Picture of a drill to illustrate what DC widow Marjorie is trying to learn about repairing things in her house
Things That Suck

Not My Domain

Shit just keeps breaking.

For real – I cannot keep up with everything that’s broken in my house. The toilet paper dispenser in the downstairs bathroom has been ripped out of the drywall, the handle to the refrigerator is so loose I can barely close it and the back door has a doorknob that routinely falls off. My solution over the past year has been to ignore these problems. To be fair, this was what I did when Shawn was alive. The only difference was that he would actually fix things that were broken. Usually, I didn’t even have to ask.

Shawn was handy. I didn’t grow up with a father who did things like fix the kitchen sink, so I about fell over when, in our first house, the garbage disposal broke and he replaced it himself. It was a quality I didn’t even know I found sexy until that moment. As I’ve documented on this blog, Shawn took care of all sorts of disasters in our house, and I learned to step back and let him handle things.

Because that’s what couples often do – divide and conquer. Had the roles been reversed and Shawn was in my position, God knows he would have had to figure out how to register the kids for their after-school activities and buy them shoes that fit. But the things in the house and the beauty of the grass – those things were not my domain.

Still, taking on all the finances and parenting duties while working full-time has meant that there’s not a lot of room left for me to teach myself how to drill into the bathroom wall and then replace the drywall. I’ve asked for help, and lots of people have been amazing at pitching in – my friends have helped me save my basement and deal with insane contractors next-door and do a million other things. My friend Jason, the oncologist who helped us at NIH, came over multiple times to help me organize my internet and computer and other electronics. I mean, you know you’re in dire straights when you need your oncologist to help you set up the control pad for your air conditioner.

Still, even with all this help, I can’t call someone every single time that there is a problem.

For example, a few weeks ago, my garbage disposal stopped working. My dad and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, so I texted some of my friends. “What am I supposed to do?” I asked them. There were lots of texts back, but someone suggested resetting the garbage disposal. I had no idea how to do that. (I know, I know – this is probably a skill most of the rest of you acquired in your first apartment.). So I called my friend Becky, who is very handy. She talked me through it, and on the phone, I figured it out. “I feel like a champion!” I texted everyone.

The next morning, I woke up and decided I was gonna start figuring out a few things in my house. I went in the backyard and cleared away all the debris from the back drain and then I put down a heavy-duty drain cover so that, hopefully, my basement wouldn’t flood in the future. I got out Shawn’s computer and looked up passwords so I can start using it, since it’s a much better computer. And then I went into the basement to find the speakers he kept down there.

Shawn used those speakers when he worked out, but I prefer headphones. So those awesome Bose speakers have been sitting unused for almost a year. Every morning when Claire and I are getting ready for school, I play music in my bathroom, but we just use my phone for it. It was time to install a new speaker system.

I wiped them clean and brought them upstairs and plugged them in. There were about a hundred wires and Shawn had organized them in a way that made sense to him – but not to me. I unplugged everything I thought wasn’t necessary and began to figure it all out. Claire came in the bathroom and watched me work and offered a few ideas. I tinkered around with it for about 20 minutes, and then somehow, it started blasting my music.

I laughed and then danced around the bathroom. “We have music!” I yelled at Claire as I spun her around. She smiled. “You did it!” she said.

Yes, baby, I did it.


  • Melissa

    When my husband first became ill, he showed me how to check the oil level in my car and I do that once a week and add some if needed. Also, I check the tire pressures and pump them up if they get below the recommended psi. Before this I had no clue about any of it and relied on his expertise. Now, the toilet in the guest bath has been leaking a little water back into the bowl and the flapper needs to be replaced, so I’ll give that a go. I could ask my son-in-law to do it, but only as a last resort. He’s a busy police detective and a great guy, but I don’t want to bother him for things that I probably could handle myself. Plus, it’s nice to have that feeling of accomplishment in doing something that was normally out of my “wheelhouse.”

    • Marjorie

      I’m working on the same thing! I think there’s a sense of defeat that I often feel about “house” stuff, but also a great sense of accomplishment when I figure it out. One squeaky door at a time, I guess. Thanks for reading!

  • Rachel

    I just took out and installed a new thermostat in our house and texted all my sisters the same kind of text! Definitely a satisfying feeling to figure out how to do these things ourselves