Shavin: Husband obsessed by house-building is a beautiful thing

Shavin: Husband obsessed by house-building is a beautiful thing

March 19th, 2017 by Dana Shavin in Life Entertainment

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

We were watching TV. I thought it was a medication commercial. An older couple moved through the rooms of their sun-drenched home slowly, as if burdened by unspoken pain. What miracle of science, I thought, what wonder drug, could chase away their obvious agony?

Then their doorbell rang, and into their palace of pain stepped an adorable little boy. It was a foster child, we would discover, in need of someone to love him as much as the couple needed someone to love. They ushered him into their gleaming house. Palpable joy ensued. There was much hugging. There was deep eye-staring-into. This was not about medication but about the curative powers children have on adults, and adults have on children.

My husband turned to me, a look of revelation dawning in his eyes. "I've been thinking," he began. Which was when the cockroach I call my heart flipped over and began to die. "Please," I thought, "do not let him say what he is about to say."

I looked back at the TV. The commercial would not end. There they were, the couple and the cute little boy, standing in what appeared to be a freshly painted foyer, basking in the paradisiacal glow of joy. My husband's earnest eyes drilled into the side of my head as I rehearsed answers.

"Maybe what we need isn't a foster child but a third dog."

"Maybe you should take a class."

"Maybe your emptiness is a gift and you should explore it rather than fill it."

"Let's have some popcorn! Right now, time's a-wasting!"

"No really," he said, gesturing toward the newly minted family in their luminous home. "I've been thinking maybe we SHOULD paint the walls of the new house white."

Relief flooded my veins. And then I remembered I still had a problem on my hands.

My husband is obsessed. Ever since last October, when we began building a house, he has attempted to open lines of conversation — about paint colors, floor styles, molding concerns — that I try to find interesting but can't. It doesn't help that we've been here before: when we remodeled our last house, I found conversations about the minutia of improvement mind-numbingly dull, until such time as it was all done and I found much to complain about. This scenario, I suspect, is what he's trying to avoid.

But his questioning just doesn't end. In every televised basketball game there is the vision of gleaming hardwood, prompting a discussion of the vast array of floor stains available to us. With every golf course passed there is conversation of a weedless, emerald lawn and what should be planted at its edges. With every newscast, overhead lighting is brought into question, and every restaurant resurrects his outspoken dream of the Asian dining table and yoke chairs we once saw in Atlanta.

Don't get me wrong: I am not ungrateful. I'm thankful to be in a position to have such choices. What I am not, which my husband is, is a visionary. Because of this, I live in fear of sentences that begin with "Picture this," because I'm unable. It's akin to not being able to find my way around the town I've lived in for 30 years because I can't visualize its layout in my head, how one area relates to another. This once prompted my husband to say, "See that big thing? It's a mountain. If it's on your left, you're headed home. If you lose it, call me."

The other day, after an evening in the cushy chairs in the Alleia restaurant bar, my husband asked what kind of seating we might want in our new living room. "Picture this," he said, and began to describe an elaborate network of sofas and chairs as complex and unknowable as the city grid in my head.

"I can't," I said simply. He went into the basement, and 10 minutes later bounded back upstairs with four enormous slices of cardboard, which he stuffed into the car. We drove to the shell of the new house, and he placed them strategically on the floor of our "living room" where our sofa and chairs might actually go. Then he stretched out on the longest one and pretended to be watching TV.

"Can you picture it now?" he said. And I could.

But what I really saw was a devoted man obsessed with sharing his vision. How lovely. And how not mind-numbingly dull at all.

Dana Shavin is the author of a memoir, "The Body Tourist." Email her at or visit her website at