post 4. the great wall.

Another month has slipped by since the last post about the retaining wall. And unlike the month of August, September was a wild ride in our backyard. From ultimatums to last stands, we became competitors in a game of chess.  Waiting to evaluate the move of our opponent, we sought to survey the field and make a step forward that not only advanced our position but saved us from a paralyzing checkmate. From August 22 until September 17, David and I were fully consumed in the nuances of this battle of wills (I know what you must be thinking, but weren’t you consumed in this power struggle all summer?  And, yes, we were but not even we could have imagined the heated intensity that would emerge over this latest time frame).

Thankfully, at school I was utterly distracted each day.  Between setting up the classroom, writing lesson plans, and interacting with my new crop of students there was little time during the school day for me to think about the mason or our destroyed yard. But, the ride home would inevitably come. Sitting in the car waiting to pick up David, my mood would change. From pacing through the thousands of questions that define a school day, I would become fixated on one: Did he show up?  We have a 45 minute commute home. Some days we practiced our confrontation lines. If he says X, then we will say Y. And then, if he says Z, we will say A. And on and on we would go until rounding our block.  Most nights though the car fell silent and we stared straight ahead completely exhausted, frustrated, and on the brink of tears. When we pulled up the drive the answer was always the same: He did not show up and he did not communicate with us. We were trapped, without the wall complete if we fired him we would need to hire a new mason to complete the wall.  But every mason we called declined to take the job citing that the project was too near completion, that there was no money in it for them to make, and for us to just hang tight until our miserable mason finished.  We tried to express to these possible future masons that what was one day of work for them had dragged on and on and on with our guy.  They commiserated a bit but still said it was not enough to entice them.

Coincidentally on a Thursday off from school while getting a manicure with a co-worker, I learned that her husband was a trained mason and that he would look at the wall and even help us finish it. WHAT?!?!  Something to be hopeful about!?! Armed with this possibility and a sense of an upper hand over our mason. We gave him an ultimatum on Friday.  David told him, “If you do not complete the project by next Friday, your work on the project is done and you can pick up your tools and leave the premise.”  Our first real strategic move on the board since the start of the project was made. The mason acknowledged it and we waited for his return move. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of the following week came and went and no move was made.  No sign of the mason and no communication.

While this is illegal in the game of chess, we moved a piece again. Thursday night David reached out again and said, “Clearly, there is no way you can complete the project in the next 24 hours.  Let’s cut our ties and please pick up your materials.  Your work with us is done.”  Unlike before, there was no response. What kind of maniacal plan was he hatching!?!? Never good with stress or anxiety, I began to imagine the worst case scenario.  Would he come to our property and light our house on fire? Would he come and tear down the wall he did build? Would he steal our grill which sits out back? My mind and emotions were reeling in fear. It is in moments like this that I am particularly thankful to have married David. Always calm and collected, he talked me off the edge.

Friday a day after being fired from the job, my neighbor informed me that the mason was on our property. Terror ran through me! His move was made. But alas, it was a curve ball and he was actually doing work on the property. So wait, all we had to do was fire him for him to feel a sense of commitment to the project!?  Rushing home, he was still there.  Our move: a bit of good cop-bad cop routine. David told him his work with us was finished, to pack up, and go. The mason demanded his last installment of the money and David refused.  We got stuck in this cycle of: leave, not with out my money, we are no giving you any more for an incomplete job, then I am not leaving. Around and around we went. Finally, I made a move. Sign a contract sir that says if you do not finish any item on the list of to-dos you will receive no further payment. He signed. Feeling a checkmate coming…David and I were on high alert.

The next 48hours were a flurry of activity. For someone with a supposedly broken ankle, he moved quickly around the yard.  Yet, still he maintained his bad habit of not coming for full days but rather an hour here and there. How did he plan to make the deadline exactly?  He told us he had purchased the fence months ago for example, but we found out from our neighbor that the mason was at Home Depot buying the fence on Sunday! Finally it was Sunday night.  it was a race against the clock and the sun. Texting back and forth with our neighbor, we waited to see what the final move would be. Would David and I have played a bad move and in giving him 48 hours be paying for a sloppy finish and find ourselves without the money to tidy his project and our yard? Would he admit that he could not finish in the allotted time and leave?

At 7:00PM it was over and the sense of utter relief washed over us.  For over three months my mind was held hostage by this mason.  For over three months, David and I were embarrassed of our home and fearful for what his work and lack of work meant for our life’s savings. For over three months, we tried to establish some kind of regular communication with the mason so that both of our objectives could be satisfied. In the end, he drove off and we took shots of brandy.We were relieved and ready to start new with a new landscaper. I wish our old mason the best and I hope that the family and life difficulties he shared with us, if true, are able to be sorted out.  Our final move brought back some hope for us and brought this summer saga to a close.


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