life changes
22 April 2001
Wednesday 18 April:

I sit on the old mahogany rocking chair in Damian’s room. Damian’s head rests on my shoulder, his arms rest against my belly, his legs rest on my thighs. What a day. His first day of school, then occupational therapy, then speech therapy. My body aches from the early rising, the long drive, the tension of all these changes in our lives.

As I rock, I relax. Damian’s toys lie quiescent on the shelves: a fire truck, a small forklift, a tool box, a drawing tablet. The green valence over the window echoes the long-since-boxed crib bumpers and sheets, a reminder of babyhood in this same room. The wide molding around the windows pure Craftsman artistry. The room quiets me.

I find myself thinking, oddly, of the house itself. Of how much I love this house, but how much I’ve felt like a guest here of late. The landlady is having work done on a guest house in back; she’s here every day, along with various and sundry surly and burly workerbees. Hear that gate slam? It’s a plumber grouching past the window, intent on his plumbing mission. Oh, how I wish we owned this place. Or rather, this place but with a back yard. That’s all I want. Why is that so impossible?

It’s impossible because the houses around here in our price range are charmless hovels with barely enough room to turn around. It’s impossible because we’re searching too late, LA prices are already astronomical. It’s impossible because it just is.

But I want this house, dammit. I need to own and I don’t want to settle for crap. I want something nice enough to take pride in owning. I want a Craftsman house with wide window moldings and hardwood floors and built-in details and a back yard.

Why is it so impossible?

Thursday 19 April:

Three p.m.: I sit in the bedroom while Jami chases a happily squealing Damian around the house. I stare at my computer. The words on the screen could be hieroglyphs. I’m so damned tired I can’t make sense of my own writing. Just for the hell of it, I log onto the MLS web page. Everything I like is going to be too expensive, but what the hey. I’m already depressed.

Hey, wait a second. What’s that?


And it’s in our price range. Okay, what’s wrong with it? It should be going for fifty grand more, at least.

Six p.m.: Jami’s gone home. My mother’s arrived. Damian’s greeted my mother with more enthusiasm than I’d expected. I’m still tired. I ask my mom if she minds going out again, to see if we can figure out what’s wrong with that house. She’s game. Damian nods his head when I ask if he’d like to go for a walk in the stroller. So off we go.

The block isn’t pretty, mostly apartment buildings with a few scattered houses. We pass a run down house with a shit-ugly wood fence. Is that it? Yick. Nope, wrong number. Whew.

We get to the house.

Damn. It’s charming. Low wall around a front yard filled with bushes and trees. The house itself looks just like ours.

Seven p.m.: I call Dan. "I did something foolish today. I looked on the MLS. There’s this house... I want to call Steve, try to get in to see it. Find out if it’s still on the market, anyway."

"If you like it, you realize you’ll have to do everything yourself. I can’t get away at ALL."

"Yeah, but what are the odds? It’s been on the market a week, if it’s any good it’s probably already taken."

Nine p.m.: I call Steve. He promises to get back to me first thing tomorrow.

Three a.m.: I’m wide awake. My brain is churning. How can we buy a house right now? How can I buy a house by myself? What if it’s already gone? What if we never buy a house and end up on the street at age eighty because we have no equity and no savings?

Friday 20 April:

11 a.m.: I sit in the waiting room at Laura The Speech Pathologist’s office. Laura is in there with Damian. My mom is in there too, observing. I hear Laura exclaiming, "Great, Damian! That’s great! You did it!" I’m dying to know what’s going on in there. My cell phone rings.

It’s Steve the accountant realtor. The house is still available. In fact, the seller’s realtor just got the key today, so nobody’s seen it yet. We’re set to go in at 2 p.m.

Oh my. What if I like it? Oh my lord.

Laura comes out to the waiting room, beaming. She ushers me in, talking excitedly. Damian, who has been whispering almost exclusively for the past four months, talked aloud today. Several times. Said "uh huh" and "mango" and "fish" (goldfish crackers) and "open it" and who knows what else. I’d brought him hungry, you see, and brought some of his favorite snacks. And I’d paved the way; every time I give him a bite of yogurt, I say "mmm!" and he often says "mmm!" back to me. So Laura sat him up on the table, forced him to look at her and not withdraw. She started by saying "mmm!" and getting him to respond in kind. Then she moved on to "uh huh" and let him know that meant "yes." Uh huh opened up his vocal chords and allowed him to talk again.

She sits me down against the wall and tries to get him to do it again to show me. I wait, sure he won’t, that it was just a parlor trick, unrepeatable in front of a live audience.

She asks if he wants an animal cookie. He says "uh huh" in this light, pure voice. A three year old’s assured tone. Just like that.

I can’t help it. I cry. The tears brim over and spill down my face right in front of Laura and Damian. I’m so filled with love I almost can’t stand it. In a moment, everything seems possible.

I didn’t realize how very scared I was until the fear went away in that small child’s simple "uh huh."

Laura lets Damian get down off the table. He bounces over to me. I’m still crying. I give him the biggest hug I can without crushing his ribs and I tell him over and over how incredibly proud I am. He made my day, my week, my year.

2 p.m.:

Time to see the house. That strange feeling of double vision hits as I walk in the front door, that lingering question in the air, "could this be our home?" Trying the fantasy on to see if it fits.

An enclosed front porch. I’m fond of our open air front porch; I was a little disappointed. And the musty furniture... eh. But it feels green and private and that’s not bad.

I step into the house proper.

Oh my. Exposed wood arch between the living and dining room. Brick fireplace. Exposed wood hutch at the back wall of the dining room, with its glass front still intact. Those lovely wide moldings around every window and door. Dark wood moldings around the edge of the ceiling. Properly finished wood floors. A sense of peace.

Could this be our home?

The rest of the house disappoints only slightly. The problems are cosmetic. Hideous red shag carpets in the bedrooms but there’s got to be hardwood flooring beneath. A range top and separate oven instead of a real stove. Kitchen walls a murky pale blue like the sky on a smoggy day. A few other small issues. But it’s got three bedrooms plus a tiny office plus front and back porches. Room to spare. And it’s in great shape: the roof is only two years old, the pipes are copper and new too, the house is bolted to the foundation (important here in earthquake country). And it’s got that all-important back yard.

A cement yard, unfortunately, but a surprisingly charming one nevertheless, with a tall coniferous tree that leans over the garage like a wise but weary old woman, a small lemon grove (well, okay, two short trees), a young avocado tree, and bougainvillea climbing the back wall. And an unexpected sense of privacy.

Could this be our home?

Damian runs around the back yard, grabs hold of a rake and a hoe, and commences sweeping nonexistent leaves. I take a kajillion pictures of the house (at least twenty) and tell Steve that I want Dan to at least see the photos before I decide for sure. Standing in the living room, I bend down and ask Damian if he likes the house. He nods firmly.

This could be our home.

The owner comes in a little early, carrying a bag of groceries. He’s a soft spoken Ukranian man in his seventies, I would guess. Very gracious. He tells me about all the neighbors in the surrounding apartments and how quiet they are. I almost believe him. It’s certainly quiet right now. He says they’ve lived there ten years and are only moving now because they want to be in Carlsbad (near San Diego) with their daughter and grandchildren. He obviously loves this house, it shows in the pride he takes and it’s perfect condition.

He seems quite taken with Damian. That can’t hurt, right?

We go home to our rental house a few blocks away. Damian is horrified at the idea of going inside so I sit on the porch swing with him nestled into my side and call Dan on the cell phone. I ask if I can come to the cutting room, show him the pictures. He says no. He’s got three producers in the room with him. He can’t take a minute to pee, let alone think. He says he trusts me.

Trusts me. To make this enormous decision that will change both our lives for better and worse for the next who knows how many years. I feel suddenly paralyzed. I know what I want, what I think. But I don’t know how to see the house through his eyes. I don’t know how to weigh my images of what can be against how hard it will be without taking into account the other person who will be struggling and working alongside me. This is one of the scariest but most exciting decisions of my life, and I have to do it on my own.

Thank god my mother is here. She’s bought and sold a few houses in her time. She knows what to look for, how to think about layout, what’s cosmetic and what’s more serious. She knows to ask to see the basement, see how clean and dry it is. She knows, too, that everyone is terrified the first time. Yeah, but not everyone has to decide for their spouse too.

Still rocking gently on the porch swing with my little boy snug by my side, I call Steve. Cell to cell.

"Dan’s too busy to see the pictures, it’s up to me. I want to make an offer."

We talk about logistics. I want to go in five thousand under, enough to save a few bucks but not enough to scare them. We’re doing this with no money down, there’s no room to play hardball. Besides, the price is eminently fair. We know there’s at least one other interested buyer (later that day there will be another) -- they’ve been to see the property twice already.

Finally Steve says, "Okay, I’ll go back to the office and write up the offer. I’ll come by tonight, around six thirty?"

"I don’t know if we’ll have Dan yet, but sure."

I hang up. Look at my mother. Shell shocked. Yesterday morning I wasn’t looking for a house to buy. Today we’re making an offer.

Seven p.m.: Steve shows up, offer in hand. He shows me the kickass letter he wrote to the sellers to make them comfortable with our zero down payment plan. He goes through the contract with me. I initial until I’m dizzy.

Dan gets home: he got the evening off, an unexpected gift from the producers. He sees the house photos -- not too late to back out -- and says I made the right decision. He listens to Steve enumerate the fine print while I zone out. I go somewhere in my mind, I’m not even sure where. Maybe an out of body experience, maybe just overload.

But I’m not here, that’s all I know. I’m not in this dining room talking about Buying A House and spending a quadrillion dollars more a month than we’re paying in rent, tightening our belts past uncomfortable (at least for the next year until we refinance and get a lower interest rate because of built-up equity -- a "down payment", as it were -- a gamble but not so much with this house, which has to be worth more than we’re paying). We’re doing it for the glory and pride and ultimate financial sanity of ownership in this crazy market, and for Damian’s future (equity = college tuition) and his present (A yard! A bigger bedroom!). We’re doing it for all the right reasons and I think we chose the right place, but this is going to be a hell of a big hit. I’m so scared I’m numb.

Four a.m.: Wide awake again, dammit. Will I ever sleep again?

Saturday, 21 April:

Noon: the phone rings. It’s Steve. "Congratulations, you just bought a house." The sellers accepted our offer in every detail. I think the old guy liked me, liked Damian, and liked the enthusiasm evident in our speedy decision. Plus, it was a decent offer. It pays to be fair.

I call Dan, give him the news. His voice goes up an octave. I know how he feels.

We go into escrow Monday.

We bought a house. I think. I won’t believe it until Steve’s brother the mortgage broker says we’re approved for a loan, but we got pre-approved in the fall, so that’s more likely than not.

We bought a house. In the middle of the chaos that is our life, we made more chaos.

We bought a house.




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