Friday, April 28, 2017

Why my handyman's departure was like a second divorce


"I found someone to come and fill in the missing gravel along the driveway."
Brian and I were sitting having breakfast.  Justin was on the floor underneath the table playing with his Lego's.  I reached down to ruffle his hair as I took a sip of my coffee.
"No, need," he said without looking up from the script he was reading.   "Edwin is going to do that next week."
"Edwin's coming back next week?!" I heard my voice scale up.  "But wasn't he just here yesterday?"
Brian picked up the honey that sat next to his bowl of yogurt and granola and squeezed some over the top, using both hands.
"I actually hired him to come three days a week from now on.  This property needs a manager. "
A property manager?
"But what if there's not enough work for him to do three days a week?" I felt my chest tightening.   "I don't want to have to look for something for him to do every time he shows up."
"They'll be work," he said turning his attention back to the script.  "It's a big place, and anyway it's done.  He'll come three days a week starting next week."

The following Tuesday the front gate rang at 8:00am as I was getting the kids into the car for school.
Who could this be?
When I answered the intercom and heard Edwin's cheerful "hello!" I froze.
Oh no!!!
"Ummm, sorry Edwin," I called through the intercom.  "I forgot you were coming and I don't think that I really have anything for you to do today."
"Oh that's okay, Mr. Brian gave me a list."
Brian!!
"Well, okay, but I'm leaving now to take the kids to school.  So you won't be able to come in the house until I get back."
"That's okay too," I could his annoying smile through the intercom.  "Most of the stuff on the list is outside."

I started to call Brian and tell him what a mistake I thought this was.  Tell him that I really value my solitary mornings before the housekeeper comes.  But instead I pushed ENTER on the intercom, opening the front gate for Edwin.  He parked his little red truck at the end of the driveway.  I saw that he was getting his tool box out of the back as the kids and I sped by him.
"I'll be back later," I called out my barely cracked window.

"You know, it's just not how I grew up," I said to my mom on the way home.  "I'm uncomfortable with all of it.  I'm not the type to have people waiting on me and waiting for me to tell them what to do.  I'm barely getting used to the housekeeper and the nanny, but I think this is too much.  Having this man come by three times a week, don't you?"
"You know I understand," said my mom.  She and I are alike in this way (and many others).  "I value my privacy."
"Exactly!" I said.  "And Brian's not home during the day.  I'm the one who has to deal with him."
"But remember it's not his fault that Brian hired him."
"I know," I grimaced as I looked at the phone in my hand.  "I just don't like it.  And I really don't like that I don't want to go back home now because he's there."

*  *  *
"Mommy, can Edwin help me make a garden?"
It took effort to keep the smile on my face. "A garden?"
"Yes, PLEASE, Mommy.  I want to grow lettuce and cucumbers."
The garden hoe that Miles held was taller than he was.  His navy blue crocs were covered with mud and he had smudges of dirt around his mouth.
"Have you been eating dirt?"
"Edwin was showing me which plants we could eat," he opened his mouth wide and the smell of freshly picked sage suddenly filled the air.
Edwin!!!
I ran the water in the sink and grabbed a towel.
"Let me clean you up and I'll go talk to Edwin about your garden."
"Hooray!!"

I found Edwin in the garage hunched over Justin's Little Tyke's basketball hoop.
"Oh did that break?" I heard the iciness in my voice.
"No," he said.  He stood up and brushed off the knees of his blue work-pants.  He looked surprised that I had come to talk to him.
"Justin wants to be able to dunk on it, but it needs to be shorter."
"And Justin told you that?" I asked incredulously.
I was trying to picture my three-year-old having this conversation with Edwin.
Besides, if Justin wanted to dunk, wouldn't I have been the first to know?
"No, Tia told me."
Tia!
I made a mental note to let Tia know that I didn't care if she was the nanny; when the kids needed anything that she was to tell me and not Edwin.
"Well, okay," I said finally.  "Um, thank you, Edwin."
"You're welcome," he grinned.
"Now about Miles's garden..." I said.

For the next 16 years, Edwin would show up at 8:00am three times a week and would spend hours fixing whatever needed fixing.  The first time Edwin and I sat together in my kitchen (me sitting on the edge of the cushioned high stool next to the center island and he standing politely in the doorway), I handed him a cup of coffee.  I had made a decision to break one of my golden rules, "Never mix business with pleasure."
"Tell me about your family, Edwin."
 I knew his sister, Judith because she'd been our housekeeper for while.  In fact, it was she that had referred us to Edwin.
"My family?" He looked totally thrown off by the question.  He had a hammer in the hand that wasn't holding the coffee cup.
"Well, me and my wife, Nancy have two boys, Edwin Jr. and Fred."
Wife and kids?
"How old?" I managed.
"Just about the ages of your boys," he smiled.  "Edwin Jr. is a little older than Miles."
For some reason, I had pictured Edwin as bachelor.  I thought maybe he had a girlfriend.

Edwin had little kids?  Little boys?  He was a husband and a dad! How could I not have known?

From then on, in between fixing leaks and cleaning out gutters, Edwin would tell me about his family.  When Nancy found out she was pregnant with their youngest son, Justin, Edwin and I celebrated in the kitchen over a breakfast smoothie.  That was the day I hugged him for the first time.
"Congratulations, my friend," I said pushing him out to arm's length and looking in to his eyes.
He seemed embarrassed by the (A-frame) hug, but also touched by my genuine enthusiasm.
"Thank you, Laura," he said.  "I am grateful to you and your family. Thank you for all of your support."

*  *  *

When Edwin junior was 12, Edwin's family suffered a terrible loss of innocence.  For his families sake, I won't recount what happened, but suffice it to say that there were lawyer's fees to pay, followed by extensive hospital bills and diagnoses.  Brian and I wrote letters and offered money.  We both agreed that we wanted to do whatever we could to help this man who had spent so much of his life taking care of us.  During this whole, horrible ordeal, save a few days, Edwin would show up at 8:00am on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays like normal.   On those days, I would throw on a jacket and shoes and go find him on the property.
"Is there anything else you need?" I asked him one day, handing him a mug of coffee.  I saw that in spite of the fact that it was a windy 46-degrees, his brow was perspiring and his face was with gray with pain.  He barely looked in my direction.
"Thank you, Laura," he said finally.  "I'm okay."

My heart broke into a thousand pieces.

*  *  *


Brian and I filed for divorce 4-days before Miles's tenth birthday.  My alcohol and pill consumption suddenly escalated after the filing and with-in weeks,  I was a practically a shut-in.
All at once, Edwin was no longer my morning coffee-confidant.  He, like everyone else, had become something to be avoided.  When I heard his "hello" downstairs in the morning after the kids had gone to school, I would groan in the darkness of my bedroom and force myself up to lock the door against him.  I didn't want to chat with him anymore.

I can't face anyone...

But especially Edwin.  He was too close, too familiar.  With Tia,  I could fool her with my "I think I'm coming down with something" and I'd get cup of hot Fijian tea and sympathy.  But not Edwin.  Edwin would look at me with narrow, knowing eyes.  The disappointment in his face was palpable when I refused to get out of bed.  "Okay," he'd yell, pressing his face to the door after I'd closed it on him.  "But I blew the leaves off of the tennis court for your lesson.  Aren't you going to play today?  Come on!  It's a beautiful day!"

But it would be months before I would get out of bed and reengage in my life.  In July of 2008,  I had to check myself into treatment to get the help that I needed. I returned home that August, and took refuge in my bedroom and recovery meetings.  I was so acutely aware of my failure that seeing the people who loved me was painful.

"How are you doing, Laura? Are you okay?"

One by one, I started to let people back in to my life, but when I heard Edwin's "Hello" in the morning, I would still retreat quickly to my bedroom.
Please go away, please go work outside.
I knew it was completely irrational and I had no explanation other than the fact that I was so acutely ashamed.

He must be so disappointed in me.  I can't even look at him.


*  *  *

My first official night without Brian or the kids was December 12, 2008.  The entire night, I kept jumping out of bed and patrolling our 8000-square foot house with an animal horn clutched in my hand like a club. The lights flickered when I got near the kitchen.

What if the power goes off?  I can't even call Edwin now after being so awful to him!

It wasn't the first time I had thought about him, but I felt so depleted whenever I thought about how to repair things him.  I had shut him out because he was too close.  And now, I felt the familiar pangs of remorse setting in.

Next week, I'll come downstairs for coffee when he gets here...

The following night, the house went pitch black in the middle of a Seinfeld rerun.  I froze and felt my way over to my cell phone.  I could hear the soft tick, tick of the watch on my wrist.

Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God!

I started to find Brian's number when I thought I heard a creak from the closet behind me.  My throat went dry and eyes filled with tears as I lamented my predicament.

You can't call Brian every time something goes wrong.  This is what being divorced means.  You've got no one to help you. You have to call Edwin.

I scrolled down to the bottom of my "favorites" to Edwin's name.  I stared at it for a moment and held my breath before I pressed "send." I was mortified at the very thought of waking him up but I didn't know what else to do.

What will Nancy think of his phone ringing this late? What if Edwin is angry?

"Hello?"
I felt a tear make it's way down my cheek.  I sniffed loudly and cleared my throat.
"Edwin," I started.
"Laura?  Are you okay?"
A small sob erupted from my throat when I heard the genuine concern in his voice.  To my surprise I also found myself breaking into an involuntary smile.
"Kind of," I said.  "I'm sorry to wake you, but the power went off."
"Oh no!" he said.  "Okay," I could hear movement, like he was throwing off his covers.
"The generator didn't come on?"
The generator!  I forgot about the generator.
"No," I said. My voice was small.
Then it must be the breakers.  Can go to the second breaker panel by the back staircase?
There's a second breaker panel?
"Okay, give me a second?"
When I couldn't find the second breaker panel in the dark, I wanted to cry again.
"I can't find it Edwin," I said.  "I'm sorry."
I heard a car engine start.
"Edwin?"
"I'm on my way," he said confidently.  "I'll be there in 20 minutes."
"But Edwin!" I protested.  "It's after 12:00!"
"Then you better make us some breakfast."  I heard his familiar smile through the phone and felt my shoulders relax.
"Thank you, Edwin."

*  *  *

"I'll have this fixed in 20 minutes," he said holding up Justin's broken X-box controller.  He had I were going over his list for that day.  I handed him a coffee and held up my hand.
"Edwin?"
"Yes," he smiled.
"Can you show me how to fix it?"
After the breaker blew,  I had decided I didn't ever want to be "in the dark" again regarding the whereabouts of breaker panels or our tool box.
"Of course," he smiled.  "But I don't want you to put me out of my job!"
 Soon, I could fix the X-box and broken TV remotes.  I could reset our Direct TV boxes and change smoke detector batteries.  Things which were all previously mysteries to me, were suddenly now part of my normal week.

*  *  *

"I'm selling my house," said Edwin.  It was spring 2016.  I looked up at him as I was pouring some smoothie into a paper Starbucks cup.
I felt my stomach lurch.
What!?
"You're selling your house?"
His smile looked strained as he took the cup from my outstretched hand, "Thank you."
"You're welcome," I said eyeing him suspiciously.  "So your house -- you're selling it?"
He nodded as he took an extra long sip. "I'm selling it.  I'm thinking of moving to North Carolina."
My smoothie-sip stuck in my throat with a gurgle.  I gulped it down, as I looked away from him.
"North Carolina?!"
What am I going to do?!
"North Carolina!! That's so far away!  If you want out of the city, why not Valencia or somewhere like that?!"
Don't make this about you.  Be happy for him!  Ask him normal questions!
Edwin laughed.  "I don't have any family in Valencia."
"Ohhhh..." I said knowingly.  "North Carolina. To be with your brother," I said facing him again.
"Yes."
"And Nancy?  What does she think?"
"Yes," he nodded.  "She wants to go.  My family wants to move there."
I nodded and looked at the cup in my hand.
"But you guys are my family too," he said.  "I don't want to disappoint you."
"Then stay," I smiled.
What am I going to do without Edwin?
"I'm just kidding.  Of course you have to do what's best for your family."

*  *  *

Edwin left for North Carolina on February 20th of this year.  I came home to find a card from him on our kitchen counter.  I took it with me unopened into my office and propped it up by my key board.
You should read it.
I picked it up several times, but each time a feeling of bitterness swept over me and I set it back down.

If I read the note -- it means he's really gone. 

The next morning after my meditation, I got up and walked over to my computer.  Carefully, as though I was holding something flammable, I opened the envelope and inspected the card;

"Thank You So Much," it read in elaborate raised, script.

I opened the card and peeked inside, I was immediately struck by how careful and neat the handwriting was.

Laura, 

all these years you have helped my family and I and I am forever grateful...

I stopped reading and tilted my chin and closed my eyes.

I leave you with sadness in my heart and hope we will continue to stay in contact.

I re-read the card a couple of more times and looked around as if I expected him to be standing there.  Finally I closed the card and placed it back in its envelope.

Goodbye, Edwin.  Thank you, my friend.






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