Late last year, I attempted to move into a house not owned by my parents. I sat down with a potential roommate (a friend of a friend) and we established that although we were strangers, neither of us was too strange.
I began to haunt Craig’s List for homes in our price range (which was somewhere between “it has a lot of personality” and sleeping with a gun).
I fell in love with the first house we saw. It was over a hundred years old with beautiful wood floors and a mantelpiece. There was an enclosed porch on the second floor and I could just see my writing desk there with a cup of tea on it, curling steam.
“I want this little yellow house,” I said, after the current renter had left and my not-yet roommate and I were left alone in my car.
“You can’t fall in love with the first place we go,” he said.
But I did.
At my insistence, we drove to the property management company and even began to fill out applications before we realized that the numbers didn’t add up. To qualify to rent this house, we would need another roommate, at least (and it had been hard enough to find each other). Still, I kept hoping.
* * * *
We walked through apartments which looked as though they hadn’t been redone since the seventies (with prices to match). We toured buildings with tiny washing machines, and pools in the complex, and the chance of a garage (if there was a vacancy).
The whole process made me tired, and I kept thinking about that little house.
“Apartments are fine,” I said. “But houses just have so much more character, don’t you think?”
We had just realized that we were truly torn over something important. I wanted wood floors, he did not. We were both convinced that the other simply didn’t understand the facts.
“Sure,” he said. “But there’s so much more to take care of in a house.”
He didn’t get it. After years of living in places I couldn’t control, I wanted someplace to care for, some place to love.
“Let’s just see,” I said. “Maybe if we find the right house.”
* * * *
I went to our last showing alone. I didn’t intend to, but my would-be roommate got lost. So, I stood in another little yellow house (apparently I’m strangely drawn to yellow houses) and chatted with the representative of the management company, trying desperately to act like I knew what I was talking about as I asked questions.
There are lots of different kinds of little yellow houses. As I think back on it now, with its empty laundry room, draped with blackout curtains and central hood location, this one would have made a good drug house.
This little yellow house, a bit worse for wear, was across the street from the Salvation Army, and two buildings in from Planned Parenthood.
There was a handy bus stop on the corner, and several inexpensive Chinese restaurants close by.
I don’t know if it was the pedestal sink in the bathroom, the bright orange bedroom (with a walk-in closet) or the wood floors, but I found myself asking about the next steps in the application process.
My roommate arrived after the agent had left, and we peeked in the windows. The paint was peeling and chipped, the interior was dark, and the windows were leaking heat faster than it could be generated.
For some reason, we decided to apply to rent it.
* * * *
If warning bells were ringing then, I didn’t hear them.
This was it, we were getting our little yellow house.
We signed the papers and picked up the keys. It was the week of Christmas, and my brother was in town to help me move my belongings from one home to another.
I moved my things, but planned to stay at my parents’ through the holidays.
My roommate moved in with his brand new set of early Christmas Tupperware.
* * * *
I began to unpack, a little each day, setting up my bed, and hanging my clothes in the closet. I thought I was emotional from all of the transition, but as I smoothed my duvet and placed my new set of knives on the counter, I couldn’t shake the lump in my throat. I didn’t open the knife package, I couldn’t bear to put them in the sticky, hand-painted drawer.
I was nervous about going to the house alone at night. I would reach out to my roommate, first, to make sure he was there, or take my brother with me. I would put on a record, and turn on all the lights, hoping I would get used to being on my own.
But something wasn’t right.
It wasn’t long before I started getting texts from my roommate. They were low-key at first. Don’t cook anything. There might be mice. I haven’t seen any.
But things escalated quickly, as they often do.
He called our contact at the management company. She offered to bring mouse traps.
There are mice everywhere.
I called him, after that, and he told me about the nest in the stove, the droppings all over the counters. I thought about the evidence I’d seen in my closet.
Before I knew it, we were on the phone with each other, and then the property managers, trying to break the lease we had signed days earlier.
When it was done, and we were free, my almost-roommate moved back home to another city. I sat amidst the boxes in the room that had always been mine, in my parents’ house, and cried.
* * * * *
“Moving House” was written by Cara Strickland. Cara has lived in San Diego, California, London, England, and Upland, Indiana. Once, in college, she wrote an essay saying that she was from Narnia. She currently lives in Spokane, WA, in a wonderful little house with wood floors and a purple porch, where she is a writer, blogger, editor, and food critic.