Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

I have a friend who spent months enjoying the process of choosing new paint colors for her New York city apartment. She savored the names of the colors, the slight distinctions in hue at different times of the day, gazing at the paint samples brushed on her walls. She observed the impact of the color on the collections of art and books that make her home unique. She enjoyed every last bit of the process and has now happily assigned the work to a well recommended painter and his crew, comfortable in knowing that her living space will be improved by the choices she made.

I am in the process of moving the fruits of my long collecting life into a New York City apartment. I hired big men to push large objects into small spaces, then stack and squeeze boxes containing hundreds of books and wardrobes of clothing—to say nothing of the objects I could not bear to hide away, plus a mirror the size of a bus and art for the walls. (Not enough of them—walls, that is.) I have another apartment on the floor below, where I live while going through the process of disconnecting myself from beloved objects. It is not a pretty sight. Blood everywhere as I pry my memories from each object that must go to storage.

After weeks of weeping and holding onto a library table that was far too large, and favorite paintings for which there was clearly no room, decorative objects began to plead with me: “But don’t you remember that Saturday afternoon at the antiques fair with Adam when we joined your life?” “Remember where we lived on the mantle of the fireplace?” “On the library table in the front hall with the black and white checked wallpaper?” “Choose us! We want to stay!”

The process is moving along, but it is not joyful. I had minutes to choose the paint color that would define this new home. I wanted aubergine walls, high gloss. I had lived with this color in New York years before, and it suited me. But there are 20 different kinds of aubergine, infused with more or less brown, purple, black—secrets of shading that I cannot discern. And I had minutes to choose a color so that John, the long-suffering, overcommitted general contractor of my life, could come in from the country with his team and re-assemble the glass bookshelves, with their special brushed-steel supports, all over the new apartment. He gave me the drop dead date: ‘This day I can come, otherwise not until September.’ And he never lies.

I had to find the color and the exact hue, and God help me, I had to find a painter. John had always supplied the painter—but not in the city. Friends, decorators, decorators who are friends all got the SOS: Desperate for painter…desperate for painter…desperate for painter.

No one had anyone on such short notice. Finally, the building management gave me a name of someone they’d used. Reasonable, responsible, and would work on Sunday.  

I went to the big Upper East Side paint store 15 minutes before they closed on Friday to purchase five samples of aubergine paint. Unlike my friend, who chose with care, consideration, and time to spare, I sped to the counter and told the man there, “Don’t even think about closing before I get the five sample cans I need.”

“Are you nuts, lady?”  he said.

“Don’t push me,” I responded. “Just mix these paint samples and I will leave peacefully.” In New York, they see my type all the time, so he did just that, handing me the cans along with five tiny roller brushes and an equally tiny paint tray.

The sun was low in the sky in my high-floor apartment and I had almost no working light fixtures in the space. So I quickly slapped all five variations onto my walls—horizontal bars of color with only the slightest of differences among them. I had to choose within 24 hours. Clearly time for a cocktail—after all, it was now past 5 o’clock. But even Jack Daniels didn’t make the decision-making process easier.

I called my friend Shari, an accomplished interior designer who lives around the corner.  She could tell that madness had taken root in my frontal lobes, but she too has had much experience with New York women. In soothing tones she assured me that she would arrive in the morning and discuss my options, then reminded me that once the bookshelves were up and filled with my beloved books, I could review the color and could even choose an accomplished painter to do the final coat.

 Sleep and hot coffee, shared with a friend who understood the stress of this move and the stress of this painting deadline, helped make the choice manageable.

After the consultation with Shari, I shared my choice of which aubergine with the husband, who had refused to enter this 10th circle of hell until I “came to my senses.”  He gave final approval and went to the paint store to purchase the requisite gallons of paint, sparing the man behind the counter a certain nervous breakdown.

At 7 a.m. the next day, Sunday—that day of rest—the painter appeared. Maybe 21 years old, with an assistant who was older. This paint job had become a Hail Mary pass if ever there was one. They finished 12 hours later without any conversation with me. No suggestions for tinting the base coat. No questions at all. Finished and a more than adequate job. 

John arrived the next morning. Given the usual drama and trauma—not enough glass shelves from the last home for this new space, do I really need more, no, I don’t know where I ordered the metal bits, after all it was years ago—homicide was on the agenda.  He could see it in my eyes. Okay, I’ll find the stuff and be back in a week, but it will be overtime since I have a day job, which is not following you around putting up these shelves in every new home and all the little crap I do for you…

And he did. The shelves are up. The bookshelves are filled, and the walls of aubergine are just right.  

But back to the process. I long for the luxury of time to imagine the differences among 50 variations of aubergine. It might not change the color I chose, but my friend’s joy in the process is now a template against which I want to reinvent myself for the rest of the work that has to be done. I do need to finish so that we can live here without chaos. Time is still the devil at my heels, but now that the objects have been somewhat curated and the floors are free of boxes and books, I can begin to imagine how home will look, once again.

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  • Tyrel Holston July 30, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Hearty laughter; I can relate so well to the guilt and agony from attributing human emotions to inanimate objects. “keep me, keep me” – I still lol. I’ll be waiting for the next installment!

  • Evelyn Lorge July 8, 2010 at 9:52 am

    I loved hearing that my wonderful, smart doctor is consumed with color shadings – just like me. I must begin to make a decision about the colors to be painted in my apartment. This will inspire me -but as to what I am not sure.
    Thanks for sharing this .