All I Wanted To Do Was Change This - E. D. James

All I wanted to do was change a light bulb. Simple. Done it a million times. It would be a little break from dealing with all the problems I have in my life. Problems that stem, by and large, from my lack of discipline and character. So, in a small way, changing that light bulb would be a new beginning too. A small step on the road to respectability. A signal to my family and friends that I was throwing off the demons that had haunted me for most of the past year and reemerging as the productive member of society that they all knew I could be.

I got my buddy Eric to lend me his old Ford F150 pickup that has the rack over the bed and I drove over to Benny’s painting shop and borrowed a sturdy two story telescoping ladder and stopped at Brownies Hardware on the old Main Street and picked up two bulbs, just in case. I wanted to get this thing done as efficiently as possible. Then I headed out to the old neighborhood.

It wasn’t the same out there anymore. Six years ago when we moved in everything was new and booming and everybody was full of energy and hope. We all were drawn to this new suburb by the big houses and the new streets and the big new shopping center with the Target and Best Buy and Home Depot. Prices were going up, up, up and we all bought and put in our lawns and then all of a sudden one of the houses down the street sold because the husband got transferred to another job and we had a bunch of equity and the mortgage broker was calling saying he had a great adjustable loan and we could take out some cash and get a new car and put in a swimming pool and it seemed like it would just get better forever.

Our house was so beautiful. You should have seen the way Meg looked at me when I drover her up to it the first time. We both grew up in the old part of town. Our parents houses were nice, tidy, but small and nothing special. We knew from our first date that we were going to work hard together and get to a better place. She got a job with one of the developers in town as a bookkeeper and my landscaping business started to take off and all of sudden we were getting somewhere. And when we stood on the sidewalk and looked up at that two story neoclassical front porch and the beautiful detailing around the windows, well, I could just tell that every fiber of her being felt fulfilled.

Those first years were great. The neighbors kids and ours were all young and we had big barbeques and parties and helped each other with different projects. I was pretty popular because of with my landscaping business I had a lot of the tools that people needed and I was happy to lend them out on weekends and give folks advice about this and that. I started drinking wine coolers on hot summer afternoons when my body felt a little tired from all the physical labor. Then some of our friends got into wines in serious ways and we had tasting parties and sampled expensive wines and learned all the terms that the connoisseurs knew like “fruit forward” and “strong finish”. Course, the wines that I liked best were “hot”, meaning they had a high alcohol content.

Things kept getting better and better and I put on a few crews and stopped doing any fieldwork. I started marketing. Taking the property managers out to lunch to get the business for the big new office complexes, and housing tracts, and shopping centers that were going up all over. It smoothed things over to have some wine or drink and lunch and some of the guys liked to sneak out in the afternoon and head out to the topless bar over on old Highway 99 and have a few before going home. It was all just business.

Then, one of the guys in that crowd had a big idea. It seems the golf courses that they were building couldn’t keep up with all the tree moving and planting that needed to go on and there was a big machine that could, in one fell swoop, cut a huge hole that preserved the roots, pick an old tree up and move it over in nothing flat. Not cheap. Couple a hundred grand. But that baby would pay off in no time and then the money would pour in the door. That machine caught a hold of me. A whole new business. It would take me to new levels. So I begged, borrowed and scraped everything I could to get that beast. Ran the mortgage on the house right up to the top, found a mortgage broker who had an appraiser that would give him whatever number he needed.

It started off sweet. That first day out there watching that machine do it’s thing was a blast. We popped a few bottles of champagne and went on from there. Then the crash came.

It had been months since I’d been in the neighborhood. The first thing I saw as I turned in at the entrance was that the landscaping along the sound wall was no longer being maintained. About every third house I passed had grass growing three foot tall out front and a for sale sign that barely stuck up high enough to be seen. Our house was the same. The windows were dirty. I could only imagine what the pool looked like. I turned off the truck and just sat there for a minute listening to the heat tick off the muffler. The images of that last night before the sheriff came to move our stuff out onto the street came flashing through my mind no matter how hard I tried to control them. The rage and the anger that boiled up in me over having my dreams taken away from me, the grief in Megs eyes when I told her we were going to lose it, and the disbelief in my kids voices when I told them we were moving in with mom and dad. And then the release that came from flinging that empty Bombay bottle up at that beautiful neoclassical porch and the sound of the light bulb shattering as everything went dark.

Then I pulled the door handle and stepped onto the street and pulled the ladder off the rack and dragged it down and headed off towards the porch with the bag of lightbulbs in my hand. And started over.