Monday, December 16, 2013

Blowing Away Ghosts

Anyone who knows me knows how sentimental I am about houses. I've been in my house for thirty years. From the floor joists to the rafters in the garage, I know this house. It's part of me. I know which stairs creak, when the sun will shine in and where. I know how it smells. Other people have lived in this house over the years, but I was here in the beginning and I'm here at the end.

Memories abound. Lucy's second birthday. Babies conceived. Infants brought 
home from the hospital. Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving. Tea parties, birthday parties, Christmas parties, graduation parties, and most recently, a wedding celebration. A perfect April day in the garden for Lana and Rich.

The continuity has been important to me. We moved so many times when I was a child. From Michigan to New York and then all around Rockland County and finally to LA at seventeen. On to San Francisco and eventually Mill Valley. When I moved to this house on Oxford I'd lived in fifteen places in twenty-five years. Then it all stopped.

 My mother is still moving. In her eighties, she moved into another new house a couple years ago.  My siblings are like me. All four of us are still in the houses we bought when we were in our twenties. Our kids have all had the consistency we craved.

It's been a fight for me to stay. When Lucy was a toddler I split up with her father and moved in with my brother and his girlfriend. We decided to look for a house better suited for all of us. There was a rental company called "Crystal Palace."  We told them we needed a house for three adults, a toddler, a dog and a cat and it needed to be under a thousand a month. Miraculously, they found us three properties. We chose Oxford because it had a garage for Doug and a big, flat yard for Lucy.

After a couple years things changed again and Doug and Lisa moved out and Robert moved in. We got married and when I was pregnant with Lana, the owners decided to sell.  Robert didn't think we could afford to buy the house, but I refused to budge. We didn't even have the whole down payment and the house was priced at $153,000. We begged and borrowed. My mother and stepfather co-signed on the loan because we couldn't qualify.

In August of 1986 we bought the house. Nine months pregnant, I started tearing out the ugly wall-to-wall carpeting before escrow even closed. That month Robert also adopted Lucy, and in September Lana was born.  When Allie was three we expanded the kitchen, vaulted the ceilings and built the master suite upstairs. Pearls and Lemons has borne witness to the remodeling travails in earlier posts, but the process did the marriage no favors.

When Robert and I split up he reconnected with his first wife and they remarried and bought a house in San Diego. Robert became detached and wanted to sell so he could get his money out. I wanted to stay so the kids could still live in the house where they grew up. Allie and Lana, in high school, weren’t even finished growing up. We fought bitterly over it. I couldn't afford to stay. I couldn't bear to leave.

It was only when things became serious with Eric that we were able to work out a deal to buy Robert out. We scheduled some deferred payments and agreed to five percent interest. I never thought he'd really charge the interest, but he did. I'll always appreciate the years Eric has given me in the house. Without him, I would have been gone long ago.

Now we've decided it's the right time to sell and look for a smaller place. Eric has worked long and hard. It's time to take some pressure off him. Now I want the money that's in the house more than I want to live here. We've also outgrown the neighborhood. It's for families with children. Our house needs a new family, but now what? Where to go? If I wanted to be in a condo it would be simple. I think Eric could go that route, but I still want a house. I want windows on every side and I want a garden. A small house is fine, but a condo would feel like failure.

It's a challenging process. Even though it feels like the right move, there is grieving to be done. The day after Thanksgiving I completely broke down. I looked around the kitchen and thought about my grandfather sitting in the breakfast nook and all the wonderful dinners we've had over the years. It's not the living. We can make more memories with them anywhere. Lana put it very poignantly. She said it made her sad because she's lived here with Dad and she's lived here with Eric, but there will never be another place where she's lived with Dad and Eric. The reality is she'll never live here again.

When I was most sad about leaving the house I was struck by an unexpected thought. This house is full of lingering spirits. I hadn't realized how sad it's made me to have three empty bedrooms that used to shelter my children. It's an unrecognized, subconscious pain, but it's there. I still don't like to be home alone at dinnertime. If Eric's away I will usually go out to dinner. It makes me sad to be alone here in the evenings. It's too quiet after so many years of vibrant, frenetic, joyous chaos.

We're all processing in our own way. One night Eric was restless in his sleep. He was making strange sounds, exhaling loudly, blowing air on my neck. Finally I woke him and asked if he'd been having a bad dream. He said it wasn't a bad dream. He was blowing away ghosts. He dreamed we were in our new house and there were blue misty shapes that were bad spirits. Like the wolf in The Three Little Pigs, he huffed and he puffed and he blew the ghosts away.

The vicissitudes of the local market demand we sell before buying. We need ready cash to make a competitive offer. We also need to know what we'll get for our house.  It's a good financial plan unless you're a hundred thousand off in the calculations. We need to move before selling because the house must be empty when the floors are refinished.

We are soon to be homeless. On one hand the prospect of change is exciting. On the other, it's scary not knowing where we'll be living. It's a leap and an adventure. In an ironic twist, after years of doglessness, we need to find a temporary rental that will allow a dog! I'm envisioning us in a small cottage or an apartment over a garage. Small and cheap with funky charm. If you have the perfect place, please let me know. And if it has ghosts, not to worry. Eric will blow them away.