I felt awkward poking around their house. We were like the kind of people who cross a picket line. A teenage daughter was in her bedroom when we walked in. She rolled her eyes. Band posters decorated her walls, and a lilac-colored floral comforter spread across her antique-style bed. Dirty laundry littered the wood floor.
I felt uncomfortable about making an offer, but Aaron was in love. So we did. We offered $400,000. We were outbid. Five months later, we offered $410,000 on a nicer model across the street that had granite countertops and two spa-inspired bathrooms. Once again, we were outbid. It seemed Aaron’s beach-living dream would be out of our reach.
A short while later, we found a house in Santee whose backyard bordered Mission Trails Regional Park. It had a swimming pool, a white picket fence, and a fresh coat of pale blue paint. It was the nicest home on the street. Unknown to us at the time, a pedophile resided one block over. I saw his photo on the Megan’s Law website — two days after our offer was rejected.
We placed a modest offer of $360,000 on a home in La Mesa that was on the top of a hill near SDSU. This place had windows everywhere. When the daylight streamed in, everything shimmered. I envisioned elaborate sunset dinner parties with fascinating people. But the structure had serious foundation issues. If we had sneezed, that puppy might’ve crumbled to the ground. It was beautiful, though Aaron didn’t love it. He was hesitant to make an offer, but against his better judgment, he did it for me.
Each rejection crushed me. By the time we finally purchased our home, our realtor had gone through a midlife crisis. His salt-and-pepper hair, once dignified, was now jet-black. He’d whitened his teeth and bought a cherry red Mustang.
Aaron, the practical male, was horrified. “You should tell him how bad it looks,” he hissed. “You’re a woman. You can get away with it.”
But here’s the thing about the mauve house: for the first time, both Aaron and I adored the same place. It reminded us of home. Aaron saw his childhood in its shade tree; I remembered mine in its family-friendly cul-de-sac. It was oddly familiar to both of us. It reminded us of the first few years spent as Midwesterners in California, back when I used to make dinners from the glossy pages of cookbooks and still took a polite tone with Aaron, even when I was grumpy. When we were newly married, we lived less than a mile from this house in a small apartment at the base of Mount Helix. We used to breeze down Bancroft Drive, turn left on Lemon Avenue, and head toward La Mesa Boulevard, going up and down on the winding back roads near downtown La Mesa. Along the way, we would pick out houses we liked.
Eleven years later, to our surprise, we owned one of them.
A week after placing our offer, on my 32nd birthday, we learn that we will be the proud owners of our first home.
Two months after we move in, my brother drives down from San Francisco to stay with us. He is in need of a Tijuana dentist. He has lost a tooth, an incisor, smack-dab in the middle of his smile. He resembles a bluegrass banjo player, the kind who should be sitting on a porch with a bottle of whisky somewhere in Alabama. In San Francisco, he was quoted $1500 to replace the tooth with a bridge. In TJ, it will be $450. It’s an excellent excuse to see our new place while taking advantage of our proximity to the Mexican border.
I’m planting succulents out front while chatting with the man across the street, the one with the BMW and the new backyard swimming pool, when my brother arrives after a 12-hour drive. Roger pulls into the driveway in his dusty Honda Civic, his curly brown hair in his eyes and his clothes wrinkled from the drive. I introduce him to our neighbor, who stares at the gaping hole in Roger’s smile. I consider explaining that my brother normally has all his teeth and is town to see a Tijuana dentist, but I’m not sure if that will make it better. So I let it go.
Two months later, for my father-in-law’s birthday, my husband and his brother take him to a Padres game. In celebration of his 63rd year, my husband’s dad gets inebriated. He is too drunk to drive home. Aaron offers to take him to our place so he can sleep it off. When they get home our kids are playing with the neighbor kids in our backyard. They are trying out the new swing we have just tied around a thick branch on our shade tree. My father-in-law staggers outside. He begins pushing the kids with such force that their skinny legs bump against the highest branches in the tree. I am certain that some poor kid is seconds away from breaking a leg.
I shoot Aaron a dirty look. “Make him go inside,” I whisper.
Ten minutes later, my father-in-law passes out on the dog bed in the living room. The kids come inside for Popsicles and giggle at the sight of him and his loud snores. It is 4:00 p.m.
I pretend he is a narcoleptic, but Andrew, my 12-year-old son, isn’t fooled. “He’s drunk,” Andrew announces. “He loves beer!”
My husband nudges his dad and sends him to our oldest son’s room. While I am cooking dinner, Andrew and our ten-year-old neighbor sneak downstairs to draw a curlicue mustache in black marker on my father-in-law’s face. My one hope is that our ten-year-old neighbor doesn’t say anything to his parents.
“Your dad is a mess,” I tell Aaron.
“Hey, your brother met our neighbor toothless.”
My husband has a point.
The next morning, when my father-in-law wakes up, I don’t mention the faux mustache on his face. He will have to cross the border on his drive back to his Rosarito home looking like that. I get a chuckle, imagining the Mexican customs agents pulling him over for his odd appearance.