For my birthday, my husband bought me a house. I like to mention this nonchalantly to strangers because I think it makes us sound like the type of people who might own a yacht or take exotic vacations. But the reality is that my seven-year-old truck has two large dents from camping trips and we buy Two-Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s.
I will also admit that we waited for the housing market to take a dive before purchasing our first home — or rather, my husband waited. He is the type of person who had his future mapped out by the age of six. Every day, he sets his wristwatch to alert him to his ten o’clock bedtime so that he will get exactly eight hours of shut-eye each and every night. That’s just how he rolls. Aaron does not make rash decisions, ever. When 900 square feet was going for half a mil in San Diego, he never considered becoming a homeowner.
I knew the moment we saw our house that it would belong to us, despite its old-lady mauve-y pink color and the weeds growing out of the rain gutters. It looked like us. It was on a cul-de-sac lined with trees. The sound of lawn mowers was coupled with children’s laughter. I could picture our kids setting up a lemonade stand in our driveway or riding their bicycles to school with the rest of the neighborhood kids.
Other people looked at the house that day. There was a middle-aged man in a baseball cap holding his wife’s chubby hand. Their sedan was parked haphazardly on the street, its rear window crowded with neatly arranged stuffed animals. Dozens of little black eyes stared at the road. The wife was unimpressed by the decades-old kitchen, but I overheard her say she saw “promise in the floor plan.”
There was a young couple with a newborn. The woman spoke loudly to her petite bleached blonde agent while balancing in one arm an oversized infant carrier with her sleeping baby bundled up inside. She spoke matter-of-factly about the offer they planned to make on the house. Her husband sat outside on the curb, smoking a cigarette. I felt anxious, worried that our home would end up in the hands of a smoker or a hoarder. The walls would yellow, or worse, the rooms would be overcrowded with stuffed animals, straight from QVC. That just wouldn’t do.
When we got in our car, I told Aaron that I wanted to die in that house at an old age, peacefully in my sleep, with my dog-eared copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House resting in my lap. I, of course, would be in the middle bedroom, the one at the top of the stairs that has the clearest view of Mount Helix. Aaron let out a slow and heavy sigh because he could tell that I was already envisioning where we would place our furniture.
“Just don’t fall in love with it yet,” he warned.
I could tell by the way he said it, in that long drawn-out way, that he was in love with it, too, and trying his hardest to mask his excitement.
I tend to get my hopes up. What my husband refers to as insane expectations I like to think of as optimism. We are a good balance of rational and irrational. I tell myself that it makes our life together exciting, not messy.
On our drive back to our rental in Tierrasanta, Aaron reminded me of the Ronald McDonald house incident. Six years ago we bought a $200 raffle ticket for our dream home. Aaron did it for the cause. He was sucked in by the photos of bald children with IVs running like spider webs across their arms. He wanted them to see Justin Bieber in concert or parade around Disneyland in princess costumes like other American children. He wanted their dreams to come true, while I wanted to live in a mansion. So we bought a ticket.
The home was in Rancho Bernardo, in a neighborhood where everything looked identical — the winding streets, the strip malls, the well-tended flower beds, the oversized silver SUVs parked in just about every driveway. It wasn’t us, but I didn’t care. I was drawn in by the home’s glossy wood floors and the staged little-girl bedroom dripping in butterflies, all pale pinks and purples. I could see myself in the master suite’s bubbling sauna with a glass of wine while rereading East of Eden after a rough day. I envisioned a life of potlucks, carpools, and block parties.
On the day of the raffle, after we toured the house, I was certain that we would win. I felt it was divine providence that led us to purchase a ticket. I was in disbelief when the winning name called out wasn’t ours. The people who won didn’t even show up that day. I wanted to punch them for robbing me of a life filled with pretty things.
On the car ride home, Aaron methodically processed the heartbreak: “Do you really think our furniture from craigslist would have looked okay in that house?” We both laughed hard, and I attempted to get over it.
When we first set foot in the old-lady mauve house, we had been actively looking to buy a home for two years. We had placed five offers on other houses. Our first was a townhome in Ocean Beach, less than a mile from the water. It had a community pool and fitness room frequented by thirtysomething professionals in tracksuits and dry-weave sweatshirts. The home was attached to the house next door. It would be a tight squeeze for our five-person household.
Aaron loved it immediately. He pictured family surf sessions and wet suits drying on our back porch. I didn’t love it, but I pretended to because Aaron was enamored with the idea of us being a beach family.
When our realtor took us to see the inside, the family who owned it was home. They were trying to unload it before the bank took it back. We were greeted at the door by their crotch-sniffing golden retriever. There was colorful artwork on the walls and a peaceful Zen decor. The husband told us that they had gone into debt due to a homeowner association nightmare having to do with mold issues in five townhouses on his side of the street. Through gritted teeth, he added, “Through no fault of our own, it cost all of us a fortune. Our mortgage doubled because of it. We can’t afford this place anymore.” At the end of the month, they would be moving into an apartment in Point Loma.