My yoga pants are smeared with paint. Every bare inch of my skin is covered in flecks of the stuff. My cheeks are just pink with a dinner-hour sunburn that will fade by tomorrow night, and my belly is churning, full of ice cream I shouldn’t have eaten but wouldn’t have dared resist.
On a whim born out of my fear of just sitting around, I texted my sister to see if she was accepting visitors at her new house in the suburbs. She was, with the caveat that she and her husband were painting the living room, and did I want to help — “jk but actually.”
Busy hands and a sense of accomplishment on the other end were exactly what I needed today.
That, and a break from the city noise, the rumbling window air-conditioning units, the years of cooking and cats and Peloton sweat and scented candles ad nauseam, emphasis on the nausea. Too many days in the same ancient two-bedroom rental apartment — home though it is — wear on the tenant.
So I flew up I-90 and parked outside my sister’s adorable old-but-new-to-her brick ranch, nestled in a cozy neighborhood a block from where our mother grew up.
Her sparsely decorated living room — awaiting the delivery of a new couch to better fill the space — was covered in a plastic dropcloth. Her mismatched house clothes were dappled with paint, and she offered me a brush and marching orders.
Then, her husband relieved of his duties when I arrived, we had the house to ourselves. I picked up a roller and put my whole body into covering those walls in two coats of a warm, vanilla color head-scratchingly named Timid White.
We drank Diet Coke and sang along, no-holds-barred, to a playlist of ‘90s songs I’ll never not know all the words to. We didn’t just know the words. We knew the florid melismas, the dance breaks, even some of the rap interludes.
My usual 4 p.m. witching hour had passed without fanfare — no anxiety, no agitation, just a number on a clock.
We switched to rosé as we rounded into the final stretch of unpainted wall. I was closed-windows-and-paint-fumes slap happy, yelling the lyrics to Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing,” sloppy with the brush as I tried to cut straight edges of Timid White into the line where the wall meets the ceiling.
The final coat applied to the final wall, we stepped back to admire our handiwork. The room was transformed. We were bone tired and covered in sweat and paint flecks.
My brother-in-law made dinner: grilled burgers with Tillamook cheddar, avocado and crisp romaine; corn on the cob; tomato and basil salad; frozen waffle fries tossed in a spice blend from our favorite Kansas City barbecue joint.
We sat outside to eat as the sun started to dip below the houses to the west. I got my first mosquito bite of the summer. We drove down the street for kid-sized cups of black-raspberry chip from an ice cream parlor in an old wooden house with a wraparound porch.
Racing against the 88-degree heat, I fought into my scoops with a flimsy plastic spoon, inches from my sister on a little park bench, our masks hanging around our necks.
Today was a gift: My sister lived two apartments down — in the same building — for a couple of years, and we never made time for days like this together.
I chatted with my mom on the way home, near tears because I’m not sure what to do with a wonderful day anymore. The sky was streaked with a cotton-candy sunset as I rounded the familiar corners back to my unpainted, just-plain-old apartment that some days I believe I’ll never be able to move away from.
But as long as I can have days like this once in a while…and remember them on days when life feels more like a bad movie I can’t escape…
I think I’ll be okay.
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