Like everywhere else, we’ve been dealing with the high end of tolerable heat this summer. Back in July, it was topping 100° for a few days. Unbearable.
We rent an old house in an old neighborhood, so central air is not an option. At best, we rely on a few window units to keep a few bedrooms cool enough to sleep. Downstairs, there’s Rube Goldberg system of fans set up to shove the air around. A third unit keeps it barely tolerable. Barely.
We’re not hot weather people. Everything slows down and whimpers under the heavy hand of humidity. The cats flop wherever they fall. The twice-daily walks for the baby are cut down to one, when the morning is cool. Sometimes it’s already too brutally hot for even that.
Sleep is restless and blurs the edges of our dreams. We’re all a bit irritable and, fortunately, too exhausted to do much about it.
At this point, we’re just waiting for the change of Autumn — cooler temperatures, falling leaves, and Halloween.
We could move to a new place, of course, something with more modern amenities. But it’s not even a consideration for us. New houses (i.e. anything built after 1940) just don’t feel right to us. We love our old neighborhood. The houses here have deep roots and old ghosts.
We’ve spent the past ten years moving from house to house, as our family has grown and changed. All within the same few blocks. We love it here. It’s always been our neighborhood.
(My next, next book — the one that is scheduled to come out after The Red Boy is all about those houses we’ve lived in . . . and the ghosts that, sometimes unwillingly, shared them with us.)
There’s a house a few blocks over that Keeley has always loved from afar. It’s been a little wish in the back of our heads for years, one of those conversations we have when we dream together about what our life could be in the years to come.
Whenever we drive by the place or go past it on one of our walks with Sophie, my wife always says “I love that place. If it ever went up for sale…”
It’s a sentence we leave unfinished.
This is our neighborhood but we’ve always known that we might not ever be able to afford to buy one of the houses here. We’re okay with that. We’re the luckiest people we know already . . . and we don’t take for granted everything we’ve been given.
A few weeks back, we were driving home one afternoon and Keeley said “You know . . . go up a few more streets.”
We’d been thinking about moving. It wasn’t our choice. Our landlord had let us know a few weeks earlier that he was going to have to raise the rent. It was still an unknown quantity but we knew — we felt — the change coming.
It’s an acquired skill, being able to see that on the horizon. I’ve moved over twenty times in my life. I know that feeling as well as I know how to pack a box. And, by now, I know how to pack.
“You know . . . go up a few more streets.”
I turn off my signal and continue on. We pass by a side street and my wife says “Wait.”
There’s a For Sale sign in front of the house, in front of her house.
Back home, we check online — the house is for sale. It just at the top of edge of our price range, maybe even a little over. But we take a chance and leave a message for the listing agent.
For five minutes there’s a sense of momentum, a larger hand at work to push things into place. We don’t dare hope. We can’t help but hope.
Then the phone rings and we’re brought back to reality. The owners already accepted an offer the night before.
We missed our chance. The hand withdraws, if it was there at all.
Blame the hot weather, the curtailed daily walks that almost certainly would have brought us past the house before now. Blame my own dull intuition, not listening closely enough to the reverberation out there to gauge what direction the change was coming from.
But don’t blame the gods — or, at least, try not to. A crisis of faith is no picnic. We struggle to let go of our dreams and assumptions, to continue to feel grateful for all we have been given, to trust that there is more than chance at work in our world.
It isn’t easy.
The lesson we take away is that it’s time to get our house in order. We need to find an agent, start the dreaded process of figuring out our financing options, and start looking at other houses.
We try not to talk about the other house. The one that got away is always the perfect one, the only one.
On her own, my wife is heartbroken. As I am for her. Each of us makes our own peace, finds our own little points of comfort and, yes, Magic to console us.
But it’s time to move on. At the very least, this gave us the nudge we needed to start. Whatever happens next, we’ll be ready. It’s what we believe because it’s what we have left to believe.
But we have to keep looking — to be more accurate, we have to start looking. Sooner or later our landlord is going to tell us what he has decided. We know it might not be in our favor.
So it’s back to the Internet. A day or so later we find another house that’s just gone on the market, so we gather ourselves up and brave the heat to go and have a look.
It isn’t for us. Wrong side of the neighborhood. Too small for our strangely-shaped family. Needs too much work.
But the agent who shows us the place is very nice. Because we don’t have an agent yet, he’s been tapped by the listing realtor to act as a buyer’s agent on our behalf, if we’re open to it?
Not entirely familiar with the intricacies of the real estate world, with the various species of agents and their loyalties, we tell him that we’ll let him know. He hands us a printout showing some other homes in the neighborhood that are on the market — but, he tells us, don’t pay any attention to one that’s on the last page. It’s been sold already.
Yeah. That’s our house, pal. We already know.
We try not to beat him up. It isn’t his fault. He’s very nice and knows the neighborhood very well. Coincidentally, it turns out that he lives in the house directly behind ours. He apologizes for the dog barking. We apologize for the baby crying.
Later that night, I send him an e-mail to let him know we’d like for him to keep his eyes open for us. I include a long list of things we’re looking for. And, like the heartbroken teenager that I seem perpetually doomed to be, I remind him to keep an eye on the other house — the one that got away — just in case the deal falls through.
Not that we would wish misfortune on anyone…
Three days later my wife calls me. She’s been feeling something at the edges of things, a little echo that won’t let her alone. She checks the online listing for the house — her house, our house, returns to the chance we missed — and sees that it still shows the house as being For Sale.
Drowning in work at the office, I tell her to call the listing agent and ask about it. I’ll shoot our agent a quick note as well.
“It’s still on the market,” Keeley tells me when she calls back. “I went ahead and told her we want to see it tomorrow afternoon. That was the earliest she could get us in. There’s already other people looking at it today.”
Our agent confirms this a few minutes later when he calls me back.
I do my best to silence the noise in my head before I put my ear to the ground to listen, straining to hear from what direction the change is coming . . . praying it’s not just wishful thinking that’s nudging us along.
The next day we’ve got a company picnic out at the lake to go to in the morning. We’re not beach people by any stretch but it turns out that the baby loves it. While my wife has Sophie up to her knees in Lake Michigan, my phone rings.
Our agent tells me that we’re probably out of luck. Again. Turns out there’s another offer already on the table and the sellers are just about to accept it.
We haven’t even had a chance to see inside yet. Just the pictures online.
“Did they offer full price?” I ask him. I’ve been talking to the bank and obsessively fine-tuning our budget for the past 24 hours, so I know what our limit is. It’s just about full price. Just.
He says they haven’t. I tell him to call them back and let them know that, if they wait long enough to let us in and if it looks like the house is what we’re looking for, we’re willing to go full price.
He rings off and I let Keeley know that we’re back on the edge of something again, not entirely sure which way it will go but the hinge of our life is moving under our feet. Again.
Our agent calls back. “How soon can you meet me there?”
We take enough time to apologize to everyone at the picnic and head back into town . . . driving through a sudden, fierce rainstorm. We get thunder and lightning all along the way, sometimes the rain is heavy enough to reduce our visibility to a few hundred yards.
My wife reassures the baby and I do my best to keep us safe, opting for slower speeds rather than let urgency take over.
The storm clears. We arrive home and get cleaned up, grandma arriving just in time to sit with Sophie while we head over to the house.
It’s raining again. The storm has caught up with us.
One foot inside the house and I know. Every other step is a confirmation. It isn’t perfect but it’s perfect for us. It’s a house that accommodates our family, the shifting size of it — who we are today, who we’ll be in ten years. It’s a house we can stay in together, Keeley and I, long after the kids are gone. It’s the house our grandkids can visit.
Sitting at a stranger’s dining room table, we draw up the paperwork with our agent. Our offer is submitted and accepted that afternoon.
All of the drama is now on the seller’s side. They’ve got to break the news to the other buyer. And even though that stretches out for a few days long than I’m entirely comfortable with, one thing is clear:
The house is ours.
When I was planning out my work for the year, the summer and fall were meant to be focused on getting my next book The Red Boy ready for publication. Needless to say, the events of the past month — and especially the past few weeks — have eclipsed those plans. And we’re still not done yet. There’s boxes to pack and plans to make and budgets to obsessively check and check again before we’re finally home.
I’m writing, off and on, a new story right now. It’s one that I suspect won’t let me leave it alone, even I wanted to. This kind of story comes and finds me when I forget about it (read the Afterword of The Cradle if you think I’m speaking figuratively).
But The Red Boy is almost there, I think. It’s all editing and proofreading now. If only I had the time.
Sixteen years ago when I was in the process of moving to Michigan from California, I was also trying to finish up a play for the Lit Moon Theatre Company. I remember sitting on the edge of the bed, surrounded by boxes, tapping away… doing my best to make it a good script. I only partially succeeded, regrettably. Lit Moon did a better job with the script than I did.
I don’t want to make that same mistake this time, especially with The Red Boy.
There’s an extra room in the new house. We’ve talking to calling it “the office” because that’s what it’ll be. It’s where I’ll finish up The Red Boy and keep nudging these other books along as best I can. I’m very happy to have a place of my own again — one that wasn’t a shared space or a compromise or a barely-finished basement with pipes and spiderwebs. It’s been a long time.
But I’m even more excited that Keeley will have her own place to write as well. It’s been too long for that, as well. And Sophie will have a backyard to play in. And Julia and Sam will have their rooms too. We can all fit there together, without too many compromises or sacrifices.
Although we’ll sacrifice a lot to be there, of course. It’s what you do when you’re given a gift. It’s expected. Belts will be tight for a few years. But we’re not the kind of people to complain or grumble about that sort of thing, not with everything we’ve been given. We don’t take anything for granted.
In other news…
It’s worth noting that the audiobook version of The Cradle is now available on iTunes or via RSS. It’s a free download, like my other books . . . even though I got a very, very nice note from a reader a while back letting me know I was a chump to give it away for free.
Far as I’m concerned, that’s a compliment.
And speaking of giving it away… Once we’re settled in the new house, the long-delayed second season of The Gospel of Thomas will start up once more. In addition to the usual ramblings and oddities, there’ll be some special guests, interviews, and a sneak peek or two from The Red Boy as well.
Before all of the house shenanigans, I’d been experimenting with a new approach for my Twitter and Facebook followers. Beyond the usual intermittent comments or links, I’ve established (for lack of a better term) an editorial calendar to add a little structure to support the conversation. I’d love to see you take part in it, if you’re so inclined.
Now that the initial house madness is over, I’ll be starting up again.
So here’s some buttons. You know what to do.