Saturday, October 16, 2004

My house was a very very very fine house

One of my colleagues, "Ann", used to be my neighbour. Our flats were on the same street. If I leaned out my kitchen window, I could see her front door. When we moved last year, and couldn't fit everything into the van, she helped me lug my oversized house plant and rug up the stairs to her spare room, where she kindly allowed me store these items for over a month. She cooked me dinner in her warm yellow kitchen on my last night in my old home, since I had packed up all the pots and pans, disconnected the fridge, dismantled the table. She didn't make fun of me when I told her, after the move was complete, that I had cried when I locked the door of my old flat for the last time and shoved the spare keys through the letter box.

So when Ann came into work this morning, and told me that my old flat is on the market again, that there is a big FOR SALE sign outside, I don't think she was surprised to see my face fall a little bit. Ann understands how I felt about that place.

I lived in the flat for over six years. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it. I bought it, rather recklessly, given my marriage was about to end, and the prospect of divorce meant my husband would probably be entitled to half. In the end, he left, and it was all mine.

It was a funny, slightly ramshackle home, all unusual angles and rooms with strange corners. It needed work, since it was an old building, and the floor boards were uneven, the insulation non-existent, the plumbing vintage, the plaster crumbling. At night, when the wind blew, there was a strange sound in the gable eaves, a dull thumping, like a dead man hanging, swinging feet against the attic wall. Despite all that, it had the best karma of anywhere I have ever known. It was utterly cozy and inviting. I felt so completely safe there, so very much at ease. I filled it with comfortable old furniture, and stacks of books. I spent many a happy night, with a coal fire burning low in the grate, the sound of the river burbling gently in the distance, cuddled up under a quilt with a book and mug of tea. Or on a long summer evening, sitting with my laptop at my long wooden scrubbed oak table, watching the light pour into the kitchen window, the white cat on the wall of the garden opposite. It was my nest, my shelter in a storm, my solace. It was home.

Then I met E., and things changed. He loved the flat too, but admittedly wasn't quite as immune to the problems as I was. He wanted someplace with better heating, better plumbing, more modern. He didn't like the lack of parking, the dearth of storage, the tiny bathroom. It was too small for the two of us. And we both had to admit, it was totally unsuitable for a baby, a family. We started talking about moving. When we finally decided to start trying to conceive, we began actively looking for a new home at the same time. And when we found our dream house after months of searching, I had no choice but to put my flat on the market.

I sold it to a single woman not much older than me. At first, this delighted me, since I had felt so safe and happy as a woman on her own in that flat. CIearly it was perfect for the single girl! Then, as the sale was going through, she started coming round to ask questions about the central heating, to measure up for carpets, to criticise the existing decor. During one of those visits, she let drop that she thought the flat was "OK", but she wasn't, like, "in love with it that much". Sort of take or leave it, you know. I felt like she had stabbed me in the heart. How could you not love my flat, you heartless bitch? Everybody loves my flat! I love my flat! Fuck you! Don't buy it then! I somehow resisted the urge to push her down the stairs and slam the door in her ungrateful face. (My mother, when I told her this story, shook her head and explained that this is why in America, the buyer and seller are kept apart at all times).

I consoled myself that it was for the good of the relationship and for the family that was to be. That it was time to move on, time to let go. That all things change. That all change is good.

Unfortunately, just before we were about to move into the Dream House, things went very badly wrong. Disastrously, fatally wrong. The deal fell through. I had to be out of my beloved old flat in six weeks, and we had nowhere to go. Somehow, I managed to keep from falling into a sobbing quivering lump. I drew on some inner resource of fortitude, sucked it up, and found somewhere else that we could buy. Maybe not our dream home, but nice all the same. With much teeth gnashing, hair pulling, and monumental nagging, I ensured we were able to get the paperwork done in record time. And here I am today.

Until this morning, I thought I had pretty much forgotten about my old flat, as I am happily settled into what is very much our home together. But now I realise I had simply packaged it up most of my memories, and shelved it. Because I will always be a little wistful, remembering the place I loved so much. Because I know what was special to me has become someone else's rung on the property ladder. And because it is yet another reminder that we continue to make decisions based largely on the hope of things to come. Hopes which have yet to be fulfilled.


At 12:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are one heck of a writer. I always feel I am right there with you. I could hear the dull thumping and the lovely sounds from the river. I could feel the warmth of the comforter and the tea. I could empathize with the sense of loss when you had to move out. This place was alive and had protected you. I hope the next person who finds this treasure appreciates it as much as you.

As for making plans then quickly learning plans never do unfold the way we want....hear ya on that one!


At 1:23 AM, Blogger Toni said...

I understand your frustration...but hope is what drives us. I think I posted a quote on Christine's post awhile back about's a copy.

Life is waiting for the other shoe to drop. Faith is living life like you don't know about the other shoe.

I hope you don't give up hope.

At 1:31 AM, Blogger JJ said...

"I understand." She typed, from her office, that should be a nursery by now.

At 1:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tribute to your former flat. You can tell you loved it a lot because it comes through in your writing.

I love my current home and it has so much potential, but I loved my first apartment that I moved into after my divorce. It had a sweet little balcony with french doors. It was so Romeo and Juliet. French doors separated the living room and kitchen and in the kitchen was the motherlode -- a 1940'd wedgewood gas stove. I loved that stove and one day want to find one of my own. I've never loved cooking as much as I did on that stove. I never realized how much I loved that place until after all the infertility started and I found myself dreaming about that kitchen and my cozy little apartment. Even though I was miserable because my marriage had just fallen apart, I never realized how safe a place it really was until all this started.


At 2:26 PM, Blogger Julie said...

What a beautiful post! You evoke the place so skillfully. You've reminded me of the ramshackle flat in Truly Madly Deeply, maybe my favorite weep-my-eyes-out-for-catharsis romantic movie.

At 5:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would tempting to buy the flat back, no? To go back in time, a time filled with hope and promises, a time that seems so long ago...

middle way

At 6:40 PM, Blogger Menita said...

What a beautiful post. I have a house in my heart, like your flat, the place I lived in when I didn't know that hope could be fragile.
I go back on those nights I can't sleep, and sit on the porch swing, or fly through the trees in the yard, and suddenly there is peace.
I try to not think of the new owners, the house is always empty in my head, except for me.

At 6:40 PM, Blogger JJ said...

Because your blog doesn't have trackbacks, I just watned to let you know you've been included in the latest edition of The Sunday Post.


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