchen painted dark green that had a big stainless range a little like mine. He slept upstairs in the loft under the rafters, and the boy and the girl each had their own room and a scruffy bathroom downstairs. It was not quite as grand or tasteful as our Paris place, I said, patting myself on the back. I was not going to extinguish the bit of competitiveness I kept flickering like a pilot light. It would substitute for extra backbone or some other sense of boundaries well enough for now.
I found enough space in his bathroom to wedge two litterboxes, and the food I had brought to cover the weekend. I waited till the ex got home so I could show him how to give Freddy his new thyroid pills. (He trusted no one except me and the ex, and was blissfully easy to pill, lying there on his back on his or my knees with a look of love in his eyes, waiting for kisses.) The ex was affectionate and friendly and I was slightly awkward and embarrassed and entirely relieved. This was kind of the first real foundation laid for our post-separation lives. I had worried I’d be entirely alone again out in the countryside, but I could see there would be family support back in Paris, only two hours away, in case of future calamity. Phew. More than phew. Existential satisfaction.
When I finally went back to the house to survey the results, my entire head and stomach exploded on the spot. Not only was there trash and a lot of empty beer bottles not entirely disposed of, these guys were complete amateurs. The cut work was pathetic. They used the wrong masking tape, which meant all the baseboards would need to be redone, as well as anywhere else (ceilings, windows) that highly pigmented paint met white. They hadn’t properly sanded the banister before painting it high gloss white, so it started peeling almost the moment I looked at it. I started sending Toni furious camera pics and he apologized and told them they’d have to fix it all before they left, but I was due to receive furniture two days later. They couldn’t get it all done on time. Today I am still discovering mistakes, and the fucker only reduced my final bill by €250. Lesson: you get what you pay for. Even today I curse Toni more often than is entirely healthy. DM me if you’re looking for a Paris-area crew and I’ll tell you whom not to hire, and give you Marius’s number.
Still I had picked great colors: a saturated sage green for my bedroom, which would become a palatial guest room once I did the attic next year. A deep red for the second guest bedroom. A ballet pink for my office, which was where I’d be spending most of my time staring out of one or more of its four windows. Now I went into panicked overdrive, racing to Ikea to buy mattresses, ordering towels and sheets in multiples, and finally, receiving the contents of my storage space. The move-in took one delirious day until, by the end of the it, the beds and big furniture were assembled, the couches placed. Boxes were everywhere else, but everything in its right room. My clothes would wait in the storage shed. I continued to have absolutely no need for them.
Meanwhile, my sister and one of my oldest and closest friends, Charles, were due to arrive the day after, straight from Los Angeles. This is an epic 24 hour journey that leaves you delirious mentally, and, by the last mile to Saint-Maxine, like a dried out piece of supermarket ham physically. I thought of the two of them about to brave the Gare Montparnasse after tackling CDG border patrol on no sleep. They would be not quite human when I went to pick them up the following day, covered in moving bruises. At least they’d have somewhere comfortable to sleep, I thought, as I took a bath alone in my house for the first time. After I gave it a once-over, it was finally clean and perfectly quiet. I could see the church out the window, and realized how much I liked the view now that it was, for just a few moments, the only thing on my mind. I perched my laptop on a clothes hamper to watch some British procedural before crashing with the cats, who weren’t quite on speaking terms with me yet.