Yesterday, I went to see Dara and her husband, Dave, in their house in Phoenicia. It’s been a year or two since I’ve seen them. Dave is a kind, dear man. Those two chose well. They’ve put an extension on the house. It’s gorgeous, luxuriant with Dave’s fine woodwork and handmade touches: a copper-topped storage bench and numerous windows, thermal and double-glazed, knowing Dave. Dara’s voluptuous pottery everywhere, sturdy in earth tones, blues, and some the rich red of newly shed untainted blood. There is plenty of space for lush plants, huge and almost bawdy in their thriving. I suspect Dave and Dara know they are lucky. I told her that the house is so beautiful now, it looks as though grownups live there. Dara assured me they don’t, not really.
Seeing Dave and Dara’s home reminds me of what I appreciate about living with a man when you love each other. It’s a measured domesticity, not the cloying, treacly kind. With a flair for physics, as he makes something lovely out of absolutely nothing, he will naturally yoke form to function. This is how I felt when Billy refurbished the wood holder, moved, emptied, and painted the wood box, filling it with kindling he gathered to keep me warm. And it looks good, to boot. This is one way men show their love. I think of Michael R., entranced, maniacally making the floor for 14 hours straight so that he forgets to eat, for Sophia. Building their home.
What would it be like for Carl and Stephanie to have a house in the woods, instead of his small village apartment? I imagine it: the task of homemaking pulling Carl down toward the prosaic clay layers of mundane life. There is no transcendence in home carpentry. If there were, nothing would be level; edges would not meet like lovers embracing with no space for trouble between them. Mixing paint requires its own devotional contemplation, or one will be sorry. A bed must rock and cradle all its inhabitants, sturdy enough to withstand mercurial mood swings and the tossing tides of dreamtime. When not in use, it should be well dressed. Clothing ought be stored with room to breathe, accessible and unobtrusive. An unusual doorknob or drawer pull is jewelry for the house. As visitors amble through, they think, what a good idea, noting this or that. They are aware mostly of a diffuse feeling of well-being, a desire to stay awhile and then come back. They overindulge in food, wine and conversation, and cannot help but fantasize about the Jacuzzi. A home pulls old friends in and makes new ones fast. Some may even outstay their welcome.
The best houses smell good, like Billy’s, whose home smells of orange and cloves, and something else, impossible to identify except by Billy’s own name.
Making a home is fun. I think of Darrell and Mary doing this together in the old farmhouse, lovingly contained by newly painted colonial sage green walls. The granite kitchen counter is slightly askew, because Mary multi-tasked during its installation, talking on the phone to someone beloved. I imagine Darrell standing tall and lanky behind her, laughing, gobbling Rice Chex, unpacking and dusting off his great good luck.
A home born of companionship is an impish child, a wanton act of play. It makes no headway against impermanence, nor tries, but emerges in a gritty, basic way to provide some grounded refuge. You never know how things will turn out when two or more get to work. A solitary’s home is just as fueled with presence, but is inevitably less jolly, more ascetic.
What pleasure to see so many friends enjoying making space together. What pleasure myself to have a mucky rug to clean, a deck to sweep off, colorful dishes clashing bravely to wash, all in my own well-tended solitude. And lest you think me lacking in my spinsterhood, tonight, when I sleep, I will tunnel under a new Balinese duvet cover of pure batiked cotton—the pattern one of geckos, frogs, masks, spirals, and flowers, kaleidoscopic as dreams themselves—a naked cat stretched out, her head against my breast, to visit again, at home alone with those I love.