I shivered in the hardware store’s air conditioning and handed an old receipt to a man who worked in the lumber section. The man was in his fifties, a little bald, and a little fleshy like someone who had been lightly poached.
On the back of the receipt I’d sketched out the kitchen unit Em and I were planning on building in our bus. The kitchen plans were ambitious, I guess, but you don’t decide to turn a school bus into a tiny home without ambition leaning towards delusion and optimism leaning towards madness.
In the kitchen, we were going to make a sink out of an old enamel pot. Below the sink, would be a cupboard with a barn door that could flip up to turn into a table. Beside the sink, we were going to have a counter for food prep and six drawers with faces made of reclaimed wood underneath.
“I’d like to know what sort of wood I need to build this,” I told the man in the hardware store.
He looked at the receipt and then dragged his eyes from my head to my feet to my head again.
I’d just come from brunch and was wearing a cute skirt, strappy sandals and a nice top. I gave him my very best beauty pageant smile, and he looked back down at my sketch.
On our first trips to the hardware store, Em and I dressed to impress. We wore ripped jeans and plaid shirts, and we tried to make our voices louder and more confident as we told the employees that we’d bought a short school bus and wanted to turn it into a tiny home.
In those early days, it felt like our entire future was held together by Popsicle sticks and band-aids, and if anyone found out we had no idea what we were doing, our entire project would fall apart. What we found instead, was that most people we talked to were just as excited as we were about the stupid, enormous project we’d taken on.
As we built more of our bus, Em and I had stopped worrying so much about looking like we knew what we were doing. Not only were we more confident in our abilities to figure things out as we went along, we were less embarrassed about admitting that we’d never done anything like this before, and we were taking a chance on something big.
Now, on what I felt like was my 48th trip to the hardware store in the past two weeks, I stood in my skirt and strappy sandals and waited while the man in the lumber section looked between me and the little drawing I’d just handed him.
“This way,” the man said eventually, and he brought me to the back of the store where they sold premade kitchen units.
“I’m not sure if they’ll have exactly this,” the man said, “But our kitchen specialist should be able to help you out.”
“I’m sorry,” I told him. “I actually want to build this myself.”
He looked back at the drawing, then at the sea of prefab kitchen units, and then at me.
“Have you ever built anything like this before?” he asked.
“Do you have any building experience?”
“I have two weeks of building experience.”
I guess I should give the guy some credit. For one, I didn’t tell him that in those two weeks Em and I had built a bed, a couch, a coffee table, a desk, a toilet, and more. That, and I guess the guy was trying to stop me from throwing my money away on building supplies I wasn’t able to use, but I had a feeling that if I was a fifty-year-old man, I wouldn’t have to go through the same runaround.
“It would be easier to buy a premade unit,” the man said.
The man ran his fingers through the little bit of hair he had left and looked me up and down again like my skin was suddenly see-through and he was watching the blood travel through my veins.
While Em and I had gotten a ton done in the past two weeks, we knew that building the kitchen would be the hardest part. With our bus going into storage in just seven days, I didn’t have time for stare downs with old white men.
“I just need to know what type of wood you’d suggest,” I said. “It has to be durable, obviously, but it only has to last a year, and it has to be as light as possible.”
“This would be challenging even for someone like me.”
I shrugged and wondered if he would walk away or I would walk away or if we’d be there until closing, standing in the middle of all those cabinets and counter tops, staring and staring at each other. I imagined our bodies seizing up and paramedics wheeling us out on our sides, still frozen in position.
The man shook his head and finally led me back to the lumber section.
He most definitely thought I was an idiot, and I thought about telling him about the bus and all the work we’d been doing and how much I’d learned, but I suddenly didn’t care.
I’d spent my whole life trying to look like I knew what I was doing, but Em and I had turned an entire bus into a tiny home without having any idea what we were doing. Maybe not knowing what I was doing wasn’t the worst thing as long as I was still doing it.
Throughout our build, Em and I made a lot of mistakes, and I sure that as we get on the road, we’ll find more and more things that we’ll wish we’d done differently, but in the end we still did it. We, who had no experience and no guidance aside from YouTube, bought a school bus and turned it into a kickass tiny home.
Once the kitchen unit was finished and everything was in place, Em and I sat in the bus with beers and looked around at what we’d built.
“I know we made every single part of this,” Em said, “But when I see it all together, it seems impossible.”
I nodded, but I wasn’t sure if I remembered how to speak. It all seemed so much better than anything I ever could have imagined. Even while we were building the bus, I hadn’t realized we were capable of something like this, but here it was.
We’d crowbarred up moldy floors, hauled bus seats and sheets of plywood. We’d sawed and screwed and grinded off, and in the end, Em and I had made a little home for ourselves, and I could only imagine what else we could do.