Of the several men painting our house, most are missing teeth and one is missing an arm. The leader of this rag tag home improvement team gives them $10 an hour, paid in cash at the end of each work day, or thereabouts. They lucked out on Thursday. The day's wages were tucked firmly in their pockets before the boss man drove off to a local dive, where an acquaintance of his jacked him at knifepoint for what little cash was left, a cooler of beer, and a pack of USA Gold Menthols.
There's a seedy side of life in this town that I don't see through the flimsy metal and tinted windows of a 1989 Dodge Caravan, or a trailer home, or a leaning duplex with shingles and steps that are rotting. During a visit downtown with my daughter in tow, voices from the open-doored bars are garbled by country music and the sizzle of fat in the fryer as I walk by. I inhale the aromatic wind of cheeseburgers and Tabasco, but otherwise I notice nothing. We cross the street to a clothing shop that, miraculously, hasn't been run out by the WalMart a town over. I don't buy anything because it's too expensive. I wonder who does.
I also wonder about the invisible line between my town's presentable facade and its underground. The median household income here is ranked 237 out of 245 Connecticut towns and cities. Many are living paycheck to paycheck, my household included. I think about how delusional I am as I go through each day focused on what's in front of me, oblivious to my surroundings and to the path that's precarious beneath my feet.
Any sense of stability is imaginary. I look at the gaping smiles of the painters on ladders and I see what it means to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or to make a bad, irreversible decision. I see why the weight of providing for a family and its future makes my husband's shoulders hunch a little more each day. Whether it's through bad luck or bad planning, what we have today could be gone tomorrow. He knows this. I should know this. We are partners.