Tuesday, September 28, 2010

the quest for home

In June I found THE house that will suit our needs best, located in the town where we hope to live. Ipswich is not far from where we live now, but the streets are safer for bicycles and roller blades. The high school art and drama programs thrive despite economic times. Our kids could bike or walk to school in Ipswich, or walk downtown for an ice cream.

In July, we gathered our house-buying team and placed a bid for the house. We were outbid on the same day, by people with a large chunk of cash and no property to sell. In August we found a buyer for our condo so we could be ready to look for another property. But every house we saw seemed a poor comparison.

Two weeks ago THE house came back on the market— the other buyer’s sale fell through, even with their large chunk of cash. We placed a bid 24 hours later. The bid was rejected: that decision took a week. We placed a higher bid one week ago, with a lower percentage of downpayment. And we were outbid again, after another week of waiting, holding our breath, begging for our friends’ prayers and good intentions.

I just heard last night, after a long day of teaching and parenting. My husband is numb; I am angry. But like the last time, no one lives in that lovely house yet, and anything could happen. We will watch and wait, ready in case of any change.

And we will look at other houses. We’ve already seen twenty, thirty maybe. All seem to be too small, or too expensive, or nothing to write home about. I’ve seen every sellable 3-bedroom house under the price of $400,000 in the city of Ipswich. I lurk on the real estate sale listings and Zillow. I feel like I know the city intimately, just from its real estate.

But the house we want is under agreement to be sold to someone else.

Who are they, these competitors? Do they want this home as much as we do? Surely they must. The last owners left an old-fashioned shingled mailbox on the post of the front porch, with a note reading “welcome” inside the box. Ragged rose vines climb over the entry of the sagging porch. Sweet old bird feeders hang from the trees and window boxes of faded pansies rest on the upstairs windows. Will these new owners clean the dear fishponds, or fill them? Will they keep the small planting shed my daughter has claimed for her office? Will they love the neighbors— Mary and Dave, Ellen and Doug— the way we would? Or will they live like everyone else in New England, distant strangers?

I was hoping to meet the neighbor across the street. Her Concord grapevines climb the trees of her yard, vines fruiting far up into the sky. I would love to grow grapes. I picked a few bunches that hung into my parking space, though I should’ve asked permission. I invited the neighbor kids to help me eat up all the raspberries, ripe and falling from the canes, by the driveway of my dream home. We ate until our fingers and our smiles were stained crimson. Surely those berries were a sign of fruitfulness, goodness, perfection. Surely we fit there, better than anyone else.

Some days I forget my long love for this condo where I live with my family, and it becomes merely the place I am stuck, the baggage I carry. I used to be so good, here in this condo with a view of the harbor. I have grown to resent every crack in the wall, every sill that needs paint, every scratch where we’ve been careless with our furniture. But mostly I resent our condo’s smallness, how we have no privacy. The ugly tree in the backyard needed to come down. Now all we see is the chainlink fence where the abutting neighbors hang their laundry to dry. Kids played in the parking lot for years; now the neighbors passed an ordinance that there is no bike-riding in the parking lot. The older neighbor kids are teens now, set loose on the city or focused on video games. Our kids have no one to play with here, and not much reason to go outside.

We moved here to nest babies, our treehouse above the sea. We have no more babies. We have kids who should be on bikes and on foot and exploring. For five or six years, we said, and my daughter is thirteen. We’ve been waiting for house prices to go down after all those years of rising. Now is the time. We watch and wait. Watch and wait.

I’m going to sit and watch the sun on the harbor for a few hours, this morning. Some ship across the way makes a sound like a distant helicopter—the same sound has been droning for weeks, all through the night, masking the crickets and peepers and gulls with the sounds of industry. But the sun and breeze, I would miss these even in the lovely dream house with the shade trees and the yard.

I will ignore the class planning still ahead of me, and the nagging “what’s for dinner” question. Leaves are tipped golden against the green, down below at the street level. God knows what we need, and today I need to give up for a few hours, and wait.

And perhaps I should eat breakfast, too. I’ve been living on coffee, holding my breath. Note to self: eat breakfast and wait.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

note from the first day of school, only two weeks ago

The children run down the stairs to wait, while Scott hauls a teetering stack of school supplies down after them. Half a minute passes and thunder claps with a downpour. I’ve already poured the coffee and washed the table, ready for them to leave on the first day of school.

No child-drama this morning, thanks be to God. They must’ve worn themselves out with last night’s bedtime drama, tears and requests for water and the insistence of a light turned out, a light turned on, the door slightly ajar but not too much ajar.

The girl bursts in the door, remembering her violin for orchestra practice. She tells me her pants are already soaked through, but she smiles under the bright pink hood of her raincoat. She has new shoes, and she loves school without reservation. The boy would rather stay home with his comfortable books, and he is glum about change. But I bet something will spark his whimsy today, and he will bring me a story or two.

On my desk I find an origami water lily and a carefully forged signature of Minerva McGonnigal. I tuck Minerva into the collection of odd papers near the phone, and the water lily will keep me company.

The wash of rain is heavy, steady. I watch the bright edge of eastern sky disappear to gray, feel the wind wash through, and rush to close the windows. Not just a passing shower, then. Fruitful rain.