Monthly Archives: June 2014

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Author’s Note: As you’ll see from the tense and timeline of the post below, I wrote this months ago. I couldn’t get around to publishing it because I was Too Busy Complaining (or grouting, depending on the day) to take any pictures. But: I’m back. So is Kyle. We are past spring and into summer. And it feels like a good time to start again.

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For a few months we had this neighbor I really enjoyed, who moved or was busted for selling drugs, depending on who you ask, and who radiated the placid contentment of someone lying out on the beach (he was also, perhaps not coincidentally, often shirtless). We’d always do the “How are you doing?” thing and he’d always answer the same.

“Can’t complain,” he’d say, smiling and drawing the last part out. “Life’s too short to complain.”

Like I said, I like this guy, but it’s hard for me to adopt his mantra. Especially these last two months, with Kyle down in Alabama for work. It’s been difficult to be left with two houses under renovation, two jobs, and two pets (both of whom, for Extra Fun, went down with stomach viruses the week Kyle left). I have been complaining. A lot.

The truth is, I know I own a lot of it. I’m the one who married the military man, who wanted two jobs, who needed two high-maintenance pets. But even I know my limits. I tried to hire a dog-walker to help while Kyle was gone. The first two meetings between Godiva and the walker went well, and then on their first solo date I got the text below (this is a direct transcription):

Hi, Jana. I almost had G convinced to go on a walk with me but we couldn’t get past the last hurdle of getting close enough to her collar to hook the leash.

This does raise questions, such as, what was the first hurdle? But it also reminds me of why I love Dayton. I have never lived around people who are so optimistic—and so kind. In Kyle’s absence I’ve feasted on pad thai at the homes of friends and savored Algerian couscous with students and celebrated Easter on a sunlit patio. I’ve found surprise flowers on my doorstep and on my kitchen counter. I’ve been grateful for the group of neighbors who dropped everything to chase a certain runaway dog in a polka-dotted bandana.

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I’ve also had offers of help on the houses, which I’ve refused, because here’s the thing: these friends and neighbors are already helping. So I’ve forged on, sans husband and dog-walker, without feeling totally alone. I’ve re-grouted the shower in the upstairs bathroom, refinished counters in two of the units, painted inside of cabinets. I’ve finished the move downstairs, painted and reinstalled switch plates, caulked with abandon, hauled garbage bags of old carpet. Really glamorous, fun stuff.

On the other hand, I’ve gotten to do some decorating. Here is what our downstairs unit looks like currently:

*Note: these photos are actually current-current, not when-this-post-was-written-current, because as I mentioned, I was strugglin.’ Which means Kyle did a lot of this. Also, my mom helped decorate. So I pretty much just supplied the dog.
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It’s far from perfect. But it feels like a home, and remember, we went months without a couch and with sinks sitting on chairs. Also, we started here:
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The outdoors is redecorating, too. In light of the epic dog-walker fail I’ve been going home at lunchtime to take Godiva out, and every day there are new flowers pushing through the earth, their yellows and purples so vivid they look fake. In Texas we had a courtyard lush with olive trees and bougainvillea and jasmine, but it feels like I’ve never loved anything more than these straggly survivors, who made it through our bitter winter and came up more beautiful for it.

My heart, a little bit of a caveman, takes everything—the broken-down houses, the missing husband, job stuff, two crazy animals—and somehow, in the midst of all that is complicated, it says something like this: Flowers. Dog. Cat. Happy. At least in that moment, I can be a little like my blissed-out neighbor.

And because the world, or at least Dayton, is small: a few weeks ago I am leaving work and someone hollers at me across the room. “Hey,” he says. “Hey. Remember me?” It is my former neighbor, in sunglasses and shorts (for context, the rest of us are in pants and long sleeves). He is enrolled in school, he is living somewhere else, and he seems as content as ever.

“You know what”?  I say. “I miss having you as a neighbor. Because every time I saw you, you would always say—“

“Can’t complain,” he says. “Life’s too short to complain.”