94: Doing It My Way

94: Doing It My Way

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Doing It My Way

Whatever you are doing, love yourself for doing it. Whatever you are feeling, love yourself for feeling it.

~Thaddeus Golas

I ticked the items off my list as I loaded the goods into the car: paint, brushes in various sizes, rollers, masking tape… After checking and re-checking, I decided I had all I needed and started for home.

It had been a few months since the divorce. The initial hurt had subsided a little, but my self-esteem had taken a battering. Not only that, it had been so long since I had lived on my own that I had been surprised to find myself struggling to manage the practicalities.

For a time, I had called on friends and family for emotional and practical help, and they had been supportive. One had given me a hand pruning the hedges, which had become so overgrown I thought my garden was about to disappear. Another had introduced me to a good plumber when the boiler failed.

I had been really grateful for this help, but I realised now was the time to become more self-reliant. I knew deep down one of the ways to raise my self-esteem would be to deal with all the practicalities now required by my new status.

The living-room decor was tired to say the least. Two dark patches showed where a couple of paintings had hung that belonged to my other half. Other half, I said to myself. You’ve got to stop thinking of yourself as half of a couple. You are now a single woman. It’s time to be strong, capable, and resilient. You can make that room beautiful again. While all this was admirable thinking, the other issue was that the divorce settlement had made something of a dent in my finances. The couple of quotes I had received told me I couldn’t really afford to pay a decorator.

I had a little experience in painting and hanging wallpaper. My ex and I had always done it together. Okay, so I had been the rookie supporting the skilled artisan, but I wasn’t going to dwell on that fact. After all, how hard could it be to paint a couple of walls and hang some paper?

And so it was with a flurry of confidence I had booked a week off work. When my office colleagues asked what I was going to do with the time, I told them I would be transforming my space. They looked suitably impressed, and feeling confident and optimistic, I invited them to a post-decorating party to see the results of my labour. There’s no way you can back down now, I told myself.

It was, however, with some dismay that as I drew close to the week of the transformation, I started to cough and sneeze. I left the office with aching bones and head. The cold that had been doing the rounds had settled on me. Still, I wasn’t going to be daunted. Shivering and coughing as I left work that Friday evening, my last words to my work mates were: “I can’t wait to show you all when it’s finished.” Amidst words of encouragement (and did I detect a little skepticism?), I left the office.

The following morning, I rose early, and after opening all the windows to try to clear my chest, I started to strip the walls. The cold water ran down my arms and formed icy drips under my shirt as I steamed off the old paper. The chill April air seeping in through the windows dampened the room. I could leave this until I feel better, I thought to myself, but is that what a strong, empowered woman would do? I thought not. I turned up the volume on the radio and sang to the tunes between coughs. I avoided the dampening of my spirits by muttering the words empowered, resilient, strong — my new mantra.

For a while, despite the cold and discomfort, I was making progress, but it wasn’t too long before I encountered my first problem. The old wallpaper was coming off, but what was this sticky mess it was leaving behind? I pressed my palms against it, and my hands stuck to the wall. Scrubbing harder only increased the slime. Nothing was getting rid of this substance: detergent, household cleaner, bleach. A plethora of cleaning potions were brought out and discarded on the floor around me. Eventually, I remembered a tip from my dad to use sugar soap, and after much rubbing and repeating of the mantra, I was looking at four clean walls. I breathed a sigh of relief. It was time to get out the paintbrushes.

Feeling optimistic once more, I headed to the kitchen to get the paint. However, the optimism was short-lived. Pulling on the door handle, I stood back in amazement as it came away in my hand. Groaning to myself, I remembered I had uncoupled the handle in readiness to paint the doors. “Damn,” I hissed. This was punctuated by a clunk on the opposite side of the door as the rest of the handle hit the floor, and it dawned on me that I was locked in. Pulling at the door and sticking a screwdriver under it to try to force it open had no result.

With a sinking feeling, I realised there was only one option. Opening the window wider and standing on the sill, I started to make my undignified exit. At least there is no one here to witness this, I thought to myself. I’ll soon be back in and getting on with the job. But then as I was suspended halfway through the open window, my legs dangling about a foot from the floor, I realised my shirt had caught on the catch. I tried moving left and right, back and forth, but I was well and truly stuck. Another coughing fit ensued as the cold air caught my midriff.

I don’t know how long I would have been there, suspended in mid-air, if an old van hadn’t come into view around the corner. “Cunliffe and Son, Decorators” was emblazoned on the side. Oh, the irony.

I tugged and tugged but couldn’t get loose, by which time Cunliffe and Son had strolled up the path to see what was going on. After some debate during which I reassured them I wasn’t trying to break into the property, Cunliffe Senior gave my shirt a sharp tug, and I dropped to the ground. He looked through the window.

“You seem to be doing okay in there, but here’s my card in case you need it.”

After making sure I had re-entered my property through the door rather than the window, they strolled back down the path.

It’s only my pride that is dented, I told myself. This doesn’t mean I’m not strong and independent. I took myself back to the task at hand, repeating the mantra: empowered, resilient, strong.

Carrying on through the rest of the week, I kept repeating this mantra. Each time I climbed the stepladders, my chest heaved and dizziness prevailed. I was so sweaty that the brush slipped through my hands, and my old jeans and shirt became covered in paint.

At the end of the week, though, despite all odds, the room was looking good. It had taken longer than I expected and hadn’t been without event. But what’s a little loss of dignity? I thought to myself. And this chest infection would soon pass.

Feeling once again optimistic, I skipped off the stepladders for one last time and stood back to admire my work. Unfortunately, I hadn’t noticed the can of paint I had left on the floor. As my foot connected with it, I watched in dismay as my cream carpet developed a large patch of “crimson kiss.”

Over the weekend, I put the room back together and managed to get a new carpet fitted. It did look great. I had achieved my goal. I felt my self-esteem rise as I admired my work.

My friends came to the post-decorating party and were all in agreement that I had certainly earned the title of empowered and independent woman. For my part, I tried to enjoy my new status as I rubbed pain-relief cream on my back and started the antibiotics for the chest infection that I had neglected all week.

“So, what’s the next project?” one of them asked as they left the party that evening. I gave a non-committal “not sure yet” as I waved them off.

Going back into the room, I asked myself, Well what is the next project to be? True to my word, the room looked great. Like the empowered woman I had so wanted to be, I had achieved my goal. Next project, I thought, but my heart sank at the thought of ever picking up a paintbrush again.

I checked my spending, and when I totaled up how much the room had cost (including the price of a new carpet), a new thought entered my mind. I had to admit, although I had achieved my goal, decorating really wasn’t my forte. In fact, I thought to myself, I would rather have been in the office.

A few months later, I decided that the kitchen was looking ready for a little refurbishment. I knew I could do it. I had learned a lot. It would be an easy job in comparison. However, whenever I thought about doing it, I got that same sinking feeling.

About that same time, an e-mail popped into my account. There were opportunities to do some overtime. I estimated that it would only take a few weekend mornings to pull in enough cash to hire someone. I turned over Cunliffe and Son’s card in my hand, and then picked up the phone. The quote wasn’t too bad. I just hope they can do as good a job as I did, I thought to myself. And at that moment I realised, yes, my self-esteem had risen. I did those few weekends overtime and soon had enough cash to fund the new project.

Mr. Cunliffe and Son came kitted up with plastic sheeting to protect my furniture. Polite, helpful, and courteous, they quietly got on with the work. No paint was spilled, and the only job I had to do was make sure they had plenty of cups of tea. In a couple of days, the kitchen looked brand new. We shook hands, and they went on their way.

My friends at work asked why I had not painted the kitchen myself, as they had been so proud of me. At that point, I decided it was time to tell them the real story of my decorating adventures. They howled with laughter when I told them about my undignified exit through the window.

“I’m giving up this idea of being empowered,” I joked. “One way or another, that week nearly killed me.”

“You know,” one of them said, “I don’t believe being empowered is about putting yourself through hell just to prove a point. It’s about living life on your terms and achieving your goals in the way that best suits you…”

“…and knowing my limitations,” I added wryly.

“No, come on,” said another. “You succeeded in completing your challenge. You empowered yourself, but you also found your own way of achieving the same goal. Empowerment, after all, is a learning game, something we are all moving toward in our own way.”

I raised a cup of tea to that and settled back down to my computer.

~Michelle Emery

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