Monday, April 9, 2012

A House Is Not a Home

Not every man's home is a castle.
“We need to move,” my husband said as he walked into the kitchen for his morning coffee.

I’d like to think he’s saying this because he’s done something slightly shady, and we need to leave town before some dangerous (but not really dangerous) people figure out our whereabouts.  Or maybe because Chevron has discovered vast amounts of black gold under our house and is willing to pay three times as much as what we’d paid for the house, just to keep up appearances rather than slant drilling a couple miles away.  But I know that’s not the case.  He’s got itchy feet.

“You know we lived in the townhouse for 4 years, the other house for 5 years, and this house for almost six and a half years,” he offers as explanation.

What makes it weird is that even though we’ve lived in this house the longest, it’s felt the least like “home.”  In fact, each residence has felt decreasingly like “home” even though we’ve been living in them increasingly longer.

Perhaps it’s a California mentality.  I watch shows like “House Hunters,” and marvel that there are young couples looking at houses that they anticipate being their first and only house, or “forever home” as we say in the animal rescue world.  They talk about attributes that will be great for raising their children (of which they have none), how rooms will be adjustable as the children grow and how the couple will be able to sit on the porch in their rockers watching their grandkids.  The house they purchase is often over 2,000 square feet with a good sized yard and nice school district.  Even with professional couples earning double incomes, the first property most coastal Californians wind up purchasing is a townhome or condo, which they anticipate selling and moving up as the market improves and the family expands.  It’s just not possible for young people to buy “forever homes” on their first real estate venture.  Although, for many couples, their first purchase becomes their unintentional final purchase, especially when the real estate market takes a dive, as it did recently.

I like exploring new places, but in my mind, I’m counting down to The One, the “gentleman’s farm” where I can have a horse, some chickens and room for my dogs to play and bark without annoying our neighbors and our neighbors don’t annoy us.  It needs to be close enough to a major city for my husband to find work and to keep me amused.  “Major city” for both of us translates to San Francisco, New York City, Boston, possibly Chicago or Seattle/Vancouver.  We’re “done” with Los Angeles.  We understand that’s a tall order and we’re willing to bide our time.  We try not to ask ourselves if there will be enough time to get there.

As a child, I moved once, when I was six months old, from the Marine Base to the house where my mother currently lives.  After I left for college, the moving bug struck, and I haven’t remained at one residence for any more than the six and a half years we’ve been here.  Still, I’ve always “nested,” decorated everything from my dorm room to the houses in a manner that made me comfortable and expressed my taste at the moment, trying to make each place feel like home.  But the “decorating” and the settling were never complete.  In the back of my mind, I was and am always thinking about what if I have to move?  With the houses, it’s a question of resale value.  We can’t afford to put in the personal quirks that would make things more enjoyable for us, the things that made us look in disbelief and wonder “what were they thinking?” when we were looking at other people’s former “forever homes.”

But I’m getting older and tired of living in limbo.  I’m relating to my father’s stance that “The only way I’m leaving this house is in a pine box,” although there still isn’t anything that ties me to this particular house.  So I guess that means I’m not really “there.”

The idea of permanency doesn’t appeal to my husband.  He doesn’t form the same connections that I do to co-workers, community, or abode.  I don’t know that he wants outside connections. He moved several times as a child and adolescent and likes the idea of novelty and illusiveness.  Since we’ve been together, he’s seen each place as a mini-life, an opportunity to slip into a new and different lifestyle.  I suspect, in his perfect housing world, he’d be one of those people who buys houses completely furnished, designer perfect, but having the personality of the house, rather than of the people who live there.  He’d remain for a couple years, then sell, furnishings intact, and move on to the next new thing.  Kind of like really grand hotel rooms.

Being "under water" isn't as fun without the singing crab.
It’s all moot now.  We’re so far underwater that we can’t afford to move.  We can’t even afford to rent out the house. That makes the house strangely uncomfortable, as if it’s holding us hostage.  In retaliation, we have a grudge against it.  We’re slow to do things to make the house more pleasant because we keep hoping we’ll escape soon.  And every time something goes wrong with it (and since it’s an old house, many things go wrong), there’s a feeling that it’s acting out of spite.

Then again …

We are in an ideal proximity to a major city (and our favorite one).  This portion of the city where we live is zoned for chickens (including roosters) as well as horses, although we don’t currently have sufficient yard space.  However, the property behind us is owned by an elderly couple.  The house itself is the right size, with the right number and arrangement of rooms, despite its quirks.

So, maybe the house isn’t holding us captive, so much as biding its time. Maybe it’s like the storyline of several romantic tales.  Maybe this house is just patiently waiting, while offering all the best it has.  Maybe it knows that someday, we’ll realize we’ve been living in the perfect home all along.


  1. I love it when people write about homes and feeling at home. The subject facinates me and you did a great job describing yours and your husbands home experinces. I am crossing my fingers for Seattle!

  2. Seattle is a great place - especially because they have such wonderful people who live in the vicinity. ;0) The weather is certainly ideal for me.


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