In a couple weeks I’ll turn 43, and I can honestly say that until four months ago, it never occurred to me to want a house. Scouts honor: Until the past autumn, I never remotely considered joining the American “Homeowner” mafia. It’s not that I’ve been stubbornly opposed to the idea, so much as that my lifestyle has never afforded me conditions for seriously considering the possibility.
I spent my young adulthood in a state of perpetual motion, travel, and transit – mostly between states, and occasionally between countries. These experiences were collected in the name of the book I wasn’t and am only sort-of-now writing. These adventures were regularly accompanied by short stints in contemplative communities, during which periods I’d pause, catch my breath, and ponder the possibility of an intentional spiritual or monastic path. While many of my friends and loved ones grew their 401K’s, smartly invested in future “equity,” and touted the good news of duplex-ownership, I fantasized about the conversation that may have occurred between Thomas Merton and the young Dalai Lama. When, at another in the long string of housewarming parties, you would drop “mortgage” and “new countertops” into the conversation, my thoughts drifted to the Alice Munro story I finished before heading to the potluck. Over drinks, you talk about the mold in your basement, dry rot or asbestos in the ceiling, and I’ll nod sympathetically while actually worrying over the lyrics for a song I was working on in my apartment before we met up.
Maybe it’s that recently the kids’ Legos have become to our two-bedroom apartment what bacteria is in preschool and daycare, accumulating at such an alarming rate that I’d swear these bricks should come packaged with the same rules that applied to Spielberg’s “Gremlins” – particularly that one about not adding water.
Then, too, I suddenly find myself in the company of an 11 year-old, Sam, who recently began requiring “Privacy” in our bathroom. (The humor is not lost on me, as I am afforded exactly 0% privacy in any room comprising our shrinking living space.) Perhaps you, too, would question anew these admittedly creature-comforted, still-privileged circumstances if you watched your six-year-old pound on the bathroom door, followed by his brother shouting he’s “busy,” after which you hear yourself offer the small boy a mason jar. Refusing that option, I recently told Matt, “Well, then you’ll need to wait. Or, there’s the woods? There! Those trees just past the parking lot?”
* * *
It would have been impossible not to see the house. Resting at the bottom of the hill on the curve that leads to our apartment building, it’s actually a wonder the “For Sale” sign is still standing, that no one making the turn this icy winter has clipped it or smashed into it.
And while I initially spotted the sign, I didn’t make anything of it until a week or two later when, while driving the kids home from school, Sam asked if we could look at it.
He just wanted to look at the house, I told myself. It was in walking distance of our apartment building, and looking at a house didn’t mean I had to suddenly unearth the money to buy it. Or did the kids imagine that acquiring a house was a lot like purchasing the newest Avengers Lego set?
The woman who met us that Saturday morning told us it needed work, and she was selling it for her parents and they wanted it off their hands sooner and so some things were negotiable. “Which is still really no matter,” I thought, running the numbers through my head, “because 0 divided or multiplied by 0 is still 0.”
However, I’m puzzling now about what happened the moments after she showed me the faded, dried up remains of the summer’s strawberry and raspberry patches. And then, too, when Sam reached for the sturdiest, lowest hanging branch on the crab apple tree out front. Soon, the kids were running through the large yard out back and I was suddenly watching a story play out in my mind that I’d never until then mildly entertained. Exactly where had this story been hiding, I wanted to know? The one where the kids run laughing through the wide open yard – not a stone’s throw from the garden – and I then drift from my spot by the woodstove, out to the back deck with a beer in hand and cheerily call, “Alright you knuckleheads! C’mon – it’s dinner time!”
At one point, as the kids rolled around the large, empty living room, wrestling and doing somersaults and cartwheels, I looked out the wide, surrounding picture windows – each of them desperately in need of a lot of work – and I saw the room filled for a house concert featuring a friend’s solo act or one of the many local bands regularly staging intimate, unplugged house concerts around Alaska. Around then, deep in the throes of their play, Sam stopped suddenly, shot a glance my direction, and asked, “Can we buy it, Pop?”
I stammered and sighed. The owner’s daughter laughed, told me she had a couple kids of her own and understood, while I grit my teeth and told Sam we’d think about it.
“But I like it! I want that bedroom!” he announced pointing down the hall.
We didn’t buy that house. There are a few reasons why. Money is one, of course, but so was the basement, which yanked me out of my fantasizing and only called to mind The Silence of the Lambs.
And I have yet to buy a house, still, though I’m thinking about it with a bit more conscious intention and thought now. I guess, until that Saturday a few months ago, every other house I’ve stepped into seemed only a house shaped collection of rooms. For whatever reason – the berry patches, the woodstove, the three bathrooms, or maybe the kids running with abandon through a yard, I can’t say exactly – one autumn Saturday afternoon, I somehow found myself plumb in the middle of a possibility called home.