Some holes are metaphorical and some are real.
We have a real hole in the kitchen ceiling. It’s about four feet across and two feet high. The drywall’s ragged edges sag a bit and the wooden slats show through. It’s right above the stove. It’s been there for seven years now. We’ve talked about patching it before, but it reminds us of Elena.
Kim was in the basement doing laundry and water started running down the walls. She ran up to the kitchen to see if something was flooding there. Water was coming down through the ceiling over the stove. So Kim ran up another flight of stairs to the bathroom.
There was Elena standing in three inches of water with the toilet overflowing. She was trying to clear out the obstruction with a toilet cleaning brush. When Kim rounded the corner, Elena looked up beaming holding the brush high with wet toilet paper clinging to the end of it. “Don’t worry mom,” she said, “I’ve got it.
Kim reached over and turned off the water. She bailed some of the water into the tub and then went and got a plunger and cleared the blockage. Kim can still see Elena’s proud face announcing that everything is under control.
At first there was just a small hole in the kitchen ceiling where the water had forced its way down. I put a bucket under it and we caught most of the water. But then the soggy drywall started to sag and fall and soon we had a major hole in the ceiling.
We intended to get around to it – but the discussion always got larger. Maybe we should also fix up the back room. Maybe we’d build an additional room above the back room. The ceiling would get patched whenever we did the larger job.
And then Elena died.
Now we couldn’t patch the hole because somehow it reminded us of her. We know that it’s just silly but we couldn’t patch the hole. We patched large holes in our last house but this one felt different.
About a year ago the toilet overflowed on Maggie. Again, Kim called out from the basement. There was water running down the stack pipe. I ran to the kitchen and there was water there as well. I ran up to the bathroom and there was about an inch of water as the toilet overflowed.
Maggie was in her room reading. I called her in and showed her how to turn the water off. I had her get the plunger and plunge the toilet. I lectured her as I cleaned up the floor about making sure the toilet actually flushed. I went down to the kitchen and pulled away newly soggy and sagging pieces of drywall.
The hole was bigger. It had a different shape. It had a different history. None of that mattered. It was still Elena’s hole in the ceiling. We still weren’t ready to fix it. Not quite yet.
That day probably got us emotionally ready to fix it — soon. I know. It’s silly. But these are the things we see each day that remind us of Elena.
For the last few months Kim’s brother Tommy has been doing work around our house. He and Jim replaced the flat roof in the back and put in a new railing. They replaced the back door and the big hole in that ceiling where the roof had leaked through. So while they were at it, Kim and I decided to ask them to patch the hole in the kitchen.
Yesterday, Tommy cleaned out the opening, evened out the edges, and screwed a new piece of drywall in the hole. He taped up the edges and applied the first layer of mud. The hole was filled.
The physical hole, of course.
The metaphorical hole remains. Yesterday was also my birthday. It was the anniversary of the day we first brought Maggie into our house. It was also Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish New Year.
I’ve had a lot of trouble with this day each year since Elena died.
There’s the tradition that people’s names are written into the book of life on Rosh Hashanah and the book is sealed on Yom Kippur. If your name is not in the book you will not live through the next year. I can’t understand who would leave a beautiful little six year old’s name out of the book. One standing there proudly with a toilet cleaning brush held high above her head with soggy toilet paper clinging to the tip letting all know that we shouldn’t worry, she’s got it.