Tight Places


I learned something about myself today.

Backstory: When we bought this house nearly two years ago, the one thing we knew we’d have to do is insulate above the new entry room, which started out life as an attached garage, was finished and converted to a living room, and now serves us as an office/study/library. Well, what with one thing and another, I’ve been putting the project off; but a couple weeks ago, my wife, Smiley, who absolutely hates being cold, made an appointment with me for us to go today and buy insulation, and get the job done. Okay. So this morning off we go to Home Depot, pick up some big bundles of R-38 and a few other small items we need for the house, and head on back. In the car she talks like she is going to crawl around up there and put in the insulation, and I am like, No way, why would you even try to do that? She’s got rheumatoid arthritis, bruises easily, and is recovering from a cracked rib. I’m not so enthusiastic about doing this myself, why would I send her up there to do it?

Now, the access to the attic/crawlspace is at the far end of the house from where the work needs to be done, through a trapdoor in our bedroom closet. For some reason I had been under the impression that we had bought a ladder sometime back that would be adequate to get us up to that trapdoor; turns out what we had was a three-step metal stool that is fine for hanging pictures and clocks, but really not enough to get you through the ceiling. So it’s off to another hardware store, and now we have one of those great fold-every-which-way ladders. Some assembly required, but soon I’m climbing up through the trapdoor and looking into this crawlspace. Now, to do this job, you’ve got to traverse the entire length of the house, being careful never to put full weight anywhere but on the 2″ joists which are twenty-four inches apart. It’s stuffy up there, and I’m wearing a dust mask to protect against fiberglass inhalation. And, I’m not so flexible to begin with, so here I’m hauling myself across this space by some combination of a crab-walk and a series of partial pull-ups on the truss beams. It’s a bit more than I’m used to doing lately, as I’m a bit out of shape, and for some reason I’m having a hard time catching my breath.

A very, very hard time. Huffing and puffing worse than the big bad wolf.

So I stop to rest. Still can’t catch my breath. After numerous repetitions, I work my way, dragging one four foot section of insulation behind me, to the far end of the house, where I put this one piece more or less into place. By now I’m wondering how the firefighters are going to get me out of there, if I end up having to call 911. I still have to make my way back to the trapdoor, where S has pushed some more pieces through; by the time I get there, I’m winded again, and need to get down for a couple of minutes to get some air. She offers again to just go in and do it; I’m thinking she’s nuts, but here she comes, up the ladder and crawling past me before I even get down, hauling two pieces of insulation and moving about three times as fast as I ever did.

So I get downstairs, get some air, head out to the shed to get a couple of long boards to help with moving across that long span, and realize that now I’m breathing normally, feeling fine. And I have an epiphany:

I’m claustrophobic.

Who knew?

Well, apparently Smiley did, which is why she offered to do the crawling about in the attic in the first place. She’s known this about me since, I guess, 1977, when she volunteered for similar work in another attic, based on the extreme reluctance I apparently showed at that time for getting into so small a space. So crawl she does, while I push sections to her, standing on the top of the ladder. By mid-afternoon the job is done, and we’re changing clothes, showering and heading out for dinner.

My sense of manhood is severely bruised, but not so much as her knees. At least I paid for dinner.

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