I’ve spent the past several days and nights stripping the wallpaper in one room of my house. It’s a chore I’ve done in many other rooms of my home and each time I’m confronted with a different set of challenges to meet and overcome, because once the first layer’s removed, you never know what (if anything) lurks beneath…
If that sounds somewhat sinister, then believe me, it can be.
Scoring, spraying and scraping is a fairly mindless task – one that frees the mind to think about a myriad of things. I mentally worked through the end days of my last marriage while stripping the painted wallpaper in the upstairs hallway 12 years ago, and pondered what was left of my womanhood while removing 75 years of bad choices in my son’s room after cancer surgery in 1994. I’ve discovered ancient, crumbling plaster and poorly done patch jobs. I’ve caulked and patched and primed and rewallpapered and painted my way through every room in my house and thought, thought, thought about life and love and everything in between. Last night, while fighting my way through one small area of industrial strength glue in the study, I came to this conclusion: Stripping wallpaper is like deconstructing and examining the inside of a relationship.
The outside layer of wallpaper is intact, waterproof. Like the facade of a relationship – the face a couple presents to the world – it can mask a whole lotta nastiness lurking beneath. Peel it off and you never know what you’ll find. It could be the clean, smooth wall of serenity or it could reveal what I found this week: Layers of muck and ugliness (and nearly impossible-to-remove adhesive) stuck to yet more layers of muck and ugliness. Last week an acquaintance declared me incapable of understanding the deconstruction of her long-term marriage because I, myself, have failed at several of my own. Yet I beg to disagree. It takes little insight to understand that a three-decade marriage is not so different from a one-decade marriage – there are just more layers built up behind the facade.
Peeling away the layers is hard and people often don’t want to revisit what’s been covered up. Maybe you quickly slapped some paint over the existing wallpaper just to get the job done with as little effort as possible. Or maybe you decided to just glue another strata of wallpaper on top of the three previous ones – like adhereing a new set of problems on top of the old, unresolved issues. Hiding the work you should have done in the first place doesn’t make it disappear, and covering up a problem with a layer of denial only serves to preserve it for later. Eventually you’ll have to scrape the paint, peel away the layers, dissolve the old glue and expose the foundation if you want to start over.
Rebuilding is a long, slow process that takes an arsenal of tools, elbow grease and a drive to succeed. It doesn’t matter if you’re repairing a slightly broken marriage or starting over after an irreparable relationship.
Deconstruction is laborious.
So everyday I scrape my way through decades of old decisions and ponder this metaphor of layers. I think about the conversation I had last week and wonder if that person will have the strength to reveal her foundation so she can rebuild her life, or if she’ll settle for sealing over her own layers with more of the same.
I’ve got a good scraper to loan her if she needs it.