When I think about this event in my life it feels trivial compared to ground shifting events that change other people. But I suppose that is the point. We are not each other. We don’t know each other’s pain. We can’t weigh each other’s stories to our own. We each have our own journey. The impact of this house was huge in my life. It was a convergence of multiple events and stressors. It pushed me right out of my boring, easy life into stress, anxiety, fear, pressure. Coupled with the move, my children began to struggle with their own personal issues. My marriage was not in a good place. I hated everything about the place I now lived. Every single time I drove into the driveway I did not want to get out and go inside.
In 2015 I had an idea. My husband, James, teases me that I am like ‘TOAD’ from the book Wind in the Willows. The character Toad is always having new ideas and obsessions. Some of my ideas work out and have brought us fun adventures. Though he teases me, James is open to my ideas. I have supported the things that are important to him in turn. This has been one of the strengths of our marriage.
My idea in March of 2015 was… let’s move to downtown Denver! We were in Thornton, a city in the suburbs of Denver. We had two girls at the Denver School for Performing Arts downtown. We drove them there A LOT. Back and forth and back and forth. Voice lessons, piano lessons, concerts, more concerts. I also work in a hospital downtown. James works in Thornton but was willing to commute. In addition to less driving we looked forward to enjoying the attractions of a city; restaurants, parks, cultural events. We would drink coffee in hip cafes and eat in cool new restaurants. What fun we would have! James was up for it.
We downsized from a large, newer home to a small, old home in the heart of Denver. We sold in two days. The market was scorching hot and we were under pressure to find a new place fast. My husband, who is originally from the U.K., was drawn to this particular house as it reminded him of England. It was a small bungalow with a basement from 1925 and had original everything. No gut job on this house. Even the kitchen, while modified, had original cabinets painted white. Beautiful molding, squeaky old oak floors, the original boiler (unused but still there), the old coal chute. It had character and charm. The only modifications were the addition of a sunroom, a facelift on the upstairs kitchen and bathroom, and an absurdly small bathroom in the basement. I had a bad feeling about the house. But James loved it. I hesitated, but said yes. He said, ‘Tell me if you don’t want it.” I said no, let’s do this.
We pushed the closings on both houses, sold and moved quickly as James was traveling most of the summer. He was in Africa within a week of our move with our oldest child. It was a long planned trip for them. After Africa they went to see family in England and then traveled France, Belgium and Holland together. They had a fabulous time together for which I am grateful. Then he had a doctoral program in California. He was gone most of that awful summer which was hard. Most of the discoveries and much of the work happened while he was away.
The first night I cooked the stove didn’t work. The first week I found out it had original wiring. The inspector had seen new electrical in the kitchen but had missed that the rest of the entire house was original wiring . That inspector missed a lot of things. The lights would flicker and dim. I imagined being at work with the kids home and a house fire happening. I heard of that exact thing happening in a home near us. I found an electrician to rewire the home. He was very odd. He said odd things. He was a little aggressive. He told us to leave one day without warning for several days. He asked for more money. He complained the money wasn’t enough. The work was harder than he thought. James was gone and I’m sure he thought I was lying about my imaginary husband. The same week the electrician was rewiring we had an extraordinary storm in Denver. The basement flooded. No husband. I found friends to rip up the carpet and borrowed large fans to dry it out. The grading around the house was positive. When it rained hard the water went into the basement windows rather than away from them. I found the walls in one of the bedrooms were wet and growing mold behind the paint. I found a mason who suggested grading, adding waterproof stucco to the house beneath the surface of the dirt and adding a cement path around the perimeter. Done. The living room floor had a sag. I had a structural engineer come out and he said the joist span in the basement was insufficient and the grand piano may come crashing into my daughters bed in the basement below without additional support. And also, the engineer said, that garage in the back is about to fall down. It needs to be rebuilt. I found another mason to rebuild two walls of the garage. I found a contractor to build additional supports in the basement. Few of the windows closed and locked.. oh well. There were generations of spiders we simply could not exterminate. They would come down out of the attic through the light fixtures. The house was always dusty. It was as if dirt worked its way up through the floorboards no matter how much we cleaned. The bedrooms were 10 X 10 with miniature closets. We got rid of half of our belongings. The swamp cooler did not work. New swamp cooler. The driveway was coming up in chunks. New driveway. We needed a landscaper to build a retaining wall for the concrete perimeter path to be placed. He cost several thousand more than he had estimated. The plumber was out so many times I am now Facebook friends with him and know all about his family. Great guy.
I enjoy managing money. I am meticulous and creative with it. I keep our credit scores high, find the best loans, manage our retirement accounts, pay the bills. In addition, James has given me great latitude to dream up and direct our house projects and remodeling. He has been wonderful to trust me in these areas and I have gotten good at finding and managing contractors. This time though, it felt like a burden. I felt alone, sitting on the edge of financial ruin for our family, shifting funds, finding and managing a multitude of contractors myself. Within 9 months we had spent 75K. Unplanned. We tapped our retirement. We got a second loan on the house. I worked extra shifts as a nurse constantly.
I became related with city crime. There was the guy that lost one eye being sucker punched for his i-phone while walking his dog. There was the woman murdered in the local park. There was the shooting murder at the gas station we went to. There was the young woman who was assaulted one street away. I shooed the drunks out of my front yard.
James liked the old house. He liked the activity and bustle of downtown. He found all the coffee shops within our small radius. He walked everywhere. He is a city boy at heart. He went to university in London. I felt as if I were drowning, and he was slow to see it. He would say things like, “The roof leak reminds me of the home I grew up in. If the boiler goes out we don’t have to fix it. My aunt didn’t have heat one year for a whole winter. You know, my brother’s house in Oxford doesn’t have central heat. We can just leave things and see what happens. Not everyone fixes everything in an old house. The homeless (druggies, drunks) were here first, we moved into their territory.”
My kids had their own personal mountains that year. It was bizarre. We went from being financially comfortable to looking for cash under rocks. Our family had been stable and pretty happy and now there were cracks and fissures in all our lives. Our marriage suffered. I blamed James for wanting the house. I blamed him for being positive. I blamed him for his lack of concern. I blamed him for my stress. I blamed him and blamed him.
Something happened inside of me. I was in an almost constant state of stress but I became determined this event would not ruin us. It was like a tectonic shift inside my mind happened that caused a well of unknown resolve and strength. James and I went to marriage counseling. We worked on areas of our marriage that needed attention. I started to write again. I cultivated friendships more thoughtfully. I found strength in my Faith. I appreciated our children for just being alive and with us. That I could survive the whirlwind, albeit unhappy, made me determined to go on and appreciate the good things in my life.
One year and three months after we moved in we put the house on the market. We agreed that the move had taken a financial and emotional toll on us and our family and it was best to cut our losses. The neighbors said things like. Why would you move after all the work you’ve done on the place? You can’t move back to the suburbs, they are soulless. You will NEVER find coved ceilings like the ones you have. Everyone else we knew said things like. You’re moving again? You just moved! We felt a little crazy. But I knew if I stayed in that house it would eat my soul. It’s probably just PTSD, but I hate that house. It feels like poison to me. Even now, when I drive by it, I feel loathing.
We sold it and bought a brand new house in the mid suburbs, between Denver and the true suburbs in a place called Stapleton. It’s a master planned community on the edge of Denver. It’s pretty close to the kids schools, and perfectly between our two jobs.
I love our new house. It doesn’t have as much charm and character, but it has glorious walk in closets, lots of bathrooms, big bedrooms, a mother in law apartment, and most of all, no old house issues. James misses the old neighborhood but he likes the new place and having a happy wife. And the NEW idea…the mother in law apartment we turned into an AIRBNB is going well!
Life isn’t perfect but it is as if a shadow passed from our lives. In medicine we know that some drugs enhance each other. They have more of an effect when taken together than when taken separately. This is what happened in this life event for me. It wasn’t just the house, or the finances. It was a tough time for our kids and they were having difficulty navigating life. We were having a rough patch in our marriage. But I am grateful for this time because it has give me a new appreciation and strength. I am so thankful for my husband and children, my dear friends and the life I am blessed with. Our marriage is in good shape. There is a fresh honesty and closeness between us. I have a new appreciation for James and his place in my life. Our kids have grown as people. We can see them maturing and each finding their own individual way. We found the power of accepting them, each other, and all being imperfect together.