Betrayal. It is a deep pain when it comes from something beloved.
And believe me – that wallpaper was beloved.
It’s a red, blue, and beige floral print perfectly mimicking the wallpaper of a 1980s country kitchen. It lines my powder room, an adorable little nook with a tiled counter and gleaming white chair rail.
I did not know that – ahem – poor aim would saturate the wallpaper. No amount of scrubbing eradicated the waft of ammonia, but all that moisture did lift and curl the wallpaper.
The wallpaper had to go. This is what comes of its treachery.
Removing wallpaper is like getting a puppy. You think, “How hard can it be?”
Then you get into it and find out exactly how hard it can be.
And now you’re stuck – you can’t stop removing the wallpaper any more than you can give back the puppy.
I was reluctant to remove the wallpaper. My house was lacquered in wallpaper when I bought it. The previous owners had added wallpaper like they were Louis XIV adding wings to Versailles.
I learned the hard way that peeling wallpaper simply removes the decorative façade. The backing stays behind. The glue must be broken down to successfully expose the wall.
I use a solution of warm water and fabric softener to break down the glue. But even with the glue broken down, the wallpaper backing doesn’t just peel away. You’re playing the long game.
My son and I settled in one Saturday to remove the backing. He applied the fabric softener wash, I peeled. After an hour, we had removed one panel of wallpaper backing.
That was November.
By February, we had cleared one wall.
That was when the universe decided to get cute.
I entered that bathroom well after we packed in the fabric softener for the night. The wallpaper backing around the sink was wet. In fact, it was saturated.
We hadn’t been working in that area. At all. And even if we had been, it had been hours since we wrapped up. There was no way the wall could still be damp.
But we’ve all been there. You know there’s a problem. But you really don’t want the problem. So you lie to yourself. You come up with other, benign, harmless reasons to explain away that problem.
Until you can’t deny that problem.
I told myself the wall was wet because we had applied the fabric softener solution. I knew I was lying to myself. Like I knew that boyfriend was lying when he said hocking the jewelry he gave me would cover the $400 I loaned him.
You still owe me $301 there, Champ.
I grabbed a pen. I outlined the moisture bleeding through the wallpaper backing, determined to prove to myself that I wasn’t lying. To myself.
Half an hour later, the dampness had grown beyond the pen’s outline.
Somewhere in my house, water was leaking.
A bathroom lies above that powder room. When my socks picked up water from the carpet just outside of that bathroom door, I knew I’d found the leak.
In fact, the entire bathroom floor was underwater. The rug floated. The toilet tank belched a half flush, then more water poured from beneath its lid.
I raced for the plunger. Submerging it in the toilet displaced a wave of toilet water onto my socks. My thoughts turned to the millions – billions? – of E. coli particles likely squelching between my toes.
One problem at a time, though, you know? I could burn the socks and amputate my feet later.
The plunger unclogged the toilet. I used old towels to mop the English Channel from the floor. I thought how odd it was the leak had drained into the downstairs bathroom since most of the offending bathroom sits above the kitchen pantry.
I hurtled for the pantry, wet socks tracking poop water throughout the house. Niagara Falls crested over the pantry shelves.
A plastic storage container held not just pasta but two inches of water. The boxes of Girl Scout cookies were soggy. My Gwyneth Paltrow cookbook was waterlogged.
I thought about Gwyneth as I cleaned the pantry. Bizarrely, I had watched a tour of her new house earlier that day.
Gwyneth has wallpaper in her powder room, too.
But probably a lot less E. coli in her pantry.