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.
Last week, for the first time in ages, I was alone on a Saturday night.
I’d dropped my daughter off at a Bat Mitzvah, and my son was playing music at a friend’s house. Normally I would be having dinner with You Know Who You Are on a Saturday night, but You Know Who You Are had to attend a client’s charity event in New Jersey, and he realized that the only thing worse than paying an extra $400 to buy me a ticket, too, would be to sit next to me at the dinner and listen to me complain the whole time about how boring it was.
So I had the place to myself Saturday night, and I decided to make the most of it.
I lit some candles, opened a bottle of wine and ransacked the CD stack until I found a Billy Joel song that has been running through my head.
It’s called “I’ve Loved These Days,” and it plays like background music to the waves of memories that have been hammering me ever since I put my house on the market: Michael and me seeing the place for the first time at dusk and me sighing and saying, “It’s my dream house,” and Michael smiling and saying, “Then we’ll get it,” not realizing because of the darkness that it had been so neglected that the engineer’s report would label it “a handyman’s special”; Patrick, at age two, running around the kitchen in his little yellow fireman’s helmet, pointing to the oven and yelling “Fire!”, and us thinking it was so cute until we realized the oven actually was on fire; Michael buying a tent so we could have sleepovers in the backyard, but the kids getting scared of the crickets after fifteen minutes, so pitching the tent in the middle of the living room instead, and keeping it there for nine months until we had to make room for the Christmas tree.
So I blasted the Billy Joel song and listened to it over and over until I was embarrassed the neighbors would hear.
Of course, most of the song has nothing to do with my life. Michael and I did not “drown our doubts in dry Champagne,” for example, or “soothe our souls with fine cocaine.” There were no silken robes.
There was cabernet, however, and a string of pearls. And a foreign car.
But mostly, just days and days and days that I loved.
Billy Joel wrote this song about settling down and renouncing excess, then went on to divorce three times, do multiple stints in rehab and build a $20 million house in the Hamptons, so I can’t go too far with the analogy. But I do understand the powerful poignancy of happy memories when you’re on the brink of a loss.
I also understand that if it hurts that much to lose something, you were awfully fortunate to have had it in the first place.
And I’m not talking about the cabernet.
There’s another part of Saturday evening that involved a mysterious noise in the kitchen, but I’ll save that story for next time.
Right now there’s a song I want to listen to. Again.
A few weeks back, you may recall, I invited the priest from my church over for tea. Shortly after she left, my realtor got a call from someone who wanted to make an offer on my house. The next day, a house I’ve always loved went on the market.
But things on the real estate front have stalled since then, so I’m having an open house today. After cleaning and de-cluttering, I thought I’d give karma a little kick by helping out at the church clothing sale again. Did I really believe spending a couple of hours sorting through other people’s cast-offs would nudge Anyone into making something happen for me, real estate-wise?
Of course I didn’t.
But did I do it anyway, just in case?
Of course I did.
The last time I worked at the clothing sale was very rewarding (yawn), but this time it was fun, too, despite the fact that they stuck me in the shoe department. I even socialized a bit (I know!) and it turns out those church volunteers are not at all the kind of people I assumed they were.
I already knew one of the volunteers, Sally, because I invited her over after she moved to my block a couple of years ago. To my surprise, I discovered in quick succession that Sally the dedicated church volunteer is A) a Democrat, and B) a discerning cocktail drinker, two qualities I appreciate in people who come to my house. My newfound respect was cemented when Sally accused people who invite you to cocktail parties, but only serve beer and wine, of false advertising. “There’s nothing wrong with beer or wine,” she sniffed, “but beer and wine are not cocktails.”
That Sally is my kind of Episcopalian.
So I went to sort shoes with an open mind, and while I can’t vouch for the political leanings or drinking habits of the other women at the church, they were relaxed and funny, not uptight and judgmental like you might think church people would be.
(No offense if you’re uptight and judgmental.)
My open house starts in 45 minutes, so I have to wrap it up. I’ll let you know next week whether my clothing sale detail did anything to tip the real estate scales.
If not, that’s okay. I found a gorgeous pair of navy Ferragamo flats at the clothing sale that I happen to know I can get for cheap, since I priced them, and that will still be there tomorrow, since I hid them under a cushion in the Sunday school room.
Sometimes, you have to make your own luck.
Will this be the last time I set out pots of red chrysanthemums on my front porch?
It will be if I sell my house soon. I’m having an open house this Sunday, so from 2 to 4 you’ll find me in my neighbor Annie’s kitchen, spying from her window at the looky-loos who pull into my driveway.
Or don’t. It’s not the smartest time of year to hold an open house.
My poor realtor. It’s taken me six months to get comfortable with the idea of a pack of strangers from the city tramping through my living room, but those strangers will more likely be driving around upstate gawking at leaves this weekend than checking out open houses. Suckers. I can see gorgeous fall foliage right outside the wall of windows here in my tastefully renovated 1924 Dutch colonial.
Want to buy it?
If you do, you probably have little kids. Most of the people who’ve liked my house are parents of pre-schoolers. That’s because the house has a big, beautiful backyard, and it’s near the duck pond and the reservoir. The (fully finished — new carpet!) basement has a nice room with big windows and a bathroom. I’m sure people with little kids check out the basement and think, “Wow, what a great place for an exercise room.”
That’s what Michael and I thought, too, and there used to be a treadmill in it.
Not anymore. Now there’s just a teenager.
It’s a good deal all around: Patrick has his privacy, and I can’t smell his old socks and three-day-old cheeseburgers. What I can smell, through vents in the family room, is cigarette smoke, which has been useful on more than one occasion.
The house also has an alarm system with a very handy setting: a beeper goes off if a toddler tries to go outside when no one’s looking.
It’s equally handy if a teenager tries to sneak out when everyone’s sleeping.
Yes, there’s lots to like about my house, but you never know what kind of people will show up to see it.
I hope whoever buys my house will love it as much as I do. I hope they have little children who will giggle as ducks paddle over to them when they toss bread in the duck pond. I hope they have pony rides for packs of squealing kindergartners at birthday parties in the backyard. I hope those adorable children grow up to be teenagers who find the shortcut home from beer parties at the reservoir, and slip in through the basement door without realizing that their parents discovered the tape they put over the button that sets off the alarm.
I hope they fix the garbage disposal, but shhh, don’t tell them it’s broken.
I guess more than anything I hope the people who buy my house appreciate all the things that make it special.
If they do, I might just throw in the minivan.
2011 did not get off to a good start: My son got suspended from school. I lost my job. I put my house, which I love, on the market.
So why am I happier than I’ve been in years?
Part of it is being liberated from a work situation that passed its shelf life six years ago. Part of it has been the opportunity to spend a lot more time with children who needed me more than I realized. Part of it is finally being ready to give up two bedrooms no one sleeps in, a formal dining room we only use on Thanksgiving, and a swing set no one plays on anymore.
But another reason I’m happy is the unexpected outpouring of support I am getting from a community I’d clearly never appreciated enough.
After word got out that my son was suspended, three different people offered Patrick work, to raise his self-esteem, and it did.
After word got out that I left my job, one friend after another, including people I hadn’t seen in years, called with contacts — names and numbers, not just advice — and took me out for lunch and coffee and drinks to make me feel better, and it did.
After word got out that I put my house on the market, everyone just wanted to know what I was asking for it, but that’s real estate for you.
Networking is not in my nature. “You have to reach out to everyone you know,” advised a friend about job-hunting. But I have never been a reacher-outer. My mother told me that at my kindergarten parent-teacher conference, Mrs. DioGardi revealed that during free time, I never joined the other kids. I just sat in a corner and played with dolls. My mother asked if that was a problem. “Not really,” said Mrs. DioGardi. “The other kids always come over to her.”
Waiting in the corner for people to come to you might work in kindergarten, but you wouldn’t think it would be an effective strategy for a middle-aged single mother who has to find a new job.
But so far, so good. I’m actually excited about finding a job, and have all sorts of intriguing directions to explore, all because a lot of people I’ve never even invited over to dinner want to help. (You didn’t miss anything, ladies, I’m a terrible cook.)
As I made my escape every weekday morning on the 8:13 train to the city, I used to think about how suburbs are a web of gossip and sniping and social-climbing. And some probably are (hi, Scarsdale). But where I live, that web has been more like a safety net, made up of people ready to catch you when you fall, then take you to happy hour for $5 Appletinis.
I’m a long way from understanding how grace works, but I’m learning that even if you sit around and wait, it will find you.