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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Wall

To help me get through what has been, to put it mildly, a trying time, I am focusing a lot of my energy on a wall. Months and months ago, Matt and I (with help from Chris and Stefania) exposed a brick wall in our house by painstakingly chiseling away hundreds of pounds of dilapidated horsehair plaster. The bricks were never meant to be seen -- they were chipped and broken and covered in plaster dust, and century-old mortar oozed all over them -- but an exposed brick wall was tantalizing. There's a beautiful exposed brick wall at National Mechanics, for instance. But gee, it seemed like such a lot of work. I often wondered if it would be easier to just paint over it, though that would ruin the effect of the natural brick. Months and months passed.

In the last week, though, I took it on as a kind of therapeutic project. And gee (again), were we ever right about it being a lot of work. I chipped all the extruded mortar away by hand. I painstakingly sanded each brick until it was clear of plaster and cement remnants, covering the interior of my house in dust and probably giving myself cancer in the process. I grouted until my fingers were raw from pushing slop between sharp brick edges. I brushed sealant on the cracked surfaces like a hermit painting delicate watercolors. It has been a labor of love and devotion. Every time I felt overwhelmed, I forced myself to get up and work on the wall. The nervous shake in my fingers and arms became the somewhat more bearable tremor of fatigue. Sometimes working on the wall took the place of eating and sleeping properly (like tonight).

The wall drove me crazy; the wall kept me sane. I told the wall secrets and listened for a response. I made bargains with the wall, convincing myself that it was a kind of talisman that would bring me luck. My mind filled with metaphors about stripping away facades and repairing the substance beneath until it was beautiful.

It's nearing completion, and I think it is going to be beautiful. Not perfect, and it won't solve any of my problems, but beautiful. Tomorrow, if the last of the grout dries properly, I'll finish sealing and put up the trim around the two doorways through it, and then I'll show you pictures. I'm afraid, though, the way I get when I'm nearing the end of a good book. What will I do when my friend the wall doesn't need me anymore?
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