My house is officially for sale. The sign has been out for three days, but it is official today - because today is the day I signed my name on the dotted line.
I have heard that the most stressful times in life are getting married / divorced, having a baby and buying / selling a house. I have done four out of the five (no divorce) and I suppose the actual experience flows with the statement. Truth be told, marriage has never brought me any stress. Troy is to me what the Grand Traverse Bays are to Lake Michigan - calm, beautiful and warm. A place of rest and respite from the outside chaos. Having babies has definitely brought on some stresses. C-sections with both and a two week stint in the NICU for Ethan due to his arrival being six weeks early has left scars on both my stomach and my heart. Such bountiful moments of joy followed each however that it is difficult to look back and even feel an ounce of that fear that plagued me. The same cannot be said for selling a house. We have sold two homes in the past seven years and as I prepare for the third I can honestly say there is not one memory of the process that I look back on and think 'Gee, that was fun'. Nope. We bought them, spent a lot of money on them and then sold them to move on to bigger, better opportunities. We have never made out in such a transaction. We have never made any money or even broke even. That is ridiculous of course. And here we are, poised to do it again. We bought the house we now reside in just a year ago January and here we are with a realtor (the same that sold it to us in the first place) and our first showing is this Friday. It appears we may be crazy. Or perhaps, for the first time we have decided for ourselves what is real and what is an illusion.
The first home that we owned was a bona-fied doublewide. It came along with the trailer park and all. Classy though - you know, the streets all had nature names and ended with Lane... Growing up in a middle class home, it never crossed my mind that I may one day live in a trailer. It was not a place that I was taught to strive for - quite the opposite in fact. My circumstances however were that of a displaced people. My husband and I had been married for a bit more than a year and I had just given birth to our daughter. We were residing in the panhandle of Florida at the time (a story for another day) and just trying to get by. I had been let go from my job for being pregnant (I know!) and had quit selling plasma (I know!) when I found out I was pregnant, so Troy was supporting us solely by waiting tables at the local Red Lobster. We lived in a tiny apartment with cockroaches and dreamed of being... well, pretty much anywhere else but there. While a bit on the dramatic side, we did indeed get our wish. Hurricane Ivan swept through the state and destroyed our town. We were outrageously lucky and did not lose a single item to that massive storm. I have a crazy picture that shows the courtyard behind our complex where all of the large palm trees have fallen and made waves of destruction. Roofs and walls crumbled in - and our quad stands alone, unscathed. While in theory, I understood the concept of hurricanes, I had been explained to about them prior to moving South like this: 'Oh! They're great. You get off work and hang with your friends in the dark drinking beers and have a hurricane party! Wooo!' In actuality it is nothing of the sort. They are excruciatingly terrifying. If a big one is predicted you have to grab your most valuable possessions, get in your car and head North. Or if you have no money nor place to go, you can try to find a place to bunker down in a local shelter. I feel blessed to say I do not have a story about that. I do not recall this far into the future just how we got the money to leave, but thank goodness we did. We called on the kindness of Troy's brother and sister-in-law in Nashville who took us in. We overstayed our welcome by many days due to roads being closed and power being nothing but a hope for sometime in the future. Two weeks passed before we could get back and attempt to resume living. Driving into Pensacola however made that dream a bleak one at best. So much was gone and what was still standing was not much to look at. I dreamed back to my childhood days of romping on the beaches of West Bay and cried tears of sorrow for my little girl. What had we done? Why were we living in this place? The itch was strong. I had felt it many times while living in this land of gators but now it was overwhelming. Not long after our return to the coast, my Grandfather called with an offer to buy his doublewide in Kalamazoo on land contract. No words have ever sounded as sweet - doublewide. We jumped at the opportunity and happily returned to Michigan. We were the proud new owners of the trailer on Mandrake Lane - you know, the one with the extra wide slab and detached storage shed.
We lived happily in K-zoo for a bit until Troy began to move up the Red Lobster ladder. He had been fortunate enough to be able to transfer from the one in Florida to the location nearest to Kalamazoo. A super server was he - and soon they had him pegged for management. The company likes to promote from within, so Troy worked hard and within a year or so they found a place for him. A company with oh-so-many policies, they would not allow him to remain at the location he currently worked - which meant a move... to Indiana. First however we had to put the trailer up for sale. The park was apparently a company with a lot of rules as well. One of those rules being that when selling you could not use a realtor or easily sell it yourself. For your convenience however, they did have a broker who would show your home and take care of all the necessary paperwork. For 10% of course. Mobile homes decrease in value and we still owed the full amount to my grandfather. We signed the dotted line though because for more than three months, Troy was driving back and forth to work from Kalamazoo to Michigan City, Indiana. It was 93 miles each way and involved a time change. My Gradfather was an amazing man and allowed us to defer payment until the house sold. This allowed us to move into a rental in Indiana and leave the trailer in pristine condition. I mean it. It really was a pretty nice trailer. And our family was able to reconnect. Just in time too - Ethan had just arrived.
We rented for a bit but the itch soon came on. We wanted a home of our own. This time we were determined it would be of the stick built variety and not moveable by wide load transport. Troy's father had passed and he inherited a bit of money. A home is a great investment we'd heard. Investing is what adults do and that's what we are after all... We searched the towns that surround Michigan City hoping to find one with downtown charm similar to Traverse City. I loved growing up in Slabtown and yearned for some of the same for my children. I often dreamt of the days gone by where the neighbor children, my brother and I would weave the streets of the neighborhood - darting between the houses while playing hide-and-go-seek. We played touch football in the street after dinner until the sun would settle into darkness. It was glorious and I could see the same for Marnie and Ethan in my mind's eye. Yes, it had to be - so that is what we searched for - and that is exactly what we found. When our realtor showed us the house that would soon be ours, I almost cried. It was beautiful. Built in 1928 and boasting five bedrooms. Plenty of room if we decided to expand our family. Original wood floors upstairs and many lovely rooms that I first decorated in my mind. I would remove the wall paper and rip up the carpet that blanketed the first floor. It was December, so in the spring I would make gardens out front and plant flowers along with my veggies. The house was so large that the lot almost did not exist. That was doable though because the house was so large! Never mind that there was no garage. What a small price to pay. There was a one way street which meant half as much traffic. No mind that your car had to be moved every other night for street cleaning or you would be issued a ticket. Did I mention it was large?
Spring came and the snow thawed. Our house stood - the beauty I knew it to be. But then we took a look around and found ourselves in the middle of renter's hell. Almost every neighbor was a renter to the same slumlord. They didn't care about anything. He didn't care about anything. Peeling paint, cracked cement and busted out windows surrounded us. The pure white powder and twinkling holiday lights somehow masked the decaying homes that were now our neighbors. The behavior of the tenants matched tit for tat as well. Spray paint tags would appear over night and once someone dumped and entire gallon of white paint on the kid's cedar swing set. It was a very special place indeed. I would not allow my kids to walk down the street let alone run off to play group games. Forget football. We had so much invested at this point with the 20% we had put down that we did not consider giving up and moving on. No, we did something even more logical - we invested another $30K into it. We began with cosmetic improvements. In retrospect that was a mistake. Not as big as buying the home in the first place, but I digress. Under the layers and layers of wall paper was more wall paper. But under that was crumbling plaster. Plaster may in fact be in cahoots with the devil. Every wall needed to be fixed and since we were doing the work ourselves - still looked terrible. There were no pretty original wood floors hiding under the carpet. There was only rotted pine planks that could not be salvaged. My list of woes regarding the LaPorte house continues for way too long but let it be known that I soon came to hate that house. Every ding, every crack - I knew it intimately and I hated it. I began to dream of my escape. This is where France made it's debut. We dreamed of chucking the house and all our worldly possessions and heading for the EU. We looked into what types of jobs we may qualify for in order to obtain residency. We bought Rosetta Stone's French lessons. Forget this housing business. This obviously was not for us. We continued to fix the house up while we plotted but alas it was not to be. In June of 2009 my father was killed and any grip I had left of childish security was stripped. The world flipped itself upside down and nothing would ever arrange itself in quite the same fashion as before. Now it was time to get rid of the house for real. It was time to go home.
As the protection from my father was taken, my desire for security increased. I wanted to be back in Traverse. My mom was there and my brother also planned to return. All of our intention was now focused on this one goal - get back to Northern Michigan. Troy tried to transfer with Red Lobster, but they would have none of it. He went in search of new employment in my hometown - not an easy feat. We listed the house with an agent who was unfortunate enough to have the task of telling us we paid $30K too much for it in the first place. Those improvements we made? No good. They were in vain due to the neighborhood we resided in. And it turns out that the not having a garage WAS in fact a big deal. The move was important to us though, so we moved. The stars aligned. We rented out the house to a friend and headed home. Troy was hired on by Red Mesa and a new chapter began for him. I found work doing hair and the kids enrolled in school. New lives began to develop. We found a cute home to rent and continued lowering the price on the Indiana house. Sell, sell, sell was our mantra. I willed it into existence. Sell it did - finally. Not before a drug raid went through the neighborhood and eight meth houses were condemned. Not before our renter abandoned the house and left it in such a disgusting state that it took a week and another wad of cash to get it fixed up. But it did sell. We received less than two thirds of the price we paid for the same house. We did not morn the loss for long though - for we were free! Free from owning that house of doom and despair. Free to buy yet another house.
And so we did. We knew better this round. We knew what we wanted and we knew what we didn't. We found a realtor that we trusted. Judy Robinson raised her children in the home across the street from mine as a child. She sold my father's home a few years past and I knew she would not guide us wrong. We took our time and I was right, she found us the perfect home. The house is in a subdivision (what I wanted) but backs up to state land and has the complete privacy of living in the country (what Troy wanted. It's big, but not too big. Sunshine beams in from every direction. A three season room off the back was converted into a perfect master bedroom. A space for an art studio and a flow that makes anyone who walks through the door feel at home. There is a garage that hold four cars AND a shed. We were going to live the dream. It was perfect.
For a few months our time was blissful. All was going great. The kids loved their new school and Troy and I both loved our jobs. Our house had gotten some excellent upgrades and new furniture was purchased. There was nothing we wanted to change... Now what? Here we were, many of our struggles behind us, sitting right where we were supposed to be. A middle class family, in a middle class home, driving cars that are paid for, planning two vacations a year and saving for retirement. Honestly we did not expect to get to this point quite so quickly. But here we are. Here we sit. The itch began and as it began, spread with rapid speed. Discontent settled where it had only hovered previously. But there is nothing wrong with this house. Everything is just as it should be. There is nothing wrong with our jobs. We have wonderful employers and work with amazing people. There is nothing wrong with this community nor schools nor family nor friend. Slowly a thought began to creep and a small piece of truth was found. It is not the location or crummy jobs that were the problem. It is not the difficult house or the company that surrounds. It was us.
The entire time we blamed circumstances out of our control for our unrest when it was in fact us that was the cause of our unease. We could be given anything and everything and stand together united in gratitude but it would still be shadowed by our wanting something different. It was in this small seed of truth that we began to see ourselves clearly for the first time. The lives we were progressing within are not exactly what we desire. It is what we have worked hard for and we have been given everything we asked but not what we truly desire. In fact, it is this bounty that now holds us down and keeps us from seeking our place. Why? Fear. Of course it is fear. How do you ask for such a thing? How can you walk away from a lifestyle that you have invested so much time and effort in obtaining? I do not have the answer. Maybe some day in the future I will. One day I have the perspective to look back and see ourselves clearly as what we truly are. For now I am in the thick of it. Deep in the muck but trudging forward nonetheless. What I can say is there is a desire burning in my heart that beats out fear any day. It moves me forward almost without thinking. It fuels me to burn bridges behind me so that the option of retreat is impossible. I gives me words to declare my truths and to stand exactly where I want to be. It gives me vision and courage to ask for exactly what I desire. My home is no longer where I reside nor where I feel secure. Security is an illusion. Life is for living. My home is where my feet take me, and my family I will follow.