When I was a kid, I had Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever. It lived at my grandparents’ house, because that’s where I spent most of my time, and I kept it for years, but along with Norman Rockwell’s Christmas Book (another big time favorite that lived at my grandparents’ house), it was trashed by my kid brother in his toddler days. I wish I still had both of those to share with my son or even just to look at with fond nostalgia, but c’est la vie. Anyway, one of Richard Scarry’s classic children’s book characters was Mr. Fixit Fox.
He drove a tow truck and was a generalized handyman/plumber/electrician/carpenter/mechanic. The schtick was he could fix anything, but his repairs always ended up sort of still broken. Like…the car that wouldn’t run would run now, but only backwards or something. He was one of my favorite characters to read about as a young girl. I think I liked how he was totally undaunted by whatever was broken, and no matter how broken it was, he always tried to fix it and always at least sort of succeeded.
Now, I’m married to J. And J fixes things.
I’ve written about this before…how J works on cars and when something breaks he’s calm and confident and capable and he just makes a plan and works it out. And I’ve written about how I love this (I super really do).
But maybe I’ve never really written about how serious J is about fixing broken things.
No matter how broken the thing is, J’s first thought is always, ‘I can fix it.’
Usually that’s very comforting and admirable. (I love it. I super really do. It means he’s not going to ever give up on me or The Boy or our family or our marriage because some little thing broke…or maybe even because some big thing broke…at least not without a lot of time and effort and work put into it). But sometimes, J will pour a lot of time and effort into something that yes…he CAN fix…because he can fix almost anything…seriously…but will just keep on breaking. He’ll work hard on something that really is on its last leg and it should probably just be let go. He has a hard time sometimes accepting letting something go instead of fixing it. And he has a REALLY hard time sometimes accepting something he just can’t fix.
So here’s a little situation we’ve been dealing with for the past 8 weeks together, and how it’s a metaphor for something much grander and more serious, and how it’s made us a bit emotional this week.
In early November, our washing machine broke.
J said, ‘I can fix it.’ And he did. It was difficult, meticulous work. He took circuit boards and sensors apart. He soldered tiny things together. He tested and re-tested. And after about a week of working for an hour to a couple hours a day, he got it working. Our 12 year old washing machine.
And it worked fine for a couple of weeks when another part broke. A more central part. A more expensive part. And J’s first thought was still, ‘I can fix it.’ And I have no doubts that he could have. But I asked him to not give up any more of the time The Boy and I get to spend with him fixing something that could just break again in another couple of weeks in another place. By the time we were finished replacing parts, not to mention J’s time and labor, we’d have overtaken the cost of a new machine that would come with a guarantee not to break for at least a year. J still debated about whether or not to fix it. He took the washer totally apart and researched things. It was REALLY broken the second time. A couple hundred dollars in parts. And J said then, with kind of teary eyes, ‘I can’t fix everything.’
He obviously wasn’t upset about the washing machine.
See, earlier this year, we had to let go of our dog. She was almost 16 years old with failing kidneys (which we were managing with a diet) and aching bones (which we were managing with rest and physical assistance) and she’d had a neurological event that required a heartbreaking trip to the after hours emergency vet. J didn’t want to let go.
J’s past of living in poverty meant his family did without things they needed and they did without comfort often, and he’s worked very hard to create a life for us as his own family where we never have to do without things we need and even the comforts we want. His thoughts were, ‘I can pay for all the treatment she needs; she’ll be fixed.’
And he did. He paid for x-rays. He paid for tests. He paid for medicine. And we took her home. Only to have to go back a few hours later when she got worse instead of improving. And we had to let her go.
When J said, ‘I can’t fix everything,’ he was thinking about our sweet doggo that we are missing quite badly now as we approach our first Christmas without her in 13 years. He wasn’t getting misty-eyed and sentimental about the washing machine. J doesn’t actually communicate verbally in metaphor the way I do, but I get it. For him, the washer was a metaphor for his complicated feelings about our dog.
And I think, when we settled into bed Monday night after having our new appliance delivered and installed, when J said, ‘Thank you for talking me into the new washer,’ maybe he wasn’t really or only talking about the washer either. I think he was also thanking me for helping him let go…of whatever he has trouble letting go of. I hope I do say or do things that make letting go easier for J. Because he makes everything in my life that’s hard for me easier.
(J and I are looking forward to a nice Christmas this year, but we miss our girl. This is a photo of her in front of El Capitan at Yosemite National Park.)