Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Fence that Wasn't

“Katie?” Jay asked, wiping sweat from his face and looking for a cup for water as we moved my possessions into this house more than 2 years ago. “Have you met your neighbors?”

“No.” I said, handing him the one of the only glasses we’d found so far as activity continued at the other end of the house. I live in a single level structure and the garage sits on the end of the house that contains the 3 bedrooms. It was therefore easy to back up the large truck to the garage then carry furniture to where it belonged. Well, easy for me anyway. I had stationed myself in the kitchen to take a break at the calm end of the house while my family worked. “I waved to them a couple times, but we haven’t spoken. Why?”

He grinned before drinking water. “They must have gotten a bad first impression then. They’re out there measuring to put up a fence.”

“Stop.” Cousin scolded him, shaking her head as she smiled, breathlessly placing a box on the table.

“Hi! Welcome to the neighborhood!” Jay said loudly as he found a marker to label his cup for later. Then, under his breath, he continued, “Build the fence, build the fence!” We all laughed and I glanced out my kitchen window at the neighbors who were, in fact, measuring their yard in preparation for a tall privacy fence.

They soon put in a pool. I could see the pool clearly because they had put several support beams in - cemented in the ground - but failed to fill the large gaps between with any opaque material. A single corner of solid fence was all that stood there for more than a year. Then they built a small deck at one corner of the small pool for easier access. But the fence stayed incomplete and eventually started to look awful. The boards at the edges started to lean crookedly and pulled their neighbors with them. The wood began to weather and discolor and I wondered if it would look strange when they finally completed the project.

Then, one day, I noticed a sign in the front yard. The pool people were selling the large house on the corner. When I returned from one of my recent trips home, I opened the blinds to let more light in for my plants and blinked in surprise. Moving to the kitchen window for a better view, I stared into the yard next door to see a round circle of dirt where the pool had been. There was a stack of boards to one side - results of dismantling the structure that was never finished.

“They’re taking the fence down.” I told Jay and Cousin last weekend as I sat at their kitchen table and we discussed putting my home on the market.

They are or the elements are?” Jay requested clarification. “Because it sometimes helps with the overall stability if you actually finish a fence instead of just putting a few boards here and there and calling it good.”

“Well,” I considered for a moment, “they took parts of it down. But when I went out a couple days ago, some of the support beams were lying on the ground. So maybe nature is helping a bit.”

“How is that worth it?” Jay asked as Cousin continued to gather ingredients for pepper steak. I opened my mouth to answer, but paused when Cousin approached with a scrap of paper.

“I can’t read that.” She said, pointing to the second line in Aunt’s handwriting. “It looks like it says two tablespoons of fat.”

“Yes.” I said, looking up at her to nod. “Two tablespoons of fat. Or suet.” I read, wrinkling my nose. “I’m not sure, but I believe that’s pork fat.”

“Who keeps fat in the house?” Cousin asked while Jay shook his head without speaking.

“Your mom, apparently.” I offered helpfully.

“I have Crisco.” Cousin said doubtfully. “Does that count?”

“I’m sure it does.” I said. “You could use oil too, but Crisco seems like a reasonable way to go.”

“But not butter flavored.” She said, looking in the refrigerator.

“I’d think not. Do you have regular Crisco?” I smiled when she triumphantly pulled a bar out of the pantry. “Well done.” I praised and watched her slice and place some in the pan so she could brown the meat.

“They used the pool.” I told Jay, returning to his question. Used to Cousin and our family’s distracted conversational style, he followed easily. “It’s hard to quantify how much they enjoyed it versus how much it cost to put it in then take it out.” I shrugged. “It wouldn’t have been worth it to me, I guess, though there were some hot days where floating in cool water would have been good.”

“I wonder if they’ll do it again - build the beginnings of a fence at their next house.” Jay said and I blinked at him for a moment. Then I nodded, not so much to respond in the affirmative as to indicate my acceptance of the statement. Perhaps they might, I decided. If a family doesn’t mind living with a half-finished, ugly fence for upwards of two years, what’s to stop them from building another at their new home? If the back yard bothered them, it seems they would have changed it.

“I can’t keep doing this.” I told myself on Tuesday. I needed to follow up with Henry on some questions. Boss asked if we could meet in the afternoon. I had data that was sitting, waiting for the next buttons to be pressed and quality to be checked so it could continue to process happily. I had walked the dog and taken a shower. I had finished my requisite cup of coffee for the morning and picked up the clutter around the living room and kitchen. All that was left to do was to dry my hair, dress and drive to campus.

Instead, I decided to rest for just a few minutes. I’d not nap, exactly. Just rest. I wouldn’t even use the blankets, I told myself virtuously at 9:45. I woke at 1:30, snuggled in my comforter and surrounded by pillows and a sleeping dog. My head ached, but it usually does lately. But I sat up and the localized, sharp pain behind my right eye had me fighting back a wave of nausea.

So I sent email to Boss. Explained yet again that I wasn’t doing so well. Confessed one more time to taking medication and struggling to find a good dosage. “I just can’t.” I wrote. “I’m terribly sorry and I hope to be better soon, but today is just beyond me.” And in so writing, I canceled my meeting and told him not to expect me for yet another day.

It was fine. He told me to take care of myself and to let him know if he could help. Which is kind and lovely, but I don’t know what he could offer. I’m not even sure what to do myself. I suppose I do feel guilty for taking anti-depressants on some illogical level. If I were stronger or more stable or had made better decisions in the past, maybe I would not find myself in these situations - sleeping days away in hopes that tomorrow will be ever so slightly easier.

When living like this, it’s not surprising that my career is a bit worse for wear. I cemented some support beams into the ground then never filled in some corners. I’ve made a couple of sections - and I’m trying like crazy to make sure those are the only parts that anyone notices - but it’s hardly a stable body of work. And as I make plans to leave, I’m wondering what will prevent me from repeating this cycle somewhere else.

The idea is to do better. Form networks of friends from the start. Put in more time at the office from the very first day so I don’t have to hide, ashamed of my past performance. I want a do over. But what if the do over is just more of the same in a different location?

In the days it’s taken me to write this post though, things have brightened a bit. I managed to contribute heavily to a poster another researcher is presenting. I submitted an abstract to a conference and distributed a manuscript to several co-authors. I’m analyzing data I’ve long put off so I can soon write another paper and Boss wants me to help a new labmate with getting settled.

It’s fine - and it is good to make it to campus again, but it’s not great. I can make my peace with this experience, but only if I learn enough to do better next time. Otherwise, it seems one would eventually peer out the back door, stare at the pieces of wood that are falling down around the perimeter of one’s yard and wonder why the hell it was put there in the first place.


Psycgirl said...

What a good analogy for all of my unfinished work. I have so many potential fences with one or two beams up, but the rest of the wood just lying in piles on the ground. I wish I could finish everything I started - I am getting that inevitable "November" sinking feeling.

PPB said...


Anonymous said...

take care, i'm thinking about you!

Anonymous said...

take care, i'm thinking about you!

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