When I was 16 and my parents were going through a divorce, my best friend invited me to join her and her parents on a trip to a farmhouse they bought. Her parents planned to renovate it and we were going to help.
I had no idea what I was in for, really. I had never done this kind of work. I watched and “helped” with many different kinds of projects, but never had I done demo. All I knew was I was on a trip in a pickup truck, headed out of the Chicago suburbs to farmland.
Barb’s father put a Bears game on WGN radio. Otherwise, Barb and her parents were quiet, just as I am. I liked that about them. I never had to flip a switch to go into social overdrive when I was with them. As her father drove us to Gratiot, Wisconsin, Barb and I listened to music on our headphones, and we traded cassette tapes. Barb drew on her sketch pad, I scribbled bad poetry in a journal. I took breaks to watch the horizon spread out and flatten away from the zig-zag of buildings and mazes of houses.
We arrived to a white frame farmhouse, which sat on expansive flat acres of land.
The house was empty. Barb and I putzed around in the yard and explored the land while her parents unloaded the truck and opened the house. I can still feel the grooves of large dirt tire tracks under my feet. Stumps of old crops hedged in countless rows.
We turned our attention back to the house. We passed toolboxes on the kitchen counter and went into the downstairs living room. Barb’s mom and Dad wore masks. Tools were scattered and a pile of destruction had already begun. Barb’s mom handed a mask and a long sledgehammer to me. She pointed to the wall and said, “Have at it.”
My hands grasped this heavy dead-weighted hammer like a softball bat, up and out my upper arms flexed and swung backwards. I breathed in, my fingers clenched the handle, my elbows hinged as I poured all of my weight into this wall.
Crash, crash, crash.
Clouds of dust billowed in the room, a pile of drywall grew in front of the middle of my wall. Years of wallpaper and paint tore and chipped away. And I felt freer and more alive than I had in a long time.
We tore this room apart.
As the day drew to a close, Barb and I walked the land with our clothes full of dust and our shoes caked in dirt. We exhaustedly slept in sleeping blankets in an empty room upstairs. The next morning in the cool fresh air and the pastel horizon, we piled into the pickup truck. Barb’s parents treated us to breakfast at a local diner, where farmers perched on stools. Their arms looked like they were made to rip trees out of the ground.
As we returned to the suburbs, from time to time I looked at my blistered and rough hands.
More walls, I thought. I wished to go back to take them all down. But I got one. And one was satisfying.