"We've had a lot of houses," says Moesha, breaking her customary shy five-year-old silence.
“Yes, we move around a little bit,” agrees Rayna, Moesha’s mother and a navigator turned drug-and-alcohol counselor for the Navy.
“How many houses do you remember having?” I ask.
“There was the house in Minnesota,” recounts Rayna. That was where she and her husband Steve, now a food-service officer with the Navy, worked as recruiters. “Then when we sold the house, we moved to an apartment.”
Adds Steve, “She stayed with me when I was in school in Georgia, and Mommy was over in the Gulf during her last deployment.”
After the Georgia layover, the Minnesota apartment gave way to another apartment in Chula Vista last year. Soon after that, Steve and Rayna started looking for a house. “We’ve kind of been told with a wink and a nod that we will more than likely be here for six years,” explains Steve. “Because we’re in the military together, and I’m an officer and she’s enlisted, we can’t serve in the same chain of command — it would be a conflict of interest.” (They were both enlisted when they met and married.) “The way they try to work it is that one of us will be on a ship and one on shore. You’ve got very few choices — you’ve got San Diego and you’ve got Norfolk.” It was easier (and cheaper) for the Navy to let them stay put a while.
At first, they looked in Scripps Ranch and Poway, but “the traffic headed up north of the base was just kind of too much,” says Rayna. So their realtor began showing them houses in Chula Vista. Steve takes up the story. “We made the mistake of going to look at model homes two or three miles south, Seabreeze Homes or something. We went in and fell in love. You walked in and it was 20-foot ceilings — just huge, just grand windows and stuff. And of course, with the model homes, they’ve got the beautiful furniture. That really got us thinking about new houses. So we had our budget, and then we started looking, and it was, like, ‘Okay, double that.’”
Still, they found nothing. The Seabreeze community was too isolated, the waiting list for new homes, in general, too daunting. They switched to a search for “newer” houses and went through 30 or 40 disappointments, including a failed bid. Houses would be perfect but lack a downstairs bedroom for guests and extended family. Or they would have no yard. “None at all. I didn’t even think that was legal,” marvels Rayna.
Success came in Otay Ranch, one of the many newish communities that branch off of the great suburban artery that is Telegraph Canyon Road. Right on Heritage, then left on East Palomar, up alongside the military-straight row of thick-trunked palm trees to the park. The park is vaguely circular, with streets radiating out in all directions. Someday, the space will be lined with trees; for now, the saplings look for lorn and frail as they ring the expanse of pale, spongy grass crossed by wide, white sidewalks. A carefully irregular pond holds down one “corner” of the circle. Submerged fountains send lumps of water bulging above the surface, as if for ever heralding the rising of some great aquatic beast. A sign at the pond’s edge proclaims a set of pictured prohibitions: no litter, no drinking the water, no fishing, no swimming, no wading.
Up from the pond is a green and tan powder-coated playground, and beyond that, a substantial picnic area beneath steel roofing. More steel clings to the sloping angularity of the park’s community center, where it is married to a base of fitted stones, an urban/suburban melding forming a venue for children’s ballet and art classes. Basketball courts occupy the park’s opposite side, and if you climb the knoll, you can see a school across the street.
Earth-toned apartments line the streets nearest the park; Steve and Rayna’s off-white house is situated out near the edge of the development, past one of the many manned security gates that regulate traffic in and out of the community’s residential areas. It looks to be one of four or five models on its street. Their model offers two driveways (leading to two garages, one two-car, one single); there are cars in both. Low walls create a small sort of outdoor atrium just in front of the door. A single goldfish swims in a blue rectangular pond on one side; two bronze dolphins rise from the pond, ready to spout water from their mouths if desired.
“When we saw this, it was, like, ‘This is perfect,’” recalls Rayna. “Actually, it was more than I was looking for.” Four bedrooms, three baths, with one bed and bath on the ground floor; 3000 square feet plus a swatch of yard and patio out back.
It is clearly a new house, though it takes a while to realize just what makes it so clear, to notice the shifts in design akin to those between hardwood and carpet, double-hung wood and aluminum slider windows, plaster and skim coated drywall. The stair case at the far end of the entryway gives some indication, the way it doubles back on itself at odd angles, a casual zigzag meander instead of an about-face march. Similarly angled meanders lead to the down stairs bedroom and bath and down a hall to the kitchen and family room. There is also the entryway itself, with its soaring 20-foot ceiling that continues into the well-windowed living room, double the already above-average 10-foot ceilings throughout the rest of the house. (The high ceilings put Rayna in mind of her childhood home, a two-story condo in Minneapolis.) On the walls, the builders left few hard corners; nearly every turn around every entryway is negotiated in soft plastery curves. Over the plaster, a uniform layer of palest green paint — pistachio by my lights, mint by Steve’s, and sea-foam green by the book. The color is uniform; the house has not endured the particular room-by room transformations wrought by multiple owners with multiple ideas about color. The floors are tan tile, swirled with green and set on the diagonal.