The Onion (A Love Story)

My house is like an onion

(Maybe I am too)

Layers of wall:

Paneling painted three, sometimes four times over

Under that

The crumbling, horsehair plaster

Covered over so many times itself

Painted wallpaper over older wallpaper

Over more wallpaper

(Jack be nimble illustrations hidden under beige flimsy paneling in Jack’s room;

Pussy willows hiding in Piper’s)

Layers of ceiling:

Square ceiling tiles

Dropped beneath a wallpapered ceiling

(Attached with 2x4s)

Lath and plaster beyond that

Removed, the height returns to the hallway.

Layers of floor:

Carpeting, carpet pad

Then scarred, stained hardwoods in some rooms

Cracked, dated linoleum in others

Here there was once a doorway

This is where the old stovepipe came up through the floor

This room once had plumbing

This closet shelf was once a cupboard door.

Removing these layers is sweaty work

It takes time to get a house back to greatness

Or just to make sense of it,

To figure out the original footprint.

You examine the before and after pictures,

Amazed at where you started

At how far you’ve come.

You wonder why certain changes were made

The way they were.

This is where he wrote “whore”

This is where he wrote “slut”

This is where he wrote “F U”

In pencil, on gray walls.

I only noticed when the light hit it just right.

It was painted over a cheerful lavender shade:

Highland Thistle

(But still, the words sleep in between the layers of paint)

On this paneling there was more of the same

Gray pencil scratched deep into beige paint.

I ripped it down on Christmas Day,

Then kept going

Stacked piece after piece in tall piles in the middle of the room

While the snow fell outside.

The crumbling horsehair plaster was fixed or replaced;

Smooth blue walls now hang in their place.

In the dining room

“Fuck U Bitch” still remains

Scratched into the tired yellow paint.

Covered by an antique linen, AAA map of upstate.

{“Sticks and stones may break my bones,

But words will never break me.” – 1862 version}

It’s really not crazy

That I fell for the man who erased those words;

He painted the hallway walls without noticing

What he covered over.

My crumbling walls and sagging ceilings were simple fixes.

It wasn’t until months later,

While replacing the broken back porch steps,

That the job, and us,

Got complicated.

What looked like a few rotten floor boards,

Proved to be a more structural problem.

We could choose to leave it;

Cover up the shaky, brick tower supports;

Pretend everything is fine;

Keep walking on the spongy floor;

Claim ignorance.


He’s pouring concrete steps

Mixing it by hand in the sun.

(We made our marks with handprints on the first step,

Then “Art” in a heart on the second)

He’s jacking up the rotten corner.

He’s cutting new, strong wood.

He’s uncovering more layers

(And I wonder how long it’s been since they’ve seen the sun)

The chipping white vinyl

Was hiding the original wood siding (green)

The faded, cracking blacktop

Had been poured over strong, flat cement.

We puzzle over why.

Why were these strong, dependable (traits)

Covered over/up instead of fixed?

Quick fixes never fix forever

But they’re so much easier (and painless)

Than peeling back the old layers

To expose what really needs fixing.

Layer by layer

This house is peeled back.

This metaphor doesn’t come full circle,

This house as an onion.

An onion as life.

But layer by layer

We reveal the defects and original details

We pull nails and staples

We fill in holes and cracks

We highlight the hidden square framing

We tear down walls

And replace them with doorways

Install thresholds

Hang gorgeous doors.

I marvel at how far we’ve come

And wonder what we’ll fix


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