Our House is a Very, Very, Very Fine House

Last week was my biggest new thing yet! And man is it scary.

I’m moving.

*Record scratch.*

If you think you’re surprised, so am I! If you had asked me two weeks ago if I was going to move, I would have said, “Not likely.” But here we are–as I type, my thoughts are interrupted by the screech of packing tape being stretched across the tops of cardboard boxes. My walls are empty. The dusty outlines of knick-knacks and vintage books are all that’s left on our shelves.

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Readers, I’m fucking terrified. We filled out an application for a house we saw just last Saturday. I haven’t slept since. I’m having middle-of-the-night panic attacks. I’m irritable. My chest feels tight and my temples constantly throb. My FitBit tells me my resting heart rate is too high.

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Let me back this train up and give you some history so you can better understand my terror.

My wife and I moved to Spokane in 2009 when I got into the MFA program at Eastern Washington University. Spokane was at the bottom of our list of places we would move to for my Masters degree. I was wait-listed at the University of Washington, and when it came to decision time, Spokane was the more economical choice. It was the height of the recession, after all.

When we moved here, we scored an incredible house to rent. It was a four-bedroom craftsmen home that was originally built in 1909. Attached to the front was a wide front porch with white railing. The front door opened into an expansive living room and dining room with original dark wood box beams, wood floors, picture windows with lead glass accents at the tops, and a set of original French doors that led to a decent sized backyard. The kitchen was a tidy square with art deco tiling and a cast iron sink. The bathroom matched, with its cast iron clawfoot tub and pedestal sink. The single bedroom on the main floor was fairly large for the time, and contained a closet with an enormous built-in dresser. The bottom drawer was so deep, it could hold jeans stacked four pairs high. The top floor had two nice-sized storage closets and three bedrooms. Well, one was more of a bonus room, as it did not have a closet and could barely hold a twin bed. The second year we lived in the home, I secretly refashioned that room into an art studio as a Christmas surprise for my wife.

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I took this the day I left.

As you can probably tell, I adored that house. The moment Abbie and I stepped over the threshold when we came to view it, we knew it was our home. It had sat vacant for a while (again, recession!), and both the owner and property management company desperately wanted someone to rent it. We told them that while we loved the home, the rent was just out of our range (our maximum at the time was $800–the rent there was supposed to be $845), and when we called the local energy company, the previous renters had spent over $400 in one winter month on utilities. The property management company called us back shortly after and offered the home to us for $745 a month.

Is your mouth dropping yet? It should be! We paid $745 a month for a three-plus-bedroom home in a coveted neighborhood, close to downtown. Our neighborhood even had its own forested trail that went directly to a waterfall.

We loved that house and it loved us back. Abbie proposed to me in the kitchen in 2010. I reciprocated that proposal on Christmas Eve of that same year, our first spent together in our own home. My sweet Nakohe grew from a young pup to an elderly dog while we lived there. We acquired another dog, and lost that same dog in our front lawn in a tragic accident. A year later, after a lot of grieving, we adopted another dog, our boy Rocky. We lost a cat and gained another. We became a fixture at neighborhood gatherings. My wife and I lost both of our stepfathers while we lived there. My mother was diagnosed with cancer–she spent what she thought would be her last Christmas with us, in that home–just the three of us. We celebrated birthdays, weddings, divorces, bachelor parties, holidays, pregnancies, and everything in between in that home. When the marriage of a good friend of ours was on the rocks, he often stayed at our house. He told us that he always felt safe there. So did our foster son.

So did I.

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Then, one night, as Abbie and I were cozied up on the couch watching a television show, we heard a knock on the front door. The dogs barked and jumped around, and while that was normal behavior for them, something seemed odd. When I reached the front door, I saw a woman quickly getting in her vehicle to leave. Taped to the window of the door was a white piece of paper. I snatched it off and opened it. My heart thumped in my chest as my eyes took in the words “foreclosure” and “public auction.”

The man who owned our home, whom we had never met, had neglected his mortgage payments. Why? I don’t know. It certainly wasn’t because we weren’t paying our bills. When we contacted the property management company, they had no idea this was happening. The only people who were able to give us answers were the people at the bank that was seizing the property. They were certain the house would not actually sell at public auction, and told us they would sell it to us for around $56,000 after the auction. But that never happened.

My wife stood in the lobby of the courthouse where public auctions take place. She watched as people bid higher and higher on our house, our home, our sanctuary–our entire goddamn life. It sold for $77,000 to a company that wanted to flip it. And they did. By June 30, 2016, we were out. The man who did the final walk-through with me commented on how clean it was and how much he appreciated the effort. I wanted to punch him in the throat. He may have owned the title to that house, but it was not his. It was mine. We spent seven years of our lives in that home–longer than almost anyone in the entire recorded history of the house.

Ever since then, we’ve lived in a third-floor apartment. It’s a fine apartment; there’s nothing wrong with it. But it has never been home, and it never would be. We currently pay $875 for our two-bedroom, dank, dark, fully-carpeted apartment–and this was an incredible find. Spokane’s rental market is extremely competitive now, and obviously higher-priced. After spending seven years in the same home at a steal of a price, we were not prepared for how difficult finding a place to live would be. We were lucky to get this apartment when we did.

We talked about moving out when our lease was up, which was this past July. But we didn’t feel particularly rushed. We thought we might wait, maybe save up some money, perhaps buy a house in a year or two. And certainly that would have been a smart choice.

See, I have this dog. He’s the love of my life. He’s my soulmate. And he’s getting very, very old. In the time we’ve resided at this apartment, his health has been deteriorating quickly. His arthritis is painful enough that climbing up and down stairs is getting to be untenable for him. A few weeks ago, as I was rubbing his sweet face, I noticed that his right pupil was dilated. When I turned his head to the light, I could see his eye was almost completely clouded. He’s going blind.

Now, at night, when he has to go downstairs to relieve himself, he can’t find the steps. With only partial sight, his depth perception is off. Sometimes he falls. Sometimes he refuses to go outside, even if I know he has to pee, because he just doesn’t want to make the climb one more time before bed.

I can’t let him die here, cooped up in this apartment. I can’t let him die without being able to lie in cool, green grass, and feel the breeze whisper through his fur. I can’t let him die without being able to spend as much time as he’d like rolling in a snow bank. I can’t let him die in a place where he can’t run or play or bark or jump, even if he doesn’t do those things very often anymore anyway. He deserves so much more, and so I decided that we should move. Not six months from now, not next summer, not in a year or two when we’ve saved up some money. We need to move now. Right now. The clock is ticking, and my dog needs a home again.

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Back to the terror.

I keep telling my wife my anxiety is so amped and I am so afraid because it’s change, and change is scary. Or that it’s because the bedroom space is SO FUCKING SMALL that I won’t be able to stand it. And the yard is going to be so much work. And we’re going to pay $400 more a month in rent. And, and, and…

But you know what it’s really about?

Love.

Did you know you could fall in love with a structure built of wood and stone and plaster? Did you know, friends, that you can grieve the loss of a building as if it were a person? A living, breathing, heart-beating person who held you at your lowest and smiled with you at your highest. Did you know that after you lose a home suddenly and unexpectedly that you find the prospect of falling in love again utterly terrifying? And that this home, too, might be taken from you, and that the thought of losing everything all over again is just as paralyzing as if you lost a lover and now were committing to another?

Sweet peas, I didn’t know this. I didn’t know any of this. But I sure as hell do now, right now, at this very second, as I type these words. I know it in my bones.

So I’m scared. Even though this new house is a cute brick bungalow in a lovely neighborhood, situated just feet from the most breathtaking park in the city, even though it has wood floors and a fireplace and a big fenced backyard and a two-car garage, even though it smells new and old at the same time, and has a dishwasher, and a secret extra room attached to the back that will make for a writing studio someday, and even though we can have chickens, I’m scared. I’m scared it won’t be enough. I’m scared it will be, too. I’m scared we’ve made a mistake, that we rushed into this, that I’m not ready yet.

Yesterday we signed the papers and got our keys.

Today, we leap.

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