Structures

Getting somewhat better about posting before half a year elapses. This resolution is going much more smoothly than that one about staying mostly Paleo. We can’t be good at everything though- am I right?

This particular post has been on my mind for a while, and I’ve spent at least a third of my last several weeks’ showers and drives to work narrating it to myself. I always worry a bit that these posts are too much. Too heavy. Too many feels. And this one is also feels-y. On the bright side, I’ve been super sassy lately (more so than usual, anyway), so I’m hoping I can undercut some of the thick stuff with some light-hearted, slightly off-color humor. But if you don’t know by now that I am a font of introspection and mental wanderings, you haven’t been paying attention, and it’s not my fault, whatever disagreeable feeling you’re feeling.

So there.

Jumping right in to things, I closed on the refinance of my house last Tuesday. On the surface, it seems like one of those mundane, “adult” things, belonging on a list written with a fading, black pen on a yellow note pad between cleaning out the gutters and creating a final will and testament. Not exactly earth shattering. But when I got home later and parked my car in the driveway (why don’t I use my friggin garage?), I sat there with the engine running and cried.

Home. My home. I have lived in this house for nearly six years, but this is the first time it really felt like home.

Why, you ask? Let me back this train right up. When this house was purchased, my lack of credit history and employment made it more of a liability than a benefit for me to be on the actual mortgage note. I have always been on the deed, but the house never really felt like something that belonged to me in so much as it was a place provided for me to live in while raising my children. Don’t get me wrong- I love this house. It’s bigger than any house I lived in or frequented as a child with a big back yard in a quiet neighborhood full of incredibly kind people near to the elementary school where my children now attend class. In my mind’s eye, it is almost exactly what I wanted for myself when envisioning my adult life as an adolescent, right down to my bedroom being at the head of the hallway where I can read in the low light on my bed and monitor my children.

I was thrilled when we moved in to this house.

Our neighbors were thrilled.

My kids were thrilled (well, the two older ones, as Maddie was still baking when we moved).

But this house, for years now, has not strummed that “home” chord in my heart.

Things quickly fell apart in my marriage after we moved in. As most of that is water under the bridge I keep rebuilding, I won’t air out all of what that entailed. I just remember sitting on the couch, watching my newborn in her swing and my toddlers in their high chairs, wondering why I didn’t feel fulfilled. Why does this place feel temporary? Even a year, two years down the road, why do I feel like I’m walking over someone else’s carpet into someone else’s kitchen, picking up after myself and my children so as not to annoy some faceless entity that has more of a claim to ownership than I do? Are they going to come back and hold me accountable for all of their plants I killed? I really did try.

For a while, I passed it off as post-partum depression, from which I suffered after all of my children. Then I decided it was the Zoloft I was taking for the PPD that was causing me not to feel things I should be feeling. Then I decided it was because I was restless and needed more to do. Then it was because things were so tense in the house between me and the father of my children. Year after year after year, some reason why this was not my home.

When the divorce was initially negotiated, it made the most sense for me to stay here with the kids. I would be the custodial parent, naturally, and this is the only home they could remember. We both understood that the divorce was going to be hard enough on them without moving them around. When he left, I remember being so confused. What am I supposed to do now? What do I do with this place? Why am I the only grown up here, and how many weeks of coaching myself through acceptance of being alone is it going to take before this feels normal? I took all the family pictures down and replaced them with pictures of just the kids and I, relegating one frame in each of the kid rooms for pictures of them with their dad to help them cope. I redesigned the master bath and rearranged the master bedroom for obvious reasons. I took over paying the mortgage (still in his name) and the utilities and cable.

Why doesn’t this feel like mine? At this point, I had lived in the house for four years. Shouldn’t the weirdness have fallen off?

I learned how to (somewhat) manage the yard and use yard equipment. I dealt with all the normal disasters of home ownership- broken appliances, broken garage door, three fallen trees, new animals that further destroyed carpet that was barely surviving after three straight years of potty training, repairing dry wall, etc- but I still felt like a landlord would come around at some point and chide me for the degradation of the property. The loneliness stopped being scary, and I started to enjoy the quiet after the kids went to bed. I moved from shitty new-hire hours to normal-adult hours at work, finally accomplishing going to bed regularly before midnight and getting up with my alarm at almost-adult morning hours, filling the empty space in my bed with my cat and all the soft throw pillows.

I can do this. I can do this on my own. So why isn’t this my home?

Last fall, the father of my children drug me through a rather unpleasant litigation process, during which the situation with the house came under discussion. I was running out of time to refinance it out of his name and into mine, striking his name from the deed, but, again, because I don’t take out credit cards, have no personal debt that I regularly paid on, and had only recently returned to work, it was proving impossible to get approved for a mortgage for this much house on my own. I had done nothing wrong. Literally nothing. But, all of the sudden, the way I had just figured out how to do life was facing a death penalty, and I was terrified that there was nothing I could do.

At first, it was mostly my concern for the children that made me upset. The visitation and support amounts were both about to change, which would already impact their lives. To move over Christmas into some temporary something somewhere in the same area was more than my emotional capacities could bear. Still, understanding that it might come to pass, through no fault of my own, I began the delicate process of priming my kids and researching houses nearby. “How would you feel about selling this house and picking out a new one?” They all agreed it wouldn’t be so bad- after all, this house “was so old, and we’ve lived here foreeeeever.” The turn down letter came from the underwriter two weeks prior to the court date and after several nights of sleeping in a chair next to Darrin’s hospital bed, and I stood in the hallway, watching my kids clean their room before bed.

My heart sinking through the floor boards into that abyss that kept eating all the things I thought I had managed to build in my earlier life, I was starting to wonder how I hadn’t become a complete basket case. I remember smiling weakly at them before walking to the kitchen, sniffling into a pot of boiling Mac and Cheese. So this is really going to happen to me. Not surprised. Nothing comes easy. There’s gotta be a way to do this, I know, but I’m so tired.

Our case was continued, and over the span of two months, negotiations were made that extended my time frame on this house until July. The underwriter had advised my mortgage consultant that the issue was only that I hadn’t been at my current job for two years. That point would be May, which would leave me about two months to get through the process. From February to May, I just had to sit and hope and pray, trying to find some enjoyment in the temporary calm and last months of the school year. Round and round we went, each day ending with me pulling into the driveway, watching my kids spill out of the car and into the yard, dragging their bookbags behind them.

Christ, help me.

All the hours of mind-numbing work resulted in some pay raises and a title change shortly before the re-start of the refinance was set to begin. Despite the financial hit I took from the court case, I managed to stay on my feet- then better- by keeping my nose to the grindstone. Things seemed to be going very smoothly by mid-May, and it wasn’t long at all before I received a call from an appraiser hired by the mortgage company to schedule an appraisal. Queue complete and utter panic as I looked around the house at all the wear and tear raising a herd of small children can cause. This poor house. What a trooper it has been.

The morning of the appraisal, I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin. My sister, the continual heroine of my story, brought my nieces and helped me with last minute details. My mower and weedeater died, so the yard was too tall. We quickly threw mulch over the exposed weed guard and shrugged at my inability to landscape. House was vacuumed, walls scrubbed, windows wiped.

Then my Maine Coon kitten’s tale caught on fire via a candle.

Then the day care called to tell me my son was projectile vomiting.

If this house didn’t appraise right, I could possibly be totally and completely screwed. I was nauseous enough without the smell of burnt cat hair completely undoing my nice citrus intent and a possible stomach virus that was about to come in the door with Lucas. With seven minutes until the appraisal, I put on some deodorant, mascara, and my dressiest yoga pants because there just wasn’t time for anything else given that I was waiting to catch barf any second now. Whyyyyy is my life like this?

The appraisal happened, and the gentleman who did it seemed immediately sympathetic to my cause. Or maybe my three children immediately demanding to know whether the bank was going to let us keep the house made him feel awful. I can’t say for sure, but I think he may have done me a solid for one reason or another because the numbers came back better than they needed to for the refinance to be successful. I was finishing up notations on an account at work and logging out of my computer systems when my phone flashed to let me know I had an email to my personal address. Loan approved. When would I like to close?

I have only ever been so happy I cried a handful of times in my life. As I badged out of the building, eased out of the gated parking lot, and started the long drive home, my eyes welled up. This was it- the last  of the things I had to do to sever the tie to a nightmare. And my little, brick house in my quiet neighborhood where my children occasionally ran naked through the back yard and sunburned their butt cheeks was finally a safe place for me. No matter what, I had finally secured the ability to provide for myself and rule over a domain that was mine. I could shut my door and refuse to let anyone or anything in that threatened the tranquility of this space that sheltered the three little loves of my life. We were going to be okay.

I am struck now, as I was in that moment, with respect for this house. You would never look twice at it when driving down the street, and likely no one will ever know from the outside how much of my heart was broken, repaired, and rebuilt within its walls, under its roof. The walls need painting from toys thrown across rooms and furniture shoved into place by a small woman in a hurry. The carpet is a complete disaster from spilled drinks, muddy feet, cats with claws, and the odyssey of potty training a boy. The counter tops are chipping away from glasses dropped from shaking hands, and some of the quarter round in the kitchen has been completely broken off by God-only-knows-what. The siding needs a pressure washer; the shed is creepy as hell; and I should just give up and hire a landscaper.

The list goes on and on. Such good bones. I’m sure this place was a beauty when it was new. But now…well, it lovingly contains the hurricane that is my life. For all the enormous emotions I have dealt with here, I feel like the walls must occasionally flex into a concave shape, and if houses have ears, mine is deaf from the kids. Bless its heart.

So jumping back to the earlier paragraph about crying when I got home from the closing, the one thing I feel I’ve never had- a haven- was now mine in every sense of the word. It finally happened, that home feeling. And as strange as it sounds, I feel like the house looked lovingly back at me, too. I have watched you rock your last baby to sleep and fill pages of journals with ethical struggle late into the night. I have heard you sobbing in the bath tub as you slid off your wedding band, mourned the loss of several dreams. I felt you grit your teeth when the month outlasted the money, when you had to do the hard thing because it was the right thing. I tasted your sweat as you threw weights to forget that you hurt, that you’re scared, that you’re lost, that you’re in love, that you just don’t know if you’ll get through tomorrow. And now that you’ve stumbled back to your feet again, I am here to house your rest. Wherever you are going, you can always come back to base here. Well done.

Thank you, house. You have given me more than you know.

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