Building - Memoir by Pat West

December 1986


Winter came back today- got an inside/outside thermometer- 85 degrees by the stove and 33 degrees and raining outside. I’ll just spend the rest of my life next to the stove.


State written test is Thursday. Haven’t begun to study- I’m clenching my teeth again. Will have to sleep with a football mouth guard again.


Midnight, and I just finished my shelf for firewood and books. Today is Robin’s birthday (15). I worry much about this middle child of mine. He is not a happy person. I think it’s my fault. I want him down here with me but know he doesn’t want to stay in a house without private rooms with Tyree, Valen and me.

Wish I could get him away from that always on TV up the hill. The anger and hurt I see in his face breaks my heart and I don’t know what to do.


Sonny called this morning asking if the ground was frozen enough to bring the wood- it was- he did- it’s beautiful. He brought me dried maple wood for the inside walls. A new wood for me to work with. Boards for the underside are a half-inch thick and up to 12 inches wide. Put up part of one wall before I went to get a perm and take the State Shock/Trauma test- got a 92 or 93.


The girls are having a PJ party here tonight. I filled wall cracks while they did 13-year old girl things.


My daughters and their friends giggled and giggled here last night. Tonight I went to a rehearsal with my friends and laughed and laughed.


I took the kids to see a play. On the drive back home, Robin suddenly began accusing me of leaving him. He sees himself as road kill left by my getaway car. We talked, both of us crying by then and he trying to keep the car on the road too. I’m glad it happened. It needed to happen. Robin’s pain is my open wound. But I’m upset too. Why does Robin think it’s all my fault? Does he think I should stay with a man who has to crawl to get up the stairs for another drink? The talking helped. We will have to talk a lot more for us both to get through what’s ahead.


The rain sounds good on the tin roof- should be easy sleeping tonight.

Spent time picking out slides of my work for Wednesday when I go to the high school. This is so they can see what a professional artist’s work looks like. It’s always a jolt seeing my pathetic, very early work. Would have rolled around in sloppy joy back then if I could have caught just a glimpse of what I can do today. But now it is not good enough and the better I get, the harder it is to keep getting better. Think it should be easier .


It rained all day.


Spent all day at the high school playing a visiting artist. I showed the kids my stuff and they showed me their stuff. I must have done OK because my own kids were happy to be seen with me. I’m tired- wouldn’t want to teach- how could you have any energy left for your own work if you did your job well and gave away everything you had every day?

The heavy black clouds parted briefly when the sun was just starting to slide behind the cliffs. For one long moment everything was bathed in a rare orange light.


Rained all day.


I got an angry call from husband that someone had dared to call him with the news that my horses were out. I knew they were out- I had not seen them in days. Most mornings they watch me sleep and call to me every time I turn over to get up and have our three-person race to the horse shed for their morning corn. I spent two hours getting them back and patching my rotten fence. My old mare sure is lame- she couldn’t have hauled firewood logs with that left hind foot. I can feel the heat above her hoof and see where the pus is breaking through the skin- will have to lance it, clean it, and start giving her antibiotic shots. Got wet, cold, numb.


I woke up sick-half of my throat is swollen. My left arm feels like someone beat me up. I lay about most of the day worrying about running out of firewood- no hay for horses- no wood on underside- Robin becoming more sullen and starting to act like his father- my maple wall wood is now waterlogged and frozen together. It’s 20 degrees outside and 93 degrees in the sun. I napped in the sun and had fever dreams of being unable to find my house- children-cats-horses-dogs-hammer-paintbrushes and wallet.


Lost my notebook so I couldn’t write for days. Haven’t touched my paints- doing what I most want to which is putting up the interior wall boards (and eating-stopped smoking again Sunday). I learned on the first wall that they shrink a lot. They are aged boards but have lived outside in the rain so are swollen up. Some even have ice on them. I know I should neatly stack them by the stove to dry all winter but I just can’t. Will do as always- rush in where even a fool wouldn’t and pay with long hours of trying to fix it later. If it doesn’t rain tomorrow (how can I even write that- it’s already raining with the forecast for snow by tomorrow) I can have all the boards up in the lower room.

My walls sing a snap and pop song as they dry. The big moon has run by my windows these last few nights. I wake a lot at night and spot the time by what window the moon sits in.


It was raining this morning- trying to work the wood walls would be too crazy, even for me. Worked on a painting all day.


Another day of nailing boards up-finished the lower room- wanted to finish Valen’s shelves for her too. I almost did but had to stop when I saw what a very bad job I was doing. Pushed myself to far too fast again.

Took the girls to town for Christmas shopping- put the tree up at the big house. The girls want a tree down here- I fight against it. I don’t like dead trees in my house and I don’t like Christmas. It’s always a big drunk for husband and I never have enough money for great gifts. It’s a time of year for everyone to want. Thank god my mother always sends a big box.

Cunninghame told me all about his sex life. I gave him new books and the same old talk. It sounds like he is having a better time than I am- but, of course, sex is pretty much all he thinks about.


Hammered up wall-boards all day. Sometimes when I went to my wood stack for another board I would think I had enough to do it all-next trip I’d decide I didn’t. Tomorrow I should know.

The big red wasps never give up. I think I kill the same one over and over.


Herb was drunk all day. He was lurching around, falling into things when I was up doing my wash. Then he came careening down the hill after me, stumbled through my door and passed out on my bed. I was stuck with his 6’4’’ stinking self on my bed. I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand him. Went into town to see a friend about doing a witch’s spell to keep Herb away from my home. As it is, the whole house will need smudging.


It seems I have just enough nice boards to finish the inside walls. I must run on luck, cause it’s sure not smarts. I have lots of left over short ends to use under and over the window walls. It looks so different with the walls up. I miss the soft feeling of living inside a big gut- miss the drawings the kids made all over the paper. The boards still call out to each other all night as they dry.

Tyree, Valen and I went under and did ¼ of the underside. What hard work. I hate overhead work- couldn’t do it without the girls help holding up the boards for me. We were cold and worn out by the time we quit. I was going to move my bed to get ready for starting the high walls but fell asleep in the sun.

We must have trapped mice in the floor. Along with the wood song I can hear chewing. Will have to help them get out tomorrow.


I went to work on the underside again. Tyree and Valen came out to help at 10:30. They have become used to sleeping while I hammer. We worked until 4 pm. A real winter day- white sky, frozen ground all morning and mud all afternoon. We got more than half done. Most of what’s left is so low to the ground I will have to lie on my back- no room for anyone to hold boards for me but I think I can hold them up with my knees. The girls worked well- I paid them.

The radio says up to two inches of rain tonight with flooding.


Sheets of rain all day- water, water everywhere. The horses are dark shapes standing by the back door. Why aren’t they down in their nice dry horse shed? I wish they would go away. I fear a misstep in all this mud might send them sliding under my house and that would truly be a nightmare.

A meager Christmas Eve for the kids. Now I wish I had spent some of my money on them and not on boards. But there is no going back for me now and I can’t get something for nothing. It’s too bad they are the ones to pay.

Sleeping Loft by Pat West


Got the poor unloved bird into the oven by 9. Cleaned up husband’s house. John and Jerry from the Drama Department, were out for dinner. Jerry told me he had based a character in his new play on me. I know what kind of plays Jerry writes, so am not sure I like that very much.

I saw myself sideways in a mirror at husband’s house (I don’t have any). Must stop replacing cigarettes with food.

The river is way high. It’s well up into the spring- so the ram pump won’t work. I don’t want that nasty brown river water anyway.


My back hurts from bending up and down- measuring, cutting, nailing small wall-boards. One more day should do it.

My neighbor Edsall told me a state trooper was asking him if I did dope- if I was living in my studio. I hate hearing that crap. How can they prove I live here? It’s hard to believe they might put a stakeout here at the end of the road. Ugh.


Finished putting the inside wood up.


The horses won’t let me sleep late- every time I turn over they prick up their ears, press their noses against the glass and yell at me. When I get up they start their pre-run warm-ups. As soon as I open the door we all start down the hill as fast as our respective legs will go. If the ground is hard, there is no trouble- they beat me and I just have to shove past them to the grain door. But if the mud is bad, then god help us all- they slide into me, catch me between them, and we go down the hill like three bad skiers tied together. I’ve tried fake starts and other ruses- but no- they must have us all go down together. What a way to start the day. No wonder my next stop is usually the shithole. I need a fence.

The girls and I went under the house to work. It’s strange to be back where I had almost lived last summer. Back where I sat on the old swing, planning, dreaming, waiting- mostly waiting- for Mike, wood, money, freedom, and the moon to fall into my pocket.

Arthur came after lunch to help hammer upside down. The four of us made lots of jokes about being in hell. We’ve got about 1/10 left to do.

I’m really tired- will read a garden catalog and dream of spring.


Put the rest of the underside boards up today. Lying with my back pressed against the frozen ground, taking short upside down hammer swings at nails that are twice as likely to fall back in my face as to tap in smoothly, is a good place for taking stock of things: 1.) When am I going to formally separate from herb? Or will this even be my choice: He could sober up for a moment and divorce me for desertion. 2.) What do I do for Robin? Hasband even has him fixing his drinks now. If I start pulling hard at Robin, I’m likely to pull him apart. In my bad dreams- the ones where I have to run for my life- I always have the four kids with me. I never get us all out alive. 3.) Money- how do I make a living? My last paying job was waiting tables while Herb got his Phd. 20 years ago. I am too easily overwhelmed, made almost catatonic, totally unable to make a frontal assault. So I guess I’ll keep chipping away at props till everything comes tumbling down around my ears and my hand is forced.


Met Arthur in Newport to load up 50 bales of hay for the horses- $75. It’s one thing less to worry about.

Arthur helped put my new outside tub up on rocks. We put it up high enough to allow room for a big fire under it.

I’m ready for the kids to be back in school now.

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