“The answer is no.”
“What’s your problem?” my wife said, exasperated. “This house is great!”
“The oil tank’s rusted, the yard will flood, the layout is weird, and the kitchen’s from the 70’s. Besides the school system sucks.”
The realtor trailing us, a flaky fiftyish woman whose eye shadow looked like it was applied with a paint roller, chimes in. “What can you expect in your price range?”
Annoyed, I lance the realtor with my thousand-yard stare. “Better than this,” I said. “C’mon honey. Let’s go.”
Annie and I continued our argument in the car. “You’ve said no to every house!” she said. “Every one! You will never be happy!”
“We both have to like it,” I said. “This is a huge decision.”
Annie started crying. “You don’t want to buy a house. You want to stay in your old apartment forever!”
Her statement wasn’t far from the truth. I have lived in my apartment for twelve years. Under it’s roof I’ve had four jobs, two dogs, one roommate, four girlfriends, wrote two books, got engaged, conceived a child, got married and watched my daughter take her first steps in my living room. To say I’m attached to the place in an understatement. Besides, I hate change.
“Honey,” I say, struggling to be patient. “That realtor has shown us nothing but junk, stock she can’t move.”
“You know what that house was?” I said. “That was a ‘dead parents’ house. The heirs are trying to get as much as they can for it. I’m not funding their retirement by buying that dump.”
“You’re being ridiculous.”
“Yeah?” I said, my temper flaring. “Well tough shit.” As you can imagine the rest of the conversation did not go well.
Getting married and having a baby are two of life’s most stressful events. Annie and I did it all within seven months. But as soon as the first diaper dried my wife started looking at houses online. “A house? I said. “We just had a baby! Let’s pace ourselves and get a year of parenthood under our belts first.”
That statement, while accurate and probably sensible, wasn’t entirely the truth. I have always been terrified about buying a house. Not because of the money involved, my wife’s a whiz with finances, but because I would have to face one of my greatest fears – competing with other people for resources. Real estate is a bloodsport. Ever notice at an open house how the prospective buyers milling around never look at one another? That’s because they’re all in competition with each other! If this was the Stone Age we’d be slugging each other with rocks! And I’m the kind of guy who goes nuts fighting over a parking space. Not my scene.
After a year reality eventually took hold. My apartment had become too small, my daughter needed a yard, the landlord raised the rent and I was sick of hauling my clothes to the Laundromat. So my wife and I decided to look for a house but I put some ironclad rules in place. The house had to be a real house, not something with a weird layout or a fixer upper, in a nice town with good schools, low crime, and with a large yard on a quiet street. And, here’s the kicker, the mortgage payment with taxes and insurance included couldn’t be more than the rent we were currently paying. Good luck.
The process of looking for a home just confirmed my suspicion that people are deluded. We saw shacks whose owners’ were asking top dollar with a straight face. Almost everything we saw was a dump; rickety huts next to supermarket parking lots, homes with questionably constructed additions, shaky floors, poor foundations, asbestos filled basements and very shifty neighborhoods. On one excursion I saw a guy dealing drugs out of his house. One crazy renter living in a prospective property wouldn’t even let us in. We were also contending with sellers who bought when the market was high and were now trying to squeeze every penny out of their unfortunate investment. One house we saw had lost $80K in value. While I felt bad for the sellers I wasn’t about to let their problem become mine. As the months passed Annie and I grew discouraged. Maybe we couldn’t afford a house. We argued a lot. We churned though realtors.
Then in June a new realtor showed us a ninety-year-old Craftsman type cottage on a quiet street in a nice town that hadn’t yet been listed for sale. With three bedrooms, a large porch, fairly modern fixtures and a nice sized yard, my wife thought it might need some work but was solid. I also liked it but, stressed out from the whole process, excused myself and stood under the massive maple tree in the front yard.
The tree, gnarled and magnificent, towered over house and cast it in a protective shade. As the wind rustled its leaves a powerful stillness came over me. When I quit the Bistro nine years ago a wind was blowing that day, pushing me away from a life I had outgrown. A few days after I discovered I was going to be a father I was in a church when a powerful wind blasted down the nave, flipping hymnal pages and announcing my life had forever changed. For me the wind has always been the Other’s voice. Standing under that maple I heard it speak again. “This house is yours. This is where you need to be.”
So my wife and I put an offer on the house. Several other bidders came in with escalating clauses but the owners decided to give it to us at a fair price. We are very grateful to them. There was no bidding war. No real estate ruthlessness. My greatest fears were for naught. Then, due to my wife’s efforts and savvy we sailed though the mortgage process and closed. And wouldn’t you know it? Our mortgage payment ended up being the same as our old rent. We got everything we wanted but none of it would have happened without Annie’s hard work and persistence. We moved in a few days ago. And when my daughter saw that big tree her eyes lit up with joy.
There is a legend in Eastern Christianity that Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified, is where the Garden of Eden once stood. Some theologians posit that the Cross and the Tree of Life are one in the same. I’m not making any comparisons to the Messiah, but sometimes I’ve felt my life was a Golgotha of sorts. In my blackest moments I never thought I would amount to anything. The demon of failure has always hung over me, screwing me up in ways too countless to enumerate. I never thought I’d get married, become a father or buy a house. Now I’m writing this post on my new porch as Buster sleeps at my feet, enjoying the shade from that old maple tree.
Tonight my wife and I will cook dinner, read Natalie a bedtime story and then tuck her into bed. When I eventually slip under the covers that old tree will be swaying outside my bedroom window, filtering the moonlight though its leaves and whispering, “You are home. You are home You are home.”
My own little corner of paradise. At least until I have to mow the lawn.