About a week after Shawn died the washing machine broke and the basement shower drain plugged. I had eight people in the house (me, my kids, my dad, my aunt and my two friends Kelly and Paige) and all of the sudden, nothing worked. A plumber eventually fixed the shower, but the washing machine was dead.
Luckily, I figured out that if I just washed everything on “quick wash” I could get the machine to work for about 15 minutes. And so, for the next month, I washed everything on that setting.
This wasn’t the only thing that started to atrophy when Shawn died. It seemed like everything did. I didn’t expect or even hope that I would marry someone who knew how to fix things, as my father wasn’t really a handy guy. So, shortly after we were married, when the garbage disposal broke, I looked up the number for a plumber. When Shawn found out what I was doing, he made me hang up. “I’ll deal with it,” he said, and then proceeded to purchase and install a new disposal. I remember being shocked that regular people could do something so complex. I was really proud of my new husband’s amazing (and sexy!) skill.
I got used to it. Shawn fixed everything in our house and had the tool collection to prove it. He also dealt with the cars, which included everything from filling up the windshield wiper fluid to rescuing me and the kids when we got a flat tire an hour away from our house. This skill even extended to our neighbors. Our friend Chris Murphy wrote this about Shawn in the Congressional Record:
His generosity extended to his friends. Every weekend, I return to Connecticut, and one night, when I was away, the basement of our Washington house flooded. My wife sent out a text to our neighbors asking for advice, and literally, within minutes, Shawn was knocking on our door. Having dealt with a similar problem at their house, Shawn, constantly the oversharer, was eager to dispense all the knowledge he had gained regarding flood remediation. After an exhaustive consultation, he went home and looked up every part and device he recommended my wife buy and sent her a comprehensive email with the links to the websites where she could get the best deal. I imagine most of Shawn’s other friends have similar stories. To his coworkers, his family, and his friends, Shawn was a superman.
So, yes, Shawn fixed things. About a month after he died, I looked around and realized that everything was in a state of disrepair. What a metaphor for my situation – my life, my heart, my house – everything was broken.
And yet life goes on, and three kids generate a lot of laundry. The “quick wash” cycle was not cutting it, and so I went online and bought a cheap, dented washing machine. I certainly didn’t care about the look – I just needed something that would work. It was delivered in a week and I felt very proud of myself for organizing something that definitely would have been outside of my domain just a few months prior.
But of course the delivery guys didn’t unhook the old washing machine nor hook up the new one. I thought hook up would be easy, but about 10 minutes of trying showed me that it was not.
And so – like many times before – I texted my friends. Within a few minutes, two of them had committed their husbands to an evening of washing machine installation. That night, these two guys came over and saved the day. Both of them are lawyers who dabble in home repair, and they spent the evening joking about how they didn’t really know what they were doing. Yet, at the end of the night, I could wash clothes. I was enormously appreciative.
But I still was left with a nagging feeling that I was going to be royally screwed without Shawn. Who the hell was going to save our basement when we had the next hurricane?
A few days later I was getting coffee with a friend in another neighborhood. Afterwards, I realized I didn’t have any gas, so I stopped at the gas station. I got out to clean my windshield and the wiper that’s usually in the bucket was missing. I’m sure someone else was briefly using it, but for some reason, this made me totally lose it. I had to get back in the car because I was crying so hard.
Shawn always filled up the windshield wiper fluid. Since he got sick, I’d just go to gas stations to clean my windshield, or I’d use the Windex on it at home. I know this was a stupid solution, but trying to figure out how the car actually worked was just too much for me. Shawn was supposed to fix it, dammit.
I knew that the windshield wiper fluid went in under the hood, so I tried pulling myself together and popping the hood. But then I couldn’t figure out how to actually open the hood.
This is a car I’ve had for 7 years.
I started to feel really overwhelmed. I knew in the back of my mind that this was insane because we are talking about windshield wiper fluid and the world doesn’t end even if you never have any windshield wiper fluid ever again. But it didn’t matter. In that moment, it was symbolic of everything I couldn’t do, and everything that I needed Shawn to take care of.
I looked around and saw a guy who was clearly trying to do something else and flagged him down. Because I have no filter anymore, I just started telling him everything – how my husband died and I didn’t know how to do anything with my car, and the windshield wiper fluid was gone and I just didn’t know what to do. I’m not sure what this guy expected to hear from customers when he came to work that day, but it sure as hell wasn’t what I was telling him.
He didn’t flinch. “Let me get some wiper fluid for you,” he said, and went back in his shop.
He came out and pulled up the hood. “Here’s where it goes” he said, and dumped in an entire bottle. When he finished, he asked me what else I needed.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I should ask you. What do I need?”
He proceeded to check all my tires and inflate the ones that needed air, and then he looked at the oil in my car. It was low, and he went back and got extra oil. Then he closed the hood and made me open it for him, so I’d know how to do it in the future. He showed me where the oil should come up on the dipstick and how to add the needed oil.
When I tried to pay him, he refused the money, but gave me his card. (It read, “David Pham – owner -DP Auto Service, 4940 Connecticut Ave NW.” I’m putting that there in case you’re in DC, as I want to send as much business his way as I can.) He told me to come back to him when I needed anything, but that he thought I could handle some of it on my own.
I’m not sure I can save our basement if it floods and it’s doubtful if I’ll ever use most of the tools that are now solely mine. I will almost always call a plumber rather than fix a plugged drain myself and I’m likely to ignore many more problems than Shawn ever would. But I do know one thing. I can refill my windshield wiper fluid.
And someday soon, I’m going to learn how to install a garbage disposal. Just like a regular person.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.