Take the long way home
For the past six months, I have, in this column, reported every minute detail of the agonizing process I have come to refer to as Househunters in Hell…. How John and I shuffled our feet and stalled. How we were haunted by every misstep and life choice that made us have to settle for less house than we felt we deserved. How we came late to the home-buying table and realized the chafing dish filled with affordable houses on the Portland peninsula had long been scraped clean. How, if it were not for the heroic efforts of our beloved broker, Rita, we would still be paying rent and waiting for our neighbor, whom we named Thong, to remove her dainties from the washer so we might hose it down with disinfectant and do laundry.
And as those of you who have followed this saga – which my former editor, Al Diamon, recently told me makes Proust look like the king of pith – know, this process dragged on for months. And months, and months.
So, you would think when the long-sought, hard-won moment that ended our search came, the heavens would’ve opened up, the strings would’ve surged, John would’ve scooped me up in his arms, twirled me around and exclaimed, “My Love, we are home. We’re finally home!”
That’s how it was with the house we had made an offer on three months prior. It was love at first sight. But finding our real house wasn’t even like at first sight. And I felt about as twirlable as today’s Tonya Harding.
See, after being beaten out (ooh, shouldn’t use that term so close to Harding’s name) of what I perceived to be our dream house, our search went into despair mode. Rita continued sending listings and cheerleading. I continued doing drive-bys and the occasional viewing, but the fire had gone out. Somewhere buried deep in the wiring of my Protestant upbringing was the notion that suffering reaped reward. I felt we had paid our dues, learned our lessons and earned a house. But the cosmos wasn’t complying; it was keeping its fist closed. And that’s because I have come to believe you don’t choose your house. Your house chooses you.
Now, when I say that, I’m not talking in a creepy, Amityville, bad-basement-mojo sense. I’m talking about being infected with the notion of home, of having its tendrils slither into your brain and wrap around your mind. (I am making this sound sort of gruesome, aren’t I?) Maybe explaining what happened will help:
It was the second of November, a Sunday morning. John and I had just done groceries, and I was looking at the “Open Houses” in the real estate section on the ride home around Back Cove. I saw what appeared to be a cute little bungalow located in East Deering that was being shown, starting at noon. It was a few minutes of, “We’re practically driving right by. Why not?”
As we followed the directions, my heart sank. The address was not far from the very first crappy house we had looked at, in what I then referred to as a “rotten neighborhood.” We pulled onto the street, and I zeroed in on the plastic kids’ toys piled on the porch of a three-unit apartment building across from our bungalow. “No,” my mind said. “Worse than basketball hoops. Not for us.”
Just then, a man came out the bungalow’s front door with an “Assist 2 Sell” open house sign that he drove into the lawn. He must’ve felt our eyes on him, because he turned and waved us over. Oh well, we were there. And that front porch was awfully sweet. It wouldn’t hurt to look.
A decisive moment in your life can swell in memory like a sponge. And what I remember is this: We went through the front door, and before I took anything in – the drawn blinds or the mattresses on the floor or the Pepto Bismol-pink cupboards or the disgusting (I’m saving this delectable morsel for later) bathroom or the shag carpet or the shiny vinyl wallpaper or the weird smell – I saw in front of me a fireplace and felt the open sweep of rooms and knew I was home. The moment couldn’t have lasted more than a second; immediately thereafter, the reality of the house began its assault. But now, two years later, it’s all I remember of that first visit: That feeling of home.
Of course, we didn’t know it at the time. In fact, John and I “yicked” the whole way back to our apartment. “Yick, did you see that awful shamrock-green runner on the cellar stairs?” “Yick, did you see that horrible pantry in the kitchen?” “Yick, did you see that disgusting linoleum and paneling?” “Yick, did you see that ancient furnace and wiring and those beat-up floors?” Yick yick yick.
So, we let our house go. Too much work. After all, the first thing we had told Rita was “No fixer-uppers.” When she saw it, she agreed with our decision to pass. She, too, was underimpressed with the neighborhood and thought the house needed too much work for us. Almost instantly it went under contract – and that’s when my remorse gene went into overdrive.
I started dreaming about the house – about walking up the steps to our porch and opening the door and seeing a fire in our fireplace. That was all there was to the dream, yet I always woke up sad. I recognized that feeling. I was grieving.
A flurry of inventory came up that November. We saw nicer houses and better neighborhoods, but nothing measured up to our bungalow. Why had we hesitated? The universe had opened its palm to us, and we had “yicked” at its offering.
Then a miracle occurred. While visiting my mother in December, I picked up the real estate listings and saw our house was back on the market. Before I could exhale, I had John tracking Rita down, and the wheels – amidst the holiday hubbub – were once again set into motion. And once again Rita found herself sitting in her office on weekends when she should’ve been out making merry. We made our offer, and it was accepted on December 29.
It was over. We had been given a second chance, a Christmas gift from the cosmos. Of course, it came with one slight drawback that we, in all our zeal and fervor, hadn’t thought about.
We were just about to become (strike the horror-movie organ chord)…Homeowners in Hell.
If you think homeowning is going to turn our Elizabeth Peavey into a domestic diva, stay tuned… and don your safety goggles.