Subterranean Housesick Blues
That my husband, John,* and I didn’t start looking for our first house until we were in our forties might make you think we were one of those couples who had gone astray in life, maybe spent some time in the slammer. Or a cult. Or hanging around Whit’s End scratching Lotto tickets. No – we both came from good Maine families and have college degrees – we were just what you might call “late bloomers.” Late to our careers. Late to meet and wed. And, most significant, late to this most recent Portland real estate boom.
As a resident since 1979, I watched house prices double and triple here over the years. Not that I cared. I assumed I’d always be an apartment dweller. I was a poet, after all, and poets don’t mow the lawn or grout. They don’t throw dinner parties or have matching towels; the rare houseguest sleeps on the sofa and parks on the street. Besides, poets live on the edge, astride society, and home ownership just seemed so terribly, terribly ordinary, mainstream and, worse, costly. You see, poets also don’t enjoy the luxury of worrying about becoming house poor – they’re already poor poor.
But then, just as I was winding up my career as a slam poet and wondering what adulthood-stalling tactic I could next employ, I fell in love. Not the goofy, girly dead-end affairs and infatuations I was used to, but the Whoa! slam-on-the-brakes-and-change-the-direction-of-your-whole-life kind of love. Adulthood was suspended as we romped through our love coma. Time meant nothing. The future was today. Two years later, John and I wed. And that’s when everything changed.
Marriage was something of a shock to both of us. First, there was the wedding, which we planned and executed in about three months. (I think I referred to it as something romantic like “Let’s do it fast, like ripping off a Band-Aid.”) There was also the matter of where we would live. For many couples, marriage is a perfect reason and season to buy a home, but we were not many couples. Up until a month prior to the wedding, we still had separate apartments – John on the West End, I on the East – not because of any moral standpoint (although we didn’t tell my great Aunt Mabel – a devout Baptist – that), but because we were too disorganized to shack up. (We settled in mine.) Looking for an apartment was more than we could handle. House hunting was entirely out of the question
We did have one brush with it, though, right before the wedding. Friends of John’s sister were selling their home in South Portland. It was a sweet house in great shape, we were told. They had done all the work themselves. It could be a private sale. Cut out the middle man. After dragging our feet and finding excuses not to look, we grudgingly agreed to do a drive-by (a new and very exotic term for us) after work one night. We crossed the bridge at dusk, found the house and parked up the street on the opposite side, craning our necks to look back at it. Yes, it was sweet. And in a quiet little neighborhood. Good trees, nice yard, privacy. This isn’t so bad, we thought, this looking at houses.
All of a sudden, the door opened and someone came out. We both ducked down as though we were caught casing the joint for a burgle, not a buy. We were so unnerved by the experience, we had to go recover over a beer at Gritty’s, where we vowed to never ever look at another house again.
But then something strange started happening. After we’d been married for a couple years, some of our friends started buying houses. And I’m not just talking about our grown-up friends and older siblings and people with kids. I’m talking about our artist/musician/photographer/cartoonist/rock ‘n’ roll/poet friends, some a good decade younger than I. There would be nights I would lie in bed and recite their names: “Darien and Leyli. Shoshannah. Ann and Brett. Matt and Amy. Linda. Andy and Jona. Corey and Kristen. Paul.” And we watched as couple by couple, and one by one, our friends gradually faded from view. Understand, they didn’t disappear; they just began to recede into their new homeowning lives. Sure, you’d still see them around town or at parties (they were always the last to arrive, with paint under their nails or spackle in their hair) and, sure, they still acted interested in your life, but you knew as you described the latest antics of your imaginary cats or gossiped about someone across the room, they were listening, but there was something going on behind their eyes that said, “Celery or wheat grass for the foyer? Sconces? Tile? What time does Home Depot open in the morning?” (Of course that last one is not true – they all had the hours of Home Depot tattooed on their inner arm.)
And then something even stranger started to happen. John and I started getting house envy. We wanted to be in the house coma, too. But neither of us had a clue what to do.
So, I started talking to friends. Some said get a real estate agent, some said use a buyer’s broker. Some said go to a bank, some said use a mortgage office. Some said take a first-time homebuyer’s class, others said don’t waste your time. Finally, I called my friend Marcy, who buys, rehabs and sells houses for a living, and she told me to go to her mortgage office and get a credit rating, so we would know how much house we could afford. After that, she said, everything would just start happening.
That sounded easy enough, but I thought it would be best to let another couple months go by before I actually did anything. Because if there’s one thing a late-bloomer doesn’t like to do, it’s rush.
Elizabeth Peavey’s column, which runs biweekly and was formerly (and ironically) called “Come On-A My House,” has undergone a name change to reflect the fact that, no, she does not want you coming over to her house. Ever.
* Readers of my former column, “Outta My Way,” might be surprised to see that my husband – heretofore referred to as “Husband” – has consented to allow his name, his real name, to be used here. Let it be known that this turnabout did not come without extensive marital discussion. When we first met, I was deep into my “Outta” career. He asked, and I promised, that I would not use his name in the column. (I kind of took it to mean that it was OK to have the weird girl come over to your house after school, but you didn’t want to be seen with her on the playground.) I honored that promise, until I was well into writing this column, in which there were just too many damn references to him to keep up with the cutesy/folksy “Husband.” After much deliberation, he relented. (That we do not share a last name might’ve made the decision easier.) So, I would like to thank my beloved for once again indulging me. After all, it was about time to give it up anyway. Everyone already knows – you married the weird girl.