ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: Searching
Book Two, Chapter 64: Scorch Marks
“It really hurt when my grandmother died,” Joshua tells me. “She liked me. I spent most of my time with her. Her love was unconditional, non-judgemental. She was a good sport. All of a sudden there was no one to watch Dukes of Hazzard with. My whole routine changed. But I got through it. You have to get through this.”
Some people turn to work to sustain them, so now I’m in the center hall of the Charles Street house, aiming a heat gun on the trim around the kitchen door, when the newly installed smoke detectors sound off — first the one in the kitchen, then the one in the attic. Joshua hurries in from outside. No smoke. No fire. Just a lot of heat.
Hours later, with Joshua working a heat gun alongside me, I step back a moment to inspect my work. I’m shocked. “Joshua, look! Look what I’ve done! I’ve scorched the wood.”
He runs his hand over dozens of black circles scattered on the soft pine.
“Oh my god, Joshua, look what I’ve done to your wood. I’ve burned it. I’m such a fuckup. Can’t I do anything right? Jesus Christ.” I’m so angry at myself I slam my fist against the kitchen wall.
Joshua keeps looking at the wood. He takes a bit of sandpaper and tries to even out the black marks.
“The pine has vertical graining under the original stain, and bits of white paint still cling to the wood,” he says. “The burns could show up a lot more.”
“You’re blaming yourself, over-reacting, just as you did with Daddy. We’re restoring a house. We’ll make mistakes. I’ve left scorch marks, too. See? Heat guns are like blowtorches. They get really hot. We’ll have to lower the setting and keep them moving.”
Ernie used to talk about incompetents. I never thought I was an incompetent, but I am. I’ve made major mistakes. Not paying attention to Ernie’s health was one. Dumping my misery on Joshua is another.
“If you tell yourself you’re a fuckup, you’ll start believing it,” Joshua says. “You’re sending yourself bad messages.”
“But it’s the truth. Am I supposed to lie to myself?”
“We all make mistakes. It’s how we respond to them that counts. When I glazed the windows last week, I deeply scratched an original pane of glass. At first I was pissed off at myself. Then I thought: This is a major restoration; things will happen. I replaced the glass and kept the original in case I ever need it.”
“I never realized I made so many mistakes, Joshua. And I never learned from them.”
“When you’re weak, you weaken me,” he says. “You have to get stronger.”
I remember what Ernie said to me: “You try to help, but you hurt.” I don’t want to leave scorch marks on Joshua.
Turn down the heat, I tell myself. Go slow. Be careful. Watch what you’re doing. Don’t hurt yourself, and don’t hurt anyone or anything else. Ever again.