By: Tanya Ward Goodman
Today, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, old jeans, and a headlamp, I scaled a cement wall, shimmied under a heating duct, and crawled across rubble. Up until the very moment I did this thing, the thought of doing it made my heart beat a little faster, but once I was under my house, making my way toward the damp spot waaaaay under the far wall, I just felt calm.
Most of my really terrible dreams include some moment when I am trying to inch through a low, enclosed space. In the really scary ones, I usually have to squirm through a tunnel, crawl under a fence, and squeeze through some kind of dark pipe to get where I need to be. In the dream, just beyond the tunnel, my kids are in trouble or my husband is in trouble and I am desperately needed. I hate these dreams. I hate feeling so scared and powerless.
The first time I told my husband I was going under the house to check on the musty smell, he sighed. He thought he should probably do it. A couple of days later, I said it again. I wasn’t trying to be passive aggressive. I was ready to do it. I think I had to psych myself up a bit, though. My husband sighed again.
“It needs to get done,” I said. I was channeling the women of my youth, the kind of moms who could bake a loaf of bread, grow a garden of greens, build an addition on the house, and kill a rattlesnake without batting an eye. In Los Angeles, there is no snow to shovel, no wood to chop and feed to the iron stove and some days I feel antsy.
Under the house, I noticed everything and nothing. I noticed the crinkle-crunch of the silver wrapped heating duct, the cracked clay earth deprived of sunlight for nearly eighty years. I noticed a little green rubber figure of Gumby lying forlorn in the dust. There was rat poop and a clump of greyish fur that might have rubbed off a raccoon. I crawled toward the damp spot on the far wall. I held that spot in the glow of my flashlight and shut out all the dark corners around me. Sure enough the wood was damp to my touch, the pipe calcified from a steady seep of water.
“Yep,” I shouted over my shoulder to my husband. “There’s a leak, all right.”
I backed out, away from the wall and guided by my husband’s voice I ducked my head, carefully squeaked under a pipe and reached my toes down the wall toward the safety of the ladder.
“I wasn’t scared under there,” I said. “Normally, I might have had a panic attack. But I didn’t.”
“Well, I’m glad I didn’t stand in the way of your personal growth,” my husband said.
As I travel through my forties, my path seems to bend toward the uncomfortable, the unfamiliar, and the adventurous. I feel more willing to take on the unknown. Crawling under my house wasn’t quite as thrilling as learning to ski or taking a big horse for a fast spin around an arena, but it wasn’t bad for a slow day.
Of course, now I need to call the plumber.