What exactly did happened that summer that led me to reexamine my life and pushed me onto the trail of self discovery? In a nutshell...it was our pool. Yes, our in-ground pool, the very thing that is supposed to de-stress and help relax our family during those long weeks of summer, nearly sent me to the looney bin.
We had a love/hate relationship since the moment we met. No, not my husband and me...the Pool and me. I capitalize the "P" in pool because the pool actually is a character in the story. I first laid eyes on it back in the summer of 2003 when our family was looking for a new home. We had recently sold our cute little cape cod and the house we were supposed to buy fell through at the last minute leaving us with no where to live. So, we moved in with my parents who were thrilled to have their first grandchild living under their roof. As you can imagine, Keith and I were pretty motivated to find a house as soon as possible, however by the summer of 2003 there really was not much on the market. Our realtor took us to a house that needed "a little work" but could become a real gem. It was located on a lovely quiet street close to two elementary schools. So we agreed to take a look.
It was a bright summer day and the gray and white painted cement patio surrounding this gargantuan pool, which was clearly way too big for the yard, glistened in the sunlight forcing me to put on my sunglasses. I felt like I had stepped back into 1955...I was wondering where the cabana boy was with my cool drink. My first thought was...No flippin way!! This is going to take a mountain of money to bring this backyard out of the stone age (or 1955). Where I saw everything that was wrong, my husband saw memories of his childhood frolicking in his little green above ground pool in Belleville, NJ. He disagreed with my assertion that the big hole filled with water in front of us was not a pool but a money pit. He truly believed we could make something really special out of this sow's ear. If he saw something special, then I guess if I imagined really hard, I could see something special too.
"Hey wanna go swimming on the Turnpike?" That was how Keith used to ask me to go swimming in our backyard. You see, in addition to almost the entire backyard being covered in squares of gray and white cement, we had lots of dead and half dead trees plus a ramshackle chain-link fence. If the NJ Turnpike had a swim club, I am sure that is what it would have looked like. As we tried to float and relax in the pool, we could wave to our neighbors sitting on their back decks (awkward!).
As the years went on we slowly did make improvements to the backyard. We had installed a new 6 foot PVC fence, all new landscaping, a child-safety fence around the pool and finally...finally...the total destruction of the 1955 pool deck. We ripped it all out and put in state of the art modern paving stones. As I predicted, it took a mountain of money to get the Pool out of the last century. Each September when we bid adieu to the Pool for the season and covered it over we said a silent prayer that it would stay well for the winter. The prayer went something like this:
"Dear Lord, Please keep our pool healthy and protected this winter. Please keep the underground pipes from bursting, the liner from leaking, the steps from cracking, the filter from becoming a winter home to chipmunks"...you get the point. So, the Pool went to sleep for the winter waiting for that day in May when it would come back to life again...and each year we prayed that nothing too terrible happened over the winter and that we (well, Keith) could get the Pool up and running with little trouble.
That usually wasn't the case. The month of May always meant Pool Opening...or as I thought of it...Pandora's Box opening. Let's see, over the years upon opening the pool we found: a leaking liner, cracked steps, the filter not working for unknown reasons, the heater not working due to spider infestation. I know what you are thinking...stop your whining and just call in a pool service. Many years we did and some years Keith liked to do it himself. He never likes to pay someone to do something he can do himself. So over the years we had developed a very strong relationship with a pool guy (not disparaging the pool profession. I have the utmost respect for anyone who can figure these giant holes of water out). He was our go to guy every time something with the Pool went wrong and something usually went wrong.
So, this brings us the summer of 2013 (I know, you thought we would never get here). The Pool opened in May same as every year. Much to our delight, everything looked to be working great...pool filter (check), steps not cracked (check), liner not leaking (double check). The only minor problem was the diving board was cracked. Well, that's nothing...easy fix. That diving board was from year the pool was installed, so it was logical that it had lived a useful life and was ready to be retired. That year Keith was super busy at work and decided it would be best to call our Pool Guy (again, capitalizing because he is a prominent character now in the story). As I mentioned before, we have a had long relationship with our Pool Guy. He had done lots of work for us over the years. I knew I could call him and he would be there that day to figure the problem out. So, I called him to tell him about the diving board.
"Yup, Ms. Santulli...you need a new board." I already knew that. I asked him how much. As it turns out...diving boards can be quite expensive. He quoted me a price of $900 for the board plus labor. After I pealed myself up off my state of art paving stones...I told him okay...do it. We wanted to have everything in perfect order for the 4th of July which was just a few weeks away. He said he could do it that day...even better! Pool Guy said he needed the $900 right then so he could go to Bergen county and get the board then he would come right back and install it. Great! I didn't question Pool Guy for a moment. I went in the house and wrote the check and handed it to him After he left to get the board, I quickly went into the house and moved money around my bank accounts to cover the check which was a good thing because I don't think the ink was dry and he had cashed it. You might be able to guess what happens next....
I waited and waited and waited. He never came back that day. So, the next day I called him and got his voice mail...I left a polite message wondering what happened and that I was looking forward to seeing him today to install the diving board. He never came...I called him the next day...the message not quite as pleasant...the gist was something like this: "Not sure where you are, please call me back with the status of the diving board and when you are installing it." I called every day for a week only got his voice mail. I thought he might be avoiding me...screening my number and not answering. I called his cell from my parent's house...he still didn't answer. I was getting really really pissed...
If you recall my last blog, I had a hang up about money...and how I didn't feel we had enough of it. Well, this Pool Guy seems to have just run off with $900 of our hard earned money and I was not going to stand for it! Also, as you will recall...I had an ever growing river of anger, frustration and discontent...and now I had a target. Here was the villain and I was going to take him down.
I began calling him everyday and now I was ranting in the phone how he was a crook and a thief and laws of karma would never allow him to enjoy the money he stole (I wasn't even sure what karma was back then but I knew it sound good and threatening on a God level). At first my husband held back and let me handle it...then he saw I was becoming completely unraveled. He called Pool Guy as well...playing more of the Good Cop role. After a few calls, Keith stopped reaching out and told me to let it go. Keith reasoned, for whatever reason Pool Guy took the money, no one was hurt, and we would be smarter next time about paying for something in full before the service is compete.
Oh no! I am not letting anything go. I busied myself finding where Pool Guy lived. I Googled him and found his address...I needed it anyway because I was going to file a small claims suit against him. Keith absolutely forbid me from going anywhere near his house. I usually don't like to be forbidden from doing anything but deep down in my gut I knew no good would come from me stalking and confronting Pool Guy in his driveway.
Meanwhile, the 4th of July came and went with no diving board. Finally, Keith went online and bought the diving board himself and installed it in a few hours (I know, we should have done that from the beginning...shoulda woulda coulda...but didn't). You can calculate how much this diving board has now cost us (there goes that money thing again). I spent my summer days watching the kids in the pool and dreaming of the ways I would make Pool Guy pay for wronging me (this was personal). I dreamed that justice would be found in court...small claims court. However with small claims court there is no Johnny Cochran...no final summations wherein I can tell a jury of my peers how Pool Guy wronged me. In fact, they couldn't even find Pool Guy to serve him...judgment for the plaintiff! A lien was placed against him...good luck getting the money. All of these events triggered my control issues...
You see, back then I really liked to control things...it was the only way to ensure that happiness for all could be achieved. The "if onlys" came in full force...If only Pool Guy didn't steal my money...If only Keith had installed it himself...If only I could tell Pool Guy off in person...there were many more "if onlys" but you get the point.
So, by August...my state of mind was pure agitation. I could not let it go...and the more Keith recommended I do just that, the harder I held on. I once again was living in the negative space of we don't have any money...we could not afford to have $900 stolen...round and round I went on a carousel of negativity which at this point was spinning pretty out of control.
"We are going to Disney!!!" That was Keith's announcement one night at dinner. What the what???? The kids cheered...I glared at him. The kids wanted to know when...should they pack their bags now? Yeah, pack your bags now and head over to Grandma's cause mom's head is about to explode. After dinner the kids happily ran off to go find their suitcases. I, as calmly as I could possibly muster., asked Keith where he thought we would get the money for Disney. He said he didn't know but he felt the kids were at the perfect age for Disney (12, 9, 7) and we needed to do this in the near future. He said not to worry...we will find the money. Clearly, we were living two different realities with regard to The Pool and our finances.
So, for now I leave it there...you can get a real good feel for my mental state by August 2013. Although it may seem that I had not learned very much at this point in the story I did learn: "Don't pay anyone in full until the job is 100% complete no matter how much you trust them."
The other lesson from this story (although I had yet to learn it was): "Thoughts are Things (thank you, Mike Dooley) and we attract more of whatever our thoughts are...and mine were pretty negative at that point...so you can probably imagine where this story will go next...
May 2020: Keith bonding with The Pool