Thursday is install day. My stomach is a yarn ball of knots. The piece is big – not the biggest I’ve ever made, but at the edge my comfort zone. But, I remind myself, comfort zones are meant to be expanded.
I build a crate to keep it safe, even though it’s only traveling an hour away. The peace of mind is worth it. I measure carefully as there’s not much room to spare. It fits, though barely.
We place the crate on a moving blanket atop my work table and Alan helps me lift the piece into place. I craw underneath the table and secure it from below. My abs and thighs burn as I hold my pose, half seated, half reclining, for longer than I’d like. I stand back up with a clunky limp and we fasten the lid.
I go outside and touch the bed of the truck, double checking my measurements one more time. The crate will skirt the tailgate by half an inch. I breathe a sigh of calculated relief, but the truth is I won’t breathe until it’s over.
Alan sweeps the snow from the truck bed with a wide push broom. He places two pallets in the back and a panel of insulation to cushion the ride. We’ve got a system down; we’ve been here before. My companion on many a project, each one similar yet different. He parks the truck in the outbuilding to stay dry.
The next morning I walk into my studio and bide my time. I give lip service to my work that day, my mind elsewhere.
That evening I open the big double doors and wheel my work table toward the crisp January air. I watch as Alan slowly backs up the truck in incremental bits and listen to the tires as they crunch the icy gravel. I raise my arm to give him a sign.
He climbs out of the cab with ease, his tall legs reaching the ground in one long step. My dismount is… less graceful. We slide the crate off the table and into the truck bed with one big oomph. Another long shove and it’s in. He closes the tailgate with a loud clunk.
Time check? Three minutes.
He parks the truck and I count my blessings, the choices I made along the way, the lessons I learned that finally make this a seamless process. The table with wheels, the moving blanket, the double doors, the gravel drive – they all make a heavy lift that much lighter.
Some days it’s good to remind yourself that it does indeed get easier.
We set an alarm for the next morning, but I wake up at 1 a.m. convinced I’m late. He wakes up at 4:30 thinking the same, my stress now his. We both fall back asleep until morning.
Thursday arrives right on schedule, and we quickly shower and dress and eat. Alan will be my chauffeur that morning, thanks to a shuffling of his work schedule and a pandemic pent-up desire to do – anything. I welcome him along, grateful to not drive. He goes outside to warm up the truck as I wrap myself in layers. The temperature is a brisk 11 degrees, with a frostbite warning should you care to linger. We don’t.
The drive is uneventful, though I keep a watchful eye just in case. A bald eagle flies overhead, and a long flock of some kind of geese. The skies may be full, but the highways are eerily empty. As we near the city, icy waves crash over the break wall and slap the windshield like shattered glass. I flinch in reaction.
We arrive onsite and are met by the ringmaster Christy and her install crew. The massive crate is unloaded with the power of cold air and youth, and maneuvered up a winding staircase. The train moves faster than I’m comfortable. I hold my breath.
The crate is left in a small carpeted room. I give a quick instruction and the lid comes off and the piece is released and carefully leaned against a wall. It dwarfs the space, but it’s no matter. It’s not yet home.
I peek into the stairwell where it will ultimately reside, a rustic exposed brick wall flanked by cream-colored sides and black coffee trim. A half erected set of yellow scaffolding stands at the ready, fitting on the landing with only an inch to spare. I eavesdrop as they talk through the process. The safety rails will stay off until the artwork is lifted over, and then they’ll come back down after measurements are made.
I hug the part of my job that keeps me grounded.
They hoist the artwork up with a breathy count of three, and Christy and I watch as the scaffolding wobbles. She winces and closes her eyes. I catch my breath. They balance it in place and she does her classic “up a little, down a little” drill. A brick is marked. Down comes the rail. Down climbs an installer. Down comes the artwork.
The next hour or two is spent tapping and drilling and grinding, making awful noises with powerful tools. It sounds like a dentist’s office, only louder. I peek up occasionally, but I can’t see much. The scaffolding blocks the stairwell and I’m stuck on the lower side.
When the cleats are finally in place and the crew puts away their tools, I squeeze past to get to the upper level. The view is different from here. More serene, more reverent. The building is a former church and I can finally see its venerable bones. I glance at my handiwork gently waiting in the wings and hope it can rise to the occasion.
The crew returns. One guy mumbles something to the other and then picks up the artwork. Over the scaffolding side it goes, up onto the anchored cleat. Suddenly it all comes to life, the copper glowing against the brick. I catch my breath.
The crew climbs down. Christy leaves to resume her plate-spinning. The scaffolding slowly gets dismantled. I take a moment to breathe it all in. Time check? Two and a half hours plus three minutes.
I snag some pictures that I hope will do it justice and then bid the space adieu. I’ll never see it again. I’ll never see the artwork, I’ll never see the person who bought it, nor the employees who hopefully enjoy it. Sometimes when the journey is longer, I never even see this much, just the back of a shipping crate as it disappears into a semi. I count myself lucky.
I walk down the stairs and back outside. The crew carries the crate back down and slides it into the truck with the power of determination and youth. The drive home is unceremonious; Alan and I are quiet with cold and hunger.
But, it’s Thursday and it’s over. There will be time to eat and warm up later.