Carpet Surgeon: The Story of Why I Can’t Have Nice Things

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When I left my hometown to attend graduate school, I moved into an apartment in San Marcos, a city 30 minutes south of Austin. I loved that apartment. It was my first time living alone, and I had a grand time setting it up just how I wanted. I’ve never been a neat freak, but I was proud of my adult home and I took good care of it.

One day, after a marathon cleaning session, I walked through my bedroom and was surprised to feel a small patch of wet carpet under my bare feet. I couldn’t remember spilling anything in my room, but I figured it was probably just a bit of water, so I used my toes to rub the moisture in, assuming it would dry.

A lot of mistakes happen in this story, and this was Mistake #1.

Hours later, I walked back in my bedroom and stopped dead in my tracks. The “bit of water” on my carpet had dried as planned, but had left behind an ugly orange stain. The texture of the spot felt rough and fried.

Turned out, the innocent-looking wet patch had been caused not by water, but by BLEACH. I was dumbfounded. I had been cleaning with bleach earlier in the day, but I really couldn’t remember carrying the bottle through my bedroom, much less spontaneously pouring some on the carpet.

Like I said, I was proud of my little apartment, and I felt sad that the Great Bleach Monster had invaded my lovely space. It was all I could think about for the rest of the day. My unhappiness only increased when I realized that my apartment managers would likely charge me an exorbitant amount of money to replace the carpet, when (not if) they found the damage.

An amount of money I didn’t have. Because I was in graduate school. Earning a degree. Pretending to be intelligent.

I couldn’t and wouldn’t be foiled by the Great Bleach Monster. I Googled ridiculous things like: “how to reverse the effects of bleach” and “how much does carpet cost?”

I felt sick. I wanted to cry.

I kept asking myself how a “real” adult would handle this situation, and I quickly (and irrationally) decided that adults don’t make mistakes. If they do, they make adult-sized mistakes…like running someone over in their car. Spilling bleach was kid stuff. All night long, I tossed and turned in bed, trying desperately to think of solutions to get myself out of forking over hundreds of dollars.

The answer came to me the moment I woke up the next morning: I was going to have to paint the patch of stained carpet.

Stay with me, here. It was the only solution, aside from confessing to the crime, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to do that.

Still in my pajamas and wild sleep hair, I tore through my art supplies, frantically searching for a paint color that would match the carpet. Apparently the paint gods were smiling down on me that day, because I found a pretty close shade of beige. I held up the little bottle of paint, beaming at it with pride.

It was like Jonas Salk probably felt when he finally worked out that tricky polio vaccine.

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I knew right away that it’d be foolish to use the paint in its original form, because it’d dry too thick and leave the carpet feeling strangely “hard” and brittle. (Like interior decorators always say, if you’re going to paint your carpet using acrylic craft paint – you have to do it right.)

I poured a little paint in a bowl, watered it down, and sat cross-legged in front of the stain. Painting tiny carpet fibers was delicate, tedious work, but my little brain was full of shiny hope and confidence that it would work.

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And that was Mistake #2.

Look, the paint idea technically did work. You’re probably rolling your eyes at me, but trust me here – it looked MUCH better than the awful burnt orange had. When I backed away from the stain and squinted my eyes, it could almost pass for normal carpet. The main problem came when I stepped on the painted patch and discovered that it felt like walking on a pile of crunchy toast crumbs. I knew it’d be noticeable to anyone who happened to walk on it barefoot.

I barely resisted the urge to throw myself on my bed and cry. Instead, I resigned myself to my computer to pitifully Google “how to unpaint something.”

I mentally toiled over my carpet for weeks. When I wasn’t searching online forums for insights from fellow Bleach Monster victims (there aren’t many), I was staring at the stupid patch, anxiously wishing for inspiration to strike – or for the carpet gods to bless me with a carpet-healing miracle.

At night, I dreamed about the stain taunting me for my incompetence. I could feel my sanity deteriorating.

Then, just as before, the answer came to me when I woke up one morning. As I got out of bed and gathered the necessary supplies, I felt grim and nervous. I knew my intervention would either solve the problem for good, or spell total and complete disaster – there would be no in-between.

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Carpet Surgeon, part 2