Pemberley, Tara, the farmhouse in Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome To Temptation, countless lovingly restored Victorians in countless novels, the Weasley family’s Burrow … I love houses. My path in life was meant to include a beautiful old house on an acre or so of woodsy land where I would put down roots and live out all my days.
Or so I thought.
The Ex and I moved eleven times in our twenty-two year relationship. Some were the annual post-college schlep from one rental to another, but there were also cross-state and cross-country moves. The closest I came to the dream was a one-hundred-year-old, fixer-upper farmhouse in semi-rural New England. That house—underneath its loud floral wallpaper and bright blue woodwork—was lovely with its high ceilings and huge windows and honest-to-goodness barn with a hayloft. One area or another was always torn-up as we worked our way through a remodel we’d never finish. Job changes necessitated another move and our marriage had already been dealt two deathblows; I didn’t yet recognize them as mortal wounds, convinced, as always, we could Work Through It if we tried hard enough.
The Sort-of Dream House
Two states later we bought the Sort-of Dream House, aka the Marital Behemoth. This house was lovely, though not old by my standards, and best of all we now had the money to pay contractors to do the remodel all at once rather than bumbling a slow path through project after project. I designed a cook’s kitchen with a double row of cabinets climbing to the nine-foot ceilings, a high-tech Electrolux dual-fuel range (much more economical than Wolf or Viking yet brilliantly designed), and a big granite peninsula perfect for rolling out dough, doing homework, and gathering with friends. Three-year-old Older Son helped me pick out the granite, standing in front of a slab of Butterfly Blue and grinning, “This one!” The Ex claimed the basement, tricked out with a pool table, full kitchen, and big-screen home theater. He upgraded and painted and hung framed movie posters and album covers and a huge corkboard to cover with tickets from the concerts, music being his passion in life. We didn’t know it then, but we’d both staked out our separate territories.
We moved in a day or two before Halloween. Kids scootered and played and ran from house to house, crunching in piles of autumn leaves and melting snow. We met most of our neighbors the first day; people who would become good friends and one who would become the best of friends, standing by me through every step of the collapse of my marriage. But at the time, I thought we were making a fresh start. This was the last move; this was the house we’d stay in until death, or at least retirement. This was the home I’d longed for.
But although everything was picture-perfect on the outside, it was rotten at the core. Six years later, he left. At first I was determined to stay in that house, but after awhile, the memories choked me. I could stand in the exact spot where I figured out he’d gone on a date with a woman two nights before and picture him standing a couple feet away scrambling for another lie to cover the busted one. Of course, that was in my kitchen.
I wanted a smaller, more manageable house, the kids wanted a bigger yard with a trampoline, and the reality of needing a cheaper place became unavoidable. So I began house hunting here in the land of super-low inventory and super-high prices.
The New House
Nearly three months ago, the kids and I moved into our current house. Smaller. Cheaper, but not cheap (sadly). Close to their school. Big yard with trampoline. My plan was to live here for nine years, until Younger Son graduates, and then flee back to the warmer climate from whence I came. The new house symbolized My New Life. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised my relationship with it is love-hate.
Turns out there’s a big difference between running toward something (like the sort-of dream home) and running from something (like the rubble of the life you knew). When I moved into the Marital Behemoth, I felt welcomed with open arms by the house and the neighborhood. Here? Not so much.
The new house backs to a two-lane road that has a rush hour, making exiting the neighborhood a challenge in the morning and meaning cars idle bumper-to-bumper outside my fence in the evening. I’ve lived next to a California freeway and a commuter train track, so I figured the constant rumble would fade to white noise. It hasn’t.
My former house had networks of walking paths winding through neighborhoods, a park, and open space with views of the mountains rising in the west. Here there’s a walking path on the other side of my fence and the people who walk it toss things like fast food trash and medical tape into my backyard. Divorce Dog finds the stuff before I do and I’m forever pulling nasty things out of her mouth. I feel guilty for complaining. Lots of women find themselves destitute after divorce, some unable to afford any home at all. Having grown up poor, I know how privileged I am now. Despite the drawbacks, I’m in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. I’m profoundly grateful for my blessings, but I still say…food trash and medical tape, people! In my dog’s mouth!
The neighbors are a mystery. We’ve made friends with a family down the street who has children the same age as mine. I’ve met most of the other neighbors on the street once or twice. Other than that, the people here cocoon themselves behind closed doors. In my former neighborhood, I couldn’t get my mail without having a fifteen-minute chat with someone or other. I loved it. I miss it.
No matter how fun it was repainting in shades of white (and purple where I could get away with it) and the small remodeling projects, this house feels like someone else’s home. Although I wanted a fresh start, I don’t have a dream in my head of what I want my life to be now. And one day it dawned on me that I have no idea whether I’ll stay in this house for the next nine years. Nor do I want to. Stay in this house, that is. Or know what the next nine years will hold.
I’m living the Interim Time in my Interim House. I’m feeling the call of new places, tempered by the need to put the kids first, which means staying put. At heart, despite what I thought, I’m a wanderer. No place feels like home. Every new place feels like potential. As much as I once wanted to put down forever roots and live in that old house on a woodsy lot, now I’d rather live in a condo at the beach. As for forever, I’ve realized something while searching for assisted living places for my mother. Forgot the big house on lots of land. I want my twilight years to be in a place where someone else does the cooking and cleaning while I spend my days reading, walking to yoga class, and gossiping with friends. Sign me up.