House and Home

View of a Welcome to North Carolina sign from the passenger seat of a car

Not the correct drive home, but at least a driving picture.

During the hour and a half drive back to the house, I tried not to think about how good it felt to be among friends in GSO, or the tension seeping back into my shoulders at the thought of returning.  Sitting at Ouiser’s awesome kitchen island eating my first hot, home cooked meal in longer than I dared to count, I laughed and I felt joy and comfort chatting with Mama Ouiser, her sisters and my friend. It was a glimpse into the life I expected to have upon my return to N.C. A life where I could invite friends to my home, cook for them, and where I could share my wonder at the new course my life is on. Later, I felt similarly as I sat at Starbucks chatting with Dr. Phoenix and Dr. Leaving Academia. There was a cloud in that conversation, however, we couldn’t seem to stop careening back to my housing problems.

I didn’t want to sign that one year lease for the property I had only seen in pictures and brief videos. It was, however, June 8th, and I was busy packing what little I could carry, and saying goodbye to everything else I would have to sell or donate. On June 23rd, when I loaded up the car with the animals, Ousier, and all the breakable things I didn’t want in the trailer, I needed to know where I was going.

“Renting from a Property Management company should provide me with some security.” I assured myself. “No company is going to knowingly rent a property that would make them look bad.” Ignoring my instincts, and the voice of Dr. Lawyer in my head, I signed the lease and sent in my deposit.

Pulling into town on my own, I stopped by the Property Management company to pay my pro-rated rent for the last week of June, full rent for July, and pet deposit and get the keys to my new place. This is where the “I should haves … ” really pile up.

  • I should have driven straight back and demanded a different property;
  • I should have never let Ouiser and Dr. Revolution help me unpack;
  • I should have taken my things to a storage unit and found a hotel for the animals and I.

I’d signed that damned lease though, and I knew how tricky it could be to get out of one.  I’d just driven 1500 miles and pretty much emptied my bank account to get into this place.

A half shaded deck with plastic wrap desbris, and a long piece of metal roof flasing propped on the deck rail

Metal roof flashing propped on the deck rail, and about 1/3 of the trash littering the deck when I walked into the property

By the time Ouiser and Dr. R got there, I’d Pollyannad my way into some version of it will be all right.  I’d already called the Property Manager to report the missing handle & lock mechanism on the sliding glass door to the deck and back yard, as well as the debris from the clearly unfinished roofing project that littered that deck. It would be nice in the NC head to have such a shaded house, and unfortunate that the worn brown shaggy carpet turned that shade into a dingy darkness. After getting the animals into the house, I went back for the insulated bag of Gatorades and waters.  I popped them in the fridge anticipating we would need them after unloading, which is when I really looked at the kitchen: dirty counters, a sink that had paint or caulk dumped down it and not cleaned up, dirt-smudged appliances, and a floor that needed to be swept. Again, thinking that I would have to be in this place at least 12 months, I did my best to find a way to make it work.  “At least, there are a lot of cabinets.” I thought.

Mass of bugs clustered at the base of a sliding class door.

The least disgusting bug picture. This is what I found when letting the dogs out during the first night. I slept with the lights on for three weeks.

I roamed through the house finding other half finished projects, a towel rack in the bathroom with only one side installed, a hole in the bedroom wall from the door knob. On a break before tackling the major piece of big furniture, I decided to open those cupboards to figure out where I would put the kitchen things. The first cupboard door I opened about four cockroaches startled and scurried away to their corners. Not only was this place clearly not finished and ready for move in, it was infested with roaches. I called the Property Manager again, reported the infestation, the other unfinished repairs I had found, and the bad cleaning job. “Um … the owner cleaned it.” she said, and promised to check with the owner and send out an exterminator. Hanging my head, and not knowing what else to do, we finished moving in my hutch. I left the boxes and boxes of kitchen ware in the middle of the dining area. I didn’t bring anything but pre-packaged food and drinks into the house, and ate at least one meal of every day out.

By the time my conversation with Dr. Phoenix and Dr. L.A. was hijacked by our attempts to identify the different species of roaches infesting the house, the exterminator had been out to spray the house for a second time, which he assured me should take care of the problem and which I already knew had not. After letting the dogs out and getting settled back into the house, I texted Dr. Phoenix to let her know I had made it safely, and express my regret at the turn our conversation had taken.

She texted back something comforting, and  “I don’t know how you are coping.”

I flippantly responded. “I don’t know that I am.”

That comment haunted me all evening.  By the time I got to work on Monday morning I realized I had inadvertently spoken truth.  I wasn’t coping. I was miserable.  The animals were miserable. I sent an email to Dr. Lawyer.

I know we were waiting to hear from the landlord about the rent refund request before talking about next steps, but I can’t really do that.  I need to start exploring next steps now.  Nuclear next steps even, what is the worst possible outcome of me getting a new place, walking away and just not paying them anything again. I cannot continue to live like this.

By the end of that day, the owner had denied my rent refund request, but offered to let me out of the lease. Dr. Lawyer told me not to accept the offer until I had a new place.

Room with built in bookshelf, wood laminate flooring, and a bottle of Prosecco on top of the book case

The bottle of Prosecco my new landlords left me when I picked up the keys to the place. And the awesome built in shelf.

By the end of the week, I’d taken the offer, signed a new lease, and spent the hottest weekend of the summer moving into a new place with the help of Dr. R and her Compatriot.

It’s higher rent, a longer commute, and I’ll need to hire someone to let the dogs out on my teaching days, but the peace I feel, the ability to cook a meal, and to brew my own coffee without finding roaches in my machine more than make up for that.

Front door, with cat gazing out, and bookcase filled with stuff to be put away.

Le Dictateur loves surveying his kingdom.

Finally in place where I feel like I can put down roots, I’m ready to tackle the questions dogging me since the divorce.  Who am I now? Where have I been? What did I learn? Where do I want to go?  How do I plan to get there?

Mid-life or existential crisis, I guess you’d call it. But those terms carry such a negative or frivolous connotation. Based in the recognition of mortality, they are seen as a flight from responsibility, an attempt to recapture youth. Sure, as a single woman in her forties, and someone who has spent time in an ICU this year, I am feeling my mortality, but I am more fully embracing my responsibilities and my age.  While I do feel like I’m in the middle of some sort of existential episode — questioning who I am and where I want to go –, I need a new term. A phrase that will capture the joy in this self-discovery, the excitement of this adventure, as well as the price I paid to get here, the raw, open, painful loss I carry. The way my old life winds its way into this new one, piece by piece.

Window framed by hanging framed pencil drawings.

Pictures drawn by my ex-husband hanging in my new house.

It is too much, I suppose, to ask one term or phrase to carry, which is probably why I feel so compelled to tell my story. Rather, to tell the many stories I have. They stack neatly, building on each other like cord wood, until I can’t tell where to begin.  At least, with the most amazing help from what my sister calls my “Friends-Family,” I am finally in a home that gives me the peace to begin the exploration.



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