Over Christmas, the entire family collected in Sarasota.
“What are you doing?” Leslie asked from one of the two leather sofas in the great room.
“Setting up mom and dad’s new stereo,” I answered as I wrangled various wires and evaluated how to thread them through microscopic holes conveniently located behind an enormous television.
“Hey, the light just turned on,” my mom said from the kitchen, nodding to the accent lights in the entertainment center. “Make sure you turn them off when you’re done.”
“Um, I don’t know what I did to turn them on.”
A few pieces of tape and thirty minutes later, I loaded a disc and pressed play. Carly Simon drifted from the speakers, echoed off the tile floors. I even figured out how to turn the lights off.
“How did you know how to do that?” Leslie asked in disbelief.
“You got the decorating gene, I got the electrical one.”
And it’s true. Leslie can talk fabric swatches, discuss textures. I once broke down in tears at Bed Bath & Beyond, standing amidst a collection of drapery panels.
“I can’t do this,” I sobbed into my cell phone to Leslie who was trying to talk me down.
“Just get green.”
“Which green? Silk or canvas? With grommet ringy things or clips? And what the fuck is the deal with tie-backs?” My breathing hastened as I fell against a display.
I ended leaving empty handed. But a few days later, a few days after the shantung induced meltdown, Leslie walked me through my options online at Pottery Barn. The next week, the drapes arrived. I pulled out my step ladder and electric screwdriver, hung my new rod and attached the panels. Not a single tear was shed. For the first time in my life, I did something decoraty and didn’t implode. Empowered, I tore out the hideously outdated glass sliders on the tub and replaced it with a new curtain. I also purchased a new painting for above the toilet and laid out a new ivory loop rug on the tile floor.
A month or so later, when my mother stopped by to drop something off, she complimented the new drapes and then mentioned my bathroom and how the old green towels didn’t match the green striping in the new curtain.
“You should buy blue towels,” she suggested.
“Uh-uh,” I quickly answered, my throat tightening and my armpits suddenly feeling damp.
“It will go better. And then you can paint a wall in your bedroom blue, the one where your bed is. It’ll pick up the hints of blue in the area rug. Of course, then you’ll need some throw pillows. But we can find those at Home Goods. The first thing is to tackle those towels. Come on, we can go to Bloomingdales!” Her voice was cheery and excited, as if shopping for towels was on par with winning the lottery or eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s for dinner.
My mother looked at me, read the panic plastered across my pale face.
“Or not. The green looks fine. Want to go to Best Buy instead, shop for a new laptop?”
Suddenly a rosy glow returned to my cheeks.
“And afterward,” she continued, “you can come by the house and fix the DVD player. There’s no volume whenever dad puts a disc in.”
“Is the audio cable still plugged in? Does the volume work at all? Is there even static?” I asked.
My mom’s face glazed over. “I have no idea what you’re talking about but I’m sure you’ll figure it all out.”