Building - Memoir by Pat West

June 1986

A full day. No money. No fame. But for some reason I felt pretty powerful. I loved taking the three younger kids to Roanoke with me. Love the feelings of having them so close- enforced closeness- arms, legs, bodies, heads all packed into the front of the old Ford pickup truck. We talked of being a Daddy Long-legs spider with all your legs pulled off. Valen said there was a dead chicken next to the house- been there for days. Asked her why she hadn’t thrown the body up in the woods, but she claimed a distaste for the dead. I told her to get over her distaste because life is built atop the dead- also told her how I had not wanted to touch dead people when first going out on rescue calls and always contrived to have some bit of sheet in my hands when handling them.

The art show was long and hot. After every show I ask myself why do I come back each year? I say I will win next year- say I will bring Roanoke to its knees.

I’m building again! I have started on the floor. The first difference I find between stone and woodwork is the noise level. The loudest sounds generated by building so far have been my own. Grunts—groans- a few loud pleas for a brain that works. Now there is the sharp sound of hammering- the thumping of the power drill and the loud, complaining whine of the indispensable power saw. I no longer work within a large space, aware of the river, train, and birds. I have toilet paper stuffed in my ears. I am surrounded by the noise my tools make. Instead of the river, I hear the blood moving past my eardrums.

Woodwork began with a compromise between what should be done and what I can do. To start my floors, I need 6 sills put on top of the pillars. Each sill should measure 8 inches by 6 inches by 16 feet and have 3 perfectly sited holes drilled to slide over the pins sticking out of the top of each pillar. A green oak beam that size weighs about 300 pounds. I knew there was no way in hell I could drill all the holes in just the right place, let alone lift the thing off the ground. But I could life four 2 X 6’s to the top of the pillars one at a time, measure, drill, nail, and piece together the sill on top of the pillars. It won’t look as good but it will be just as strong.

Picked 16 feet for size of my rooms because I knew that length board was plentiful at the sawmill but lots of 18 foot boards were scarce.

Mary’s old bathtub makes a good steady sawhorse, but I worry what will happen if I make a miss-cut and try to cut the iron tub too. Dear Dog is getting better. She has licked all the hair off around the holes in her side, but think I can stop giving her a shot every day. No one would ever call this pitiful dog a noble beast. Her wounds even blend right in with her drably spotted coat. Wish Dear Dog could forget her past and be happier but she even sleeps with her teeth clenched.

My pager went off in the middle of the night with a 10-50. Husband yelled at me because it woke him up. If he hadn’t been so afraid of dying from a heart attack, insisting I take a C.P.R. class so I could be there to resuscitate him, I would never have fallen in with the Rescue Squad. The first thing I learned in C.P.R. class was that whether to start or not to start resuscitation was left entirely to my discretion. I never told husband that.

Strange what some people can do with their cars. The man last night had put his in a tree.

Tomorrow is my last day before school is out.


The Day of the Hammer. My arm is sore- my back is burnt. One more day and I should be done with the sills for the upper room. Didn’t even know there would be an upper and lower room till I was making the pillars for the second room and they started getting way too high. I hadn’t given any thought to the uneven slope of the hillside. So had to compensate by making that room 3 feet lower. No bit deal (now). A 3- foot drop will blend better with the lay of the land. Pure luck, not planning. I have never been very good at spotting looming problems. So I often find myself stalled, like a varmint with snout into the wind, seeking direction.

It hurts my arm to hold this pen. God I hope I don’t mess up my arm again!

My floors are going up fast! Started on the joists and spent all day working on them with help from Cunninghame and Robin.

I went by John’s after I dropped the kids at Karate class. I don’t think sex with John is so great. It doesn’t sound like the sex my friends talk about, but this is what I know about sex. There was sex and shame, mostly shame, lying paralyzed under my first lover at 18. – He said if you really love me you will do it and I did it because I really loved him. Then after my first love dropped me, I married husband, my freshman year English Professor. I was sure my first love dropped me because I had done it. I had loved him- let him do it to me and become an unfit wife for a Princeton man. It took many years for me to stop aching for that man- or boy- whatever he was back then. Husband was almost 30 and looking for a virgin wife. Being not too slow a learner in life, but doing poorly in school, I became a virgin again and married him. Husband didn’t get a very good deal either. Sex with Herb seemed only about him, and the Big O waited for many years till my vibrator wandered down from my back to between my legs. Married sex didn’t last very long. By the time the twins were born, it was all gone. Husband said we were beyond sex and I guess I was for years. Till I hit 35 and went nuts- started fucking my friends- John is becoming just a part of my short list of friends joylessly fucked.

Went to see Diane after John and before picking up the kids. It was much more fun to laugh with Diane than to lay with John.

I cleaned house up the hill all morning, then Cunninghame and I worked on my real house till time to cook dinner back up the hill. Valen is mad at me because I WON’T LET HER HAVE A TURN ON STAKEOUT. We have the duck-raping rooster tied to a tree trying to lure the daytime fox that is eating our birds. It killed the “White Turkey of Peace” four days ago. The boys and I take turns watching with the rifle but the fox is smarter in this sort of thing than we are. Valen has a good point- she is the best shot.

Valen’s always had an easy time. I wonder if it has anything to do with being born without labor and into laughter. With Cunninghame I knew nothing about what was happening to my body. My only memory of his birth is screaming at the doctor that I couldn’t take another pain- then the pain coming as a rubber mask was clamped on my face. Next thing I knew, a nurse was holding up this little diapered baby and telling me what a fine big boy I had. I went back to sleep. A year and a half later, I was back in the hospital to have Robin. Having decided there was no way it could be any worse, I was determined to be awake for it and had read all the birth books. When he was almost born and I had been in control for 12 hours, they tied me down. Neither my rage or tears would make them loosen the straps and Robin was born with me in shackles. Twenty months later was a different story. Labor came on hard and I was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Unloading me at the door, they forgot to keep saying, “don’t push.” I pushed. The ER Doc scrambled to catch Tyree. I sat up to see if I had a girl. The young Doc yelled, “Jesus Christ, there’s another one coming!” I fell back on the cot with that news- the Doc tossed Tyree on my tummy and Valen slithered out of me. Everyone began to laugh at her wide-eyed look of astonishment.

6/6When I went down the hill to work, the electricity was out. Gone- dried up- not a volt to be had. I have only a vague idea of what electricity really is. But my power tools need it to live; it is their blood. The thought of cutting lots of oak boards with a handsaw made me ill. Remembered what I had to do to get the damn temporary power hooked up. I stupidly thought I could build my own house on my own land with my own money without anyone knowing, caring or telling me how to do it. I was very taken aback when I tried getting temporary power hooked up. I was told that the building inspector would have to pass on my hookup. Was told he should have passed on my footer holes, was told he should have passed on everything I had done. Was told I was in big trouble with no building permit.

Schematic: Deck

Full of anger and fear I marched into the building inspector’s office. Lucky again. Walter, the building inspector, was a nice old guy, nearing retirement. He didn’t seem overly upset that I’d started without him. He did charge me $23 for a building permit (studio). Next day Walter came out to inspect me and was still not very upset with me, even after pointing out a few poorly done sill pins by ripping them off the pillar tops. He asked how deep my footer holes were. I saw 18 inches or bedrock, whatever came first. He said, “Can’t go deeper than that bedrock,” and went on to tell me about his farm and the band he played banjo in. I didn’t interrupt him to say sometimes my bedrock lay just a few inches under the ground. He said that what I’d built was a bit of a mess, but passed it for my studio permit. Walter’s parting advice was to learn “builder words” if he was going to help me. Said no one would know what I was talking about jumping up and down, waving my hands, saying “you know that part that holds the other part up!”

Cunninghame and I worked in the hot sun in foul tempers trying to find out why the power was out. It could mean I have to run another line. More money, more time. I don’t have very much of either. Rain came anyway, so building was a wash for this day.

Well, well. Husband has just asked me what I’m writing, what I’ve been writing every night lying here in bed. I tell him I’m keeping a diary. “Ha!” he snorts. Ha indeed.

Down the hill in the morning and still no power. Did I really think it would fix itself? Think that it had all been a mistake, that I was such a good person in need that the powers that be would have returned my power? Called the power company for help. Thought I would go nuts for not being able to build.

John and Arthur were out. I sure hope John hasn’t told Arthur that we have been sleeping together-shit- I know he’s told him. John wouldn’t pass up saying anything that made him look even more manly. I picked wrong (nothing new there). I should dump John, the short-no chest hair- I’ve written a novel but nobody gets to see it-manly man, and take Arthur, the tall- skinny- shy- receding hair and acne scarred poet, to bed. But Arthur is married.

Power man came and fixed the power and I was able to work some between rainstorms. Tomorrow I start putting insulation between the joists and black paper over everything on the upper room; then the floorboards!

My skin is full of little pieces of insulation.

All day spent working the insulation into the spaces between the joists. A hard, dull job. I kept thinking I would fall, walking back and forth on two-inch boards with my arms full of insulation, and almost did a few times. Funny, I had no trouble when my mind was not on what I was doing, but if I thought of how easily a tiny misstep could cause a very bad fall, I became unsteady.

John helped me put the black paper over the whole mess. We didn’t do a very pretty job. Wonder how much longer it would have taken to do a good job? No matter- like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, I had no time. Anyway, I’ll start covering it up tomorrow with floorboards.

This evening I went to a birthday party for Mary. Diane, Elizabeth, Ann, Susan, Chris, Mary, Maureen and me. This is my church. I am preached at- invited to testify- taught moral lessons- asked to give- recharged- shored up and made whole. Again and again. Every time I go into my company of women. Tonight was no different. I came weak and needy. I left walking lighter, thinking better, feeling stronger, taller and whole.

When I started laying out 1 X 6 boards for the floor top, I thought I’d be able to do the room in a day. A few hours later, I hoped to get half done. Didn’t even get that done. The boards twist, curve and won’t meet well. They are too short to make it across the floor diagonally. Each board must be cut to meet on the middle of a joist.

I measure poorly. I cut poorly. My nails miss the joists. It’s a bad feeling when the nail goes in too easily and I know I missed again. I bang another nail in and the mess is there for me and all the world to see. The whole feel of the house space is different now. I was able to walk as I pleased among my pillars, but now with half the floor up some ways are blocked to me (unless I want to crawl.) The dogs love it and have moved into the shade. I like having shelter too.

Diane asked me last night what I wanted on my ship when it came in. A cook, of course. I’m burned out on years of cooking- thinking about cooking- shopping for cooking- cleaning up from cooking. Meals are hard now because I can’t stand the sound of husband chewing. Goddammit, I’ve spent too much of my life a coward, a feckless cheerleader for anything that might rid me of him.

The upper room floor is done! Sometimes today I thought I wouldn’t make it through alive. Cunninghame helped we worked all day with time out for one rainstorm. Cover up everything with plastic- uncover everything- go back to work. Went up the hill to cook for 6 at 7. Where is my cook?

Going to have a lot of cracks between the boards in the floor- will have to do something about them- later- much later- must have a space to be before the winter traps me in that up the hill house with husband. I do wish I could slow down and try doing a better job. Haste, energy, and power may work out well in some of my paintings, but not in carpentry. I lie in bed now with a heating pad on my back. The girls are painting my toenails each a different color. Robin has taken care of feeding Fred Frog and the newts some worms.

When my kids have bad dreams, I tell them to draw a picture of it, and then put the picture under my mattress and I will tame their dream. Today I saw two things die. They were small deaths. Insufficient really. Just some of life’s bit players passing through. But their writhing silhouettes are rearing, bucking, stuck behind my eyes. Maybe writing about it will keep it out of my dreams.

It was mid-morning. I’m checking the mailbox before going to get some nails. No mail in the box yet, but I can hear the mail-truck coming down the road. Smiling at my good timing, I look up the road and spot a black snake starting across it. This snake is huge. Crawling- churning, however snakes move, this granddaddy of all black racers is moving fast. The mail truck rounds the bend. Big old black snakes’ timing is bad. He is caught stretched full across the road. All four tires go thumping over him. The postman hands me the mail and stops to chat. I don’t hear him. I’m staring at Snake, who is having convulsions. His thick body is making sine curves in the air, tying himself in knots. The postman goes down to the end of the road to turn around. Snake incredibly gets himself straightened out and tries to finish crossing the road, slower this time. Too slow. The mail truck comes roaring back up the road and runs over Snake again. Snake starts his awful lashing dance again. I can hardly walk back up to the house. A little later I drive past the mailbox on my way to get nails. No Snake.

I get about halfway to town when I see a small black cat start to dash across the highway. It makes it over the two eastbound lanes but is hit hard by the car ahead of me. The impact sends the cat spinning high in the air to land in front of me. Cat tries to get up. Its eyes are wild, jaw slack, back broken. It is a horrible black shape clawing at the air. I do the wrong thing and swerve to miss it. Coming back with my nails, Cat is a gray pelt mashed into the asphalt.

Started two big jobs today. One is thrilling but will cost lots of money. The other is dull, costing mostly just blisters and time. My roof and the power line ditch

I want an old-fashioned standing seam metal roof, like the ones I see on old houses and barns. Have always thought them the loveliest of roofs and I’d watched people’s eyes while they spoke of falling asleep to the wonderful sounds of rain on a tin roof. I want to hear the rain. I want that beautiful old timey roof. It is the one job I can’t do myself. It takes a crew to raise a roof and a man with all the old tools and skills for doing the metal part. It took me a lot of looking to find someone who could do it. Today Mike gave me his estimate. I will get the roof I want. It will take most of my money, but I can do it. I like Mike. He had husband for a professor years ago and thought him the worst teacher he ever had. I like that the only person I will hire also hates husband. Mike left me with a parts list for the roof and a vague date for putting it up.

Then there is the power line ditch. My friendly building inspector Walter had told me that before power could be hooked up to the studio (house) and I could get rid of the umbilical cord that drags behind my tools, a power line ditch must be dug. It must be 18 inches deep and run all the way to the far pole. It will be digging uphill through dry, very rocky dirt. Lots and lots of rocks and the pole is a long, long way away.

Robin is the first to meander into my trap. I give him the big pick, a pair of gloves, point out the distant pole, pat him on the back and give him a big push.

Had to drag my tall, blond firstborn down to start making the sills for the lower room. I started the day pissed off and poor Cunninghame just wanted to be back up the hill in bed. The day got hot fast. Cunninghame and I were stung over and over by sweat bees. We took our misery out on each other by yelling old sins back and forth. He even dredged up the fact that we would still have an iguana and he would be four feet long by now if I hadn’t taken him out for a walk and lost him. The day was so hot my metal square got too hot to hold. It burned my hand- stopped using it. Lost my pencil- marked with spit and tried to cut before it dried. Gave myself up to madness.

The mail brought a note from Nancy saying she couldn’t make a payment on the painting this month.

Husband and Arthur did mushrooms. Husband started drinking when he started to come down. I hope the loud music will not go on all night. I hope he will pass out soon, but if he goes true to form, pass out time will be about first light. I can follow his decline by what records he plays. When I hear Captain Beefheart, the end is near. So is dawn. Birds will proudly be hailing the day when he goes down for the count.

I will never forget tonight’s dinner. I was trying to make a dent in the seasonal glut of chicken output. I was cooking eggs sunny side up. Had a black pan full of white flesh, topped with 21 bright dancing yellow tits. Hadn’t broken a yolk yet and had room for just one more egg. I cracked an egg full of stinking green slime into my pan. It must have been laid last year. Gave the mess to the delighted pack of dogs. Went back to cracking eggs into the scoured fry pan. Broke half the yolks. Didn’t care anymore.

The fucking music is so loud downstairs the floors are shaking.

The only Friday the 13th in 1986 and my black cat cris-crossed my path. I hoped it might have brought a better day.

I need money.

Fuck this day too. I worked on the sills alone, slowly. Almost timidly. Every board felt rough and swollen and heavy like me. My power tools snapped and bit at the air, wanting to hurt me. I moved without grace, fumbled things, dropped things, lost things.

Husband slept all day, only got up to eat dinner. The bedroom door slams open, he lumbers out, and the whole house changes, darkens. I can smell the stale sherry on his breath from across the room. He gives the twins a heavy-lidded stare, hushing them.

If I’d known about alcoholism and tried to help him 20 years ago instead of slowly backing away, would we have a happy family now? I don’t think so. It’s the way he is with my children that has turned my indifference to hate. Like the flossing. He decided since the kids were getting cavities, they weren’t flossing right. So by god he would floss their teeth for them. He was probably right about them not doing a good job of it and this could have been a cheerful time spent with each child. But He went about it in his usual loud, rough and angry way. Every night it was the Flossing From Hell. Cunninghame sometimes tried to stand up to him, but was hopelessly outmatched. Robin never tried. Husband could go all day without remembering he had daughters until flossing time. They had the eyes of trapped wild animals when yelled into the bathroom to have their mouths jerked about.

Forgot to write last night. Saturday was my turn to work for Bingo for the Rescue Squad. I took three younger kids with me. Cunninghame has pretty much outgrown going places with his mom. Robin is still overfeeding the toad that hangs out by the backdoor. What if the toad pops? What if I move down the hill and Robin pops? Concern for my 2nd son has been my main excuse for staying married so long. He has his father’s darkness, but in Robin, it’s turned inward. The girls I don’t worry about. I couldn’t lose them if I tried.

Maybe a clue to why I’m so gloomy. No chance to masturbate with kids around all the time. Maybe I should take the right tool down to my house. Weatherman said no rain in sight so it rained all day.

Dropped by the sawmill to give Sonny the list of wood I needed for the roof, but he wasn’t there. “Left early this morning- driving his wife down to a hospital in North Carolina. Some new kind of treatment for brain tumors- might make it grow slower,” Sonny’s mother told me. The poor old woman was all worked up. Not so much worried about her dying daughter- in – law as she was about not getting a good day’s work out of the sawmill crew. While she added up my bill, filled me in about Sonny, fretted about dinner for the three grand-kids, she kept darting to the office door, flinging it open and craning her neck out, looking for loafers. My wood will cost $350. Sonny’s wife will die. Dinner will be picked up at Burger Princess and you can’t get good help anymore.

Went to the old Pembroke School to beg again for the old windows that are being replaced. I go beg there all the time- will wear them down till I finally find the person in charge- what buck-passing!

Better start keeping money record.

Cement and sand $150
Copper $100
Rocks ruined back
Insulation $80
Floor wood $700
Power stuff $350
Roof wood $350

Hammered and sawed this afternoon in a sea of sweat and sweat bees.

Every day before dinner, I grab the hose and hastily water my potted plants summering on the front porch. This evening I was deep in thought, impatiently moving the water stream from plant to plant and all the while, Tyree was just nattering away at me from her window about some nonsense. I raised up the hose nozzle and sprayed Tyree right through her window screen. She disappeared without a squawk. I looked down at my hose nozzle and wanted to squirt almost everyone I knew. I’m sure mankind’s first tool was a weapon. I’m sure too there was no lag time between picking up the first weapon and wanting to smite the world.

Pretty good day but seemed to have to beat on myself to keep working. Felt so slow and heavy. Wonder if it’s being on the rag, too many cigarettes or what? Did get a lot done anyway. 7 hours. Lower room joists are almost ready- just one more day of blocking and such- then onto the insulation-black paper- and floorboards.

Also dumped the little orphan skunks back into the cold, cruel world. Can’t keep a skunk in a dirt floor pen very long anyway. Got them into a cage and loaded it onto the pickup without smelly mishaps. Under cover of darkness, we drove them to a nice place. If we let them loose again here, they would eat our birds. On the drive back, the kids and I discussed whether what we had just done could be called littering. They don’t see past the saving of the cute babies and the protecting of our chickens. I know that probably one or two of the skunks will waddle in front of a car, spray a dog, kill someone else’s chicken. We littered.

A day of measuring, sawing and nailing in floor blocking boards to brace the joists. It’s really wonderful what one person can get done just plodding along. That’s me- the Queen of the Plod. Hope to be ready for laying floor tomorrow.

Longest working day yet. One more day and I should be done with the floors. Bless Tyree-she came down to help when I was getting ready to start the insulation. She measured, cut, and handed me the fiberglass. I didn’t have to walk the joists with every piece. Cunninghame helped put the black paper down over the lot. I wonder what the kids think is going on with all my crazed building. I’m always careful to speak of my house as my studio around husband, kids, building inspector and most others. The only people that I confide in, that hear my wails and fears, are a few women friends.

Went to beg for the old school windows again and I finally found the boss. The head architect was there this afternoon and I cornered him, asked for some windows. “Windows- you want the old windows? Sure, haul away any you want.” Hurray! The ones I want are stored in the old gym. Big old windows with eight panes of old glass.

Another rushing day- went on Rescue call at 8. It was just to pick up DOA. A skinny, worn out looking old man who had been dead a day. Glancing around his filthy trailer I could see that probably no one had cared about him or would miss him much. I’ll probably forget him fast too, but not the dinner he hadn’t lived long enough to eat. A paper plate with shrunken hot-dogs floating in congealed chili, topped with a generous dollop of bright yellow mustard. I hope never to see that shade of yellow again.

Tyree helped me lay floor till I walked up to Basil’s house to borrow his big truck and went to collect my free windows. They are much heavier than I thought but so fine with wonderful old wavy glass. When you look through the glass everything breaks up into brush strokes. I’ll build walls of these windows and everywhere I look will be a painting.

Went out to dinner with Diane, Mary, and our kids. Spent too much money but kids do need to eat out sometimes and I do need not to cook every fucking night. Robin and Cunninghame are at a party. Husband left for Beckley to drink with Gordon Porterfield. I have the bedroom to myself for tonight. The thought of a whole house without him makes me smiles so big my face can’t hold it.

Full day- finished the floors by noon today. Hung the old porch swing under the house in my cool new shade. Then walked to the river with Robin. First time in the river this year for me. It was lovely but the peace took my strength. I fell asleep in the mud and was late picking the girls up at the pool. They were mad at me. Said they had told me and told me that they needed at least an hour and a half to get their hair ready for the partly I was to drive them to later.

Husband been gone for two days. It’s been great- well, not “gone,” but I haven’t seen him when I’ve been up at the house. He never comes down the hill even to go to the river. Full moon tonight- summer- solstice- god, how could I have forgotten- Tyree took a misstep and fell through the black paper this morning. She scared us both but wasn’t hurt very much. My kids don’t like it that I don’t care about their little cuts and scrapes, but they haven’t seen what I have in all the years of running Rescue calls. Kids tell me their bones would have to be sticking out of their skin before I would get them a bandage.

After I finish writing these notes will read my How To Build A House book and find out how to make walls.

Every day seems completely filled up. Built stairs between the two floors today. Think they are pretty lovely, for first stairs. Wonder if they will be like my art and look worse and worse as the days go by? I used boards cut from a walnut tree my father had felled on a near hill. Thought of him while I worked the wood and told him so when he called tonight.

There’s not more than a day’s work left for me to do before Mike comes to do the roof. I’m restless not going at full tilt- can’t sit down. I’m very tired of bleeding. So tired of pads and plugs that I just bleed in my shorts. Maybe if there’s nothing to catch the blood, it will give up.

I haven’t seen Goldie and Bo in a few days- most likely the fence at the top of the land is down again. Someone will call me soon to come and get my horses. Shit- that fence is always going down. Where is the time to build good fence and what’s the use? Half the fence line is in deep woods- falling trees are always crushing it. If I don’t see the horses tomorrow, will have to see if they’re OK. Always knew to search downhill when my old blind cat was lost. But every time I chase horses, it’s always uphill.

Tired- a day driving kids here, waiting, then driving them there. Waiting time is hard time for me. Took Tyree and Valen to the orthodontist, drove back home, later drove everyone back into town for karate class.

On the drive back home the car in front of us lost control and flipped twice. I parked my car in the safest place I could, charged Cunninghame with making sure no one got out of the car, told Tyree to stop crying and ran back to the 10-50. A very tall man was pulling himself out of the upside down VW Bug’s window. He seemed OK. But he kept crawling back into his tiny car like he was looking for something, maybe something he didn’t want the cops to find. I could hear the ambulance coming and I did what I had been taught never to do. It had been drilled into us in class that we did not have to stop, but if we did stop we could not leave until the ambulance crew had taken charge. I didn’t wait. I walked back to my car and left.

Guess I sort of moved in (out) today: took my vibrator down to my house. Cleaned up around and put cement in some top holes. The only thing left to do (except for the hundred mile power ditch) is start digging holes for the deck pillars. It all seemed too much for me so I just napped in my swing under the house. I felt this was already my home but I had dreams of winter and all peace blew away. Mike must come soon.

Deck, painting by Pat West

Robin helped me dig a footer hole for a deck pillar. Probably good that my energy is low; there’s not much to do except wait for Mike. I want so badly to be working on walls.

John and Arthur were out again. I don’t deceive myself about the main reason they drive out here so often. I let them smoke all the homegrown pot they want. Both give a lot of attention to my kids, endearing themselves to me forever. They also spend a lot of time with husband. They think he’s a cool guy. John and Arthur are young, little more than half his age. When I was 19, I thought Herb was pretty wonderful too. It was romantic to be courted by an older man, a tall handsome professor who knew how to party. We were in a college play together. After rehearsals we would go outside, lie down on the cool grass, link arms and roll together down the hill.

Dug 2 more footer holes before Susan showed up to learn how to mix cement, set rocks, make stone pillars. She’s an old peace corps. Volunteer and I guess it’s still in her blood, cause she wants to have a part in building my house. We were going to build the deck pillars together. To my great chagrin, we weren’t able to raise a stone column more than 3 feet before the cement would start to crumble, a stone would slip to one side and it all would come tumbling down. Mix more cement, find better rocks, start it up again and it would all fall down again. Susan thought it must be her fault, but it was me. I had not only lost my good touch with stone, I had lost all touch. We left one lumpy mess at 2 feet and went to the river.

Saw the horses going down to water so they are all right. Don’t know about the fence.

Was at work on deck pillars with the first light. I took no sass from them today so they gave no fight and went up fast and true. Tried to call Mike but got no answer- Shit. Stretched and primed big canvas so tomorrow I can paint. John was out. He gobbles up too much of my time. I want a new lover. But most of all I want a roof.

Got hold of Mike this morning- he said he would be busy for two more weeks. I wanted to roll around on the floor, pull my hair out and scream. But painted for eight hours instead. The locusts screaming their heads off in the wood give haste to the days and energy to the trees. I hope I’m catching that energy in the paintings. One is of the house waiting for Mike. The other is under the house with swing, wine bottle and gloves. Napped on my swing, then went up to the old house to clean it. I couldn’t make myself do it. So took kids to the river for a long swim. Brought back lots of nice flat river stones. I prowled the river, putting stones in my bathing suit till their weight threatened to keep me at the bottom.

There was one awful underwater moment. I was collecting stones from the edge of the deep part when I thought I saw the head and shoulders of a baby sticking out of the muck down in that gloomy hole. The closer I swam, the more it resembled a dead baby. My heart was racing till I was inches away and saw one blue eye staring up at me from the face of a life-size baby doll.

Evening in my bed. My darling daughters and I have this little game we play. I can hear them starting it up now. They are in their bedroom at the other end of the house, loudly deciding what message will be delivered to my bedside tonight and which twin will carry it. This might take a long time and could come to blows. Soon I will hear one sister set out for my bed and the other one calling out last minute instructions or sniffling or maybe even following at a respectful distance. At the bedroom door my fair- haired messenger will drop to her knees, so her father doesn’t see her and yell at her, crawl to my bedside, and whisper the message to me, so her father doesn’t hear and yell at her. I whisper a message to take back and she scuttles off. They do this crawl-whisper thing even if he is not in the other bed, so I guess it’s just a game to them. But I’m ashamed that I whisper too, that I don’t want him yelling at me, that I am scared of him too. How can Tyree and Valen become strong women when they are raised by a weak and cowardly mother?

I’m getting up earlier and earlier. I need more time in my days and the only place to take it from is sleep. Once I’m up it’s OK; it’s just the getting out of bed. It’s like a dry birth every morning.

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