Back to the empty house.
That’s what made me begin writing this. The living room looking down over the street or neat little houses. Our house was higher up that most and had a wall bracing it’s soil against the street. Our house had twice as much land as all the other houses and that’s why I chose it. Even though at the time of the choosing I had no choice really at all. We had fall was coming and we had a summer rental. The house we had left was sold and the deal on the house we were supposed to move into had fallen apart a week before closing.
I drove around that summer after dropping the younger child at daycare. I drove up and down all the streets in the cheaper parts of town looking for decrepit houses that might have back taxes or an owner ready to sell. Since late spring when as I was wrapping glasses in newspaper and packing them up for the move when the phone call came that I refused to believe.
My refusing to believe was a huge mistake which lead me to hire lawyers and to fight because how could someone just not sell me the house they had promised to sell me. I made husband drive me over to the house I had planned to live in. He waited in the car while I went up the steps and stood on the porch that I had believed was going to my porch. The owner came to the door and I stood with my baby in my arms and I said, “How could you do this to us? We have no place to live.” She told me that God told her to do it.
I’m not sure if that’s when I soured on suburbia. But I can remember pushing the stroller with the younger one in it past that house on the way to pick up the older one at school It was right down the street from the school that house. It had a master bath and a half bath on the first floor in addition to the regular bath. It fronted on three roads which is why we could afford it in the first place. We had a little house to sell. Also on a corner but a drug dealing corner in a neighborhood that wasn’t getting easier to live in. It was too small anyway and with the little one getting bigger and the bigger one headed towards middle school it seemed better to find a house that we could spread out a bit in. Our little house was the equivalent of a mobile home of the 19th century. Not that it was moveable, but it was designed to be utilitarian and cheap. The stairs pitched too much, and the basement was but a crawlspace. Since it’s days as a servant’s house from the mansions down the street it had passed through and out of the hands of one family. And then used as a rental it went again into foreclosure all dirty and chipped and stained and smelling of the Doberman who inhabited it. We only got the house because as the bank was deciding between the two offers it had received on the place, they had a representative call the real estate agents. If the Doberman isn’t removed at closing will that be a problem? The other people said yes and I figured I’d deal with it. The Doberman was not there at closing. But the smell was and piles of possessions from the evicted tenants were. Shoes that fit me but had high thick heels. Old textbooks. Toys. We had to pull up the rugs and then a layer of the floor to get rid of the smell. My parents came and helped us put up shelves and paint and make the place cute. I planted poplar trees that are still there, towering now.
We had to sell it. Not simply because the kids were getting bigger and the constant traffic and uncertainty was wearing on us. But because I found out that we didn’t owe ten thousand dollars in credit card bills. We owed far more than that. This is was the first time I realized that husband lied to me about money. He said he was scared to tell me because he feared my anger. This made me more angry.
It probably wasn’t the first time. It was probably far down the list of lies he had told me. I divide them into categories. And I think of them in order of when I realized they were lies rather in order of when they were told. We put the house on. A week before closing we lost the house we were supposed to buy so we moved into a summer sublet coated in dog hair. The sink and bathtub so grimy I had to scrub for hours before I dared to use them. And I’m not the kind of person who scrubs things unless they need it. When you have two dogs you don’t get the best choice in rentals (as I was to learn again in the time of the air mattress).
I knew we could make money on the house and believed we could crawl out of this debt and still get a better house. For a while I took over the finances at least until we were well settled in the yellow house on the hill. The house were we spent five years and where the marriage ended and where I slept on the air mattress for six months.
Perhaps my disillusionment with the suburbs sprang from a few things. Not just the people who at the last minute backed out of a deal. I had liked them when I first came there from Brooklyn. The daughter was turning five and we couldn’t afford a bigger apartment or private school and the school in our neighborhood was rigid and cold. Not the place for the little princess. That first summer in Montclair, NJ, home of liberals and good housing stock and Irises and magnet schools, I loved the grass. I loved all the parks and the friends who lived so close by. It felt like a vacation.
Three years later it was a trap.