Remember how I was telling you my house was on the market? And about what a bittersweet, poignant process letting go was? I mistily recalled all the backyard birthday parties, and admitted to sneaking over to my neighbor Annie’s back porch and spying every time potential buyers drove up.
And remember how I confessed to cracking open a bottle of Cabernet one night and blasting the Billy Joel song “I’ve Loved These Days” over and over when I thought my daughter wasn’t listening? (Well, it turned out she was. Now she thinks I slept on satin sheets and need to change my jaded ways.)
Then I didn’t tell you anything for four months.
Sorry about that.
The thing is, something kind of amazing happened, and as eager as I was to share it, I was even more determined not to jinx it, so I went into stealth mode. Not just with you, but with my real-life best friends, too.
When it comes to real estate, you just can’t be too careful.
It started in January of 2011, when I spotted a house that made my heart stop, and wrote a note to the owner, asking her to let me know if she ever wanted to sell. “Back off, stalker,” she wrote back (except politely). So much for that, I sighed, and resumed logging onto Realtor.com five times a day, searching in vain for a house special enough to wrench me away from the one I was unnaturally attached to.
Over a year later, still conflicted about selling my house, and debating whether or not to list it again in the spring, I did something I hadn’t done in a long time: I asked Michael for a sign. “Not to bother you,” I said out loud in the car, where I knew my daughter couldn’t eavesdrop, and looking heavenward for just a second because I was driving, “but can you figure out a way to let me know it’s time to move on?”
The very next morning — I swear — I got an email from the woman saying she was finally ready to sell her house, and would I like to see it?
I was smitten by every fixer-upper inch. The catch was, she’d already closed on a new place, and was in too much of a hurry to wait for me to put my house back on the market. But it turned out a couple who had bid on my house two years ago — we’d gotten to the point where we were negotiating about the swing set and the extra refrigerator in the basement, when I chickened out — were still interested. Because they loved my house, too.
So they bought it, just like that. And I bought this:
May 30 was the last night I slept in the home where I spent the happiest years of my life, where Michael used to sing Irish drinking songs while he cooked dinner and my children weren’t teenagers yet, so they still thought I was wonderful, and thin. But even though moving was painful, and the process every bit as onerous as I’d thought it would be, guess what?
I like it here. A lot.
When I brought a contractor to the house, he laughed at me. “What did you do, drive all over town until you found something that looked exactly like your old house?”
Well, yes. That’s exactly what I did, I just didn’t realize I was doing it. But now I don’t have a mortgage or an acre of unused lawn to (pay someone else to) mow. And despite the sewage backup in the basement (I know, ewww!) and the fact that when I turned my brand new central air conditioning system on, it caused a power outage on the whole block (“Don’t tell anyone it was me!” I hissed at the startled Con Ed foreman as a workman scrambled down the pole because they were afraid the transformer was going to explode), I’m happy.
It’s really, really hard to move on, but at some point, if you let them, the people and places you’ll carry in your heart forever stop feeling like a weight, and start lifting you up.
Welcome, rest of my life.
I will not be buying Halloween decorations anymore. I used to festoon the first floor of my house with hanging witches and ghosts and spider webs, adding more every year to the collection I keep in the holiday decoration room in my basement. But my kids are teenagers; they don’t care about black cats and pumpkin candles. Besides, my plan is to be in a smaller house by this time next year, and it probably won’t have a room just for holiday decorations.
It might not even have a room for my son, but that’s next year’s problem.
I did put two scarecrows on my front porch yesterday.
My neighbor Annie noticed them and pointed out that I really shouldn’t be spending money on Halloween decorations right now. (I KNOW, ANNIE.) But the scarecrows aren’t new; I found them in my decoration room. They seem like new because I haven’t used them for years — they were hidden in a corner that’s very dark because I can’t figure out how to change the light bulb. (That sounds like a joke but it’s not.)
Unfortunately, my dog is terrified of the scarecrows. I discovered this after I vacated the house so a realtor could show it, and returned an hour later to find holes dug in the pots and dirt all over the stairs, which the dog had apparently tried to spray at the scarecrows to make them go away.
(I shouldn’t be surprised that Dylan is afraid of scarecrows. He is also afraid of cardboard boxes and his food bowl.)
It makes me sad that my children aren’t wide-eyed with excitement about Halloween anymore. I miss tailing the squealing, happy packs of kids as they raced from house to house trick-or-treating.
Now I just sit home Halloween night, hoping my son can outrun the police.
But I have such memories: the hay rides and little girls giggling in Disney princess gowns and pillowcases full of candy. I don’t need to string up a line of pumpkin lights in the family room to bring it all rushing back.
It was wondrous, wasn’t it?
No, I don’t need paper ghosts swinging from my trees Halloween night, much less a room to store them in.
They’ll always be with me anyway.
This is the last time I skip going to church for seven months.
I have no excuse. (Except for July and August. My father taught me that even God goes to Vermont in the summer. I would have thought Tuscany, but that’s His call.).
Why didn’t I go to church for seven months? I Just Didn’t Feel Like It.
But now I have to go, because my daughter is being confirmed in the spring. I have to remind everyone that I am still in the parish, not like those church cheaters who just pop in on Christmas and Easter. Or maybe October, if they want their daughter to have a shot at being Mary in the pageant.
Anyway, yay, church! I’m back!
Walking in was a little embarrassing, though. Everyone was very nice, of course (it’s church!), but it has been a while. How could I have missed the Easter service, just because my teenagers wanted to sleep late and “incense makes us sneeze”?
Ever the multi-tasker, I used my view from the pew to scour the congregation to see if anyone got a facelift over the summer. (I don’t think so — that’s not very Episcopalian. The meds might react badly with the martinis.) Meanwhile, the sermon was worth the price of admission — seven months’ worth of missed offerings, to be exact. I love how the rector can interpret scripture to make even things like repenting sound like fun.
But seriously, my church has been there for me during some very difficult times. The least I can do in return is show up on Sundays, and that’s what I’m going to do from now on.
Most of the time.
This is the last time I’m going to complain about the fence my neighbors put on the border of our properties.
I HATE IT!
There, I’m done.
People have told me that the fence, 6 1/2 feet tall and black chain link, looks like it belongs in a prison yard, but so what? Realtors warn me that it devalues my otherwise rustic property, but who cares? My disgusted landscaper said the neighborly thing to do is set a fence at least a foot back from the property line, instead of right on it, but whatever…it’s just a fence, and I have to get over it.
(Please don’t be offended if you have a chain link fence. I have nothing against them; sometimes they look great. But this one made me cry.)
If I don’t get over it, I’ll become the cranky lady on the block that all the kids are afraid of, like Mrs. Mockler.
When I was little, that was our next door neighbor. The Mocklers didn’t have children, and they hated dogs. Or at least, they hated our dog, a collie named Suzy. Over and over, Mrs. Mockler would summon the police to complain about Suzy’s barking, and every time she did, the police would determine that the noise wasn’t enough to be considered a nuisance. So Mrs. Mockler kept dragging my parents to court to complain about the dog, but the case was always tossed out. The fifth time she did that, the angry judge threw her out, and told her never to waste his time in the courtroom again.
So my father researched the barking-est dog that existed, and bought us a German Shepherd named Tinka. Then we had two barking dogs, and there wasn’t anything Mrs. Mockler could do about it.
That story makes me laugh, but I’m not going to be vindictive like that. Besides, I already have a beagle that howls and a teenager who likes to play drums with the window open, and that’s without even trying.
And my neighbors are young. They don’t understand what they’ve done. My reasons for wanting to preserve certain things are sentimental. But my neighbors, full of energy and enthusiasm, want to make changes, and have the right to make their property look the way they want it to. If they could have shown more consideration for my feelings (a simple wood fence would be great! I told them), maybe I was similarly single-minded when we moved here 15 years ago, and put an addition on the house that required so much drilling a neighbor had to send her freaked-out dog to a kennel for three weeks.
At the end of the day, it’s just a fence.
Today will be last time I throw something in the garbage because I am too lazy to find a place for it.
I’m not talking about things like the toaster I pitched into the trash last week, that only toasted bread on one side. I used it that way for months, putting the bread in twice so I could toast both sides, before it hit me: “I really shouldn’t have to do this.” So I went to the mall and bought a toaster at Williams-Sonoma that looks like something from the Jetsons. That felt good.
No so good was the pile of furniture, clothes, toys and dishes that I giddily cast into the dumpster when I was having the ceiling in my basement fixed three years ago. I spent all weekend running around the house finding things to throw away. By the time I was finished, the dumpster was bursting and there wasn’t enough room for the old ceiling pieces, so the contractor had to rent a second dumpster. Which meant it cost me $500 to throw away my crap.
For my next round of purging, my neighbor, let’s call her Annie, and I decided to have a garage sale. That went fine, but as you know, there’s always a lot of junk left after a garage sale. The dregs of your belongings, the items you couldn’t even give away. Annie’s husband, let’s call him Mitch, is very ecology-conscious and doesn’t believe in throwing things in the garbage that will end up in a landfill and destroy the environment. He puts them in his basement instead. So even though I had promised Annie that if she had a garage sale with me we would put everything left out in the trash pile, and she wouldn’t have to haul stuff back into her house that she never wanted to see again, Mitch couldn’t bear to go along with that. So after the sale, not only did Annie have all of her leftover stuff sitting in her basement, she had all of mine.
Another strategy I would not advise to dispose of belongings is tossing them out a window. It seemed like a good idea at the time: When my mother was selling the house I grew up in, her attic was full of junk she couldn’t bear to part with. Sorting through it, piles and piles of it, she’d agree to throw something away, like a deflated basketball or box of our old school notebooks, then change her mind. It got so frustrating, I threatened to just fling things out the attic window. Then I started doing it. It was so much fun, my mother started doing it, too. Whee! went Barbies and torn paperbacks, out the window. Whoosh! went grungy pillows and comforters. (Good lord, I sound like Dr. Seuss.) We were just finishing up — and, if memory serves, polishing off a bottle of wine we snuck up there — when my dad found us and said, “You’d better come outside.” So we did. Dad pointed to the house. Under the attic window was the roof over our front porch, which was now covered with our stuff. And we didn’t have a ladder tall enough to get it off.
With a little extra effort, I can find places for things I don’t need anymore. There are two churches in our town that have huge attic sales every year; there are charities that pick up items, and bins for used clothes at the grocery store. I can take advantage of that.
Today I’ll throw something away that I really shouldn’t, because I told you I would. Maybe a bike my kids have outgrown, or an old stereo.
But I’m going to cheat. Before the trash pickup, I’m going to tell Mitch it’s out there.