Thursday, June 12, 2014

Leaving Paradise and Finding Home

Our renovated home for sale

Childhood Friend: “Beautiful, why would you leave that piece of paradise?”

Me: “We’re self-employed as home renovators, so our job is to move on.”

Childhood Friend: “Makes sense…so pretty it would be hard to leave. Do you have one place you call home?”

This was a Facebook exchange when I posted a listing that my house was for sale. We’ve only been Facebook friends a week, and haven’t exchanged any personal messages. It’s been forty years since we’ve seen each other, so of course, she’s curious.

As far as she knows, I’ve been flipping houses since high school. In truth, it’s a brand new thing, but I’m eager to claim it as my occupation, what I do in the world, along with writing. So I used that shorthand as my reason for leaving.

A longer version of why I’d leave this piece of paradise:

My husband and I didn’t buy thinking we were going to renovate and sell, but after two years without job prospects, it became the smart choice: sell our home and use the proceeds to finance the renovation of our project house, a dilapidated waterfront home we bought last summer, still awaiting building permits.

I say it’s my job to leave so I don’t have to explain in a comment box the long journey that led me from twenty-five years in one California town, to my second town in Puget Sound in as many years. I skim over the hard work of letting go of expectations of what life should be, and learning to embrace what is.

Boulder Creek, Santa Cruz Mountains, home for 25 years

I don’t write what it was like to be stripped of identity—all the ways I was validated and affirmed and at home in the town where I raised my children and pastored a church— how it was both humbling and freeing to move where everything and everyone was unfamiliar, and to welcome the discomfort and notice the awkwardness of being role-less.

My childhood friend, who lives in our hometown (she may have never left), has no idea that for twenty-five years I felt the loss of moving away as a young teen, that after my father moved too (in the days before the Internet, email, and Facebook), all my ties to my past felt severed, as if the life I remembered, right down to the schools and streets, existed only in my imagination.

She doesn’t know how I frightened I was to be rootless, how when my husband and I bought our first house in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I thought it would be our last. 

Our first home

We outgrew it, and built our dream home in the same town, and again, I thought we’d stay forever. But our dream shifted, along with the economy and family circumstances, and the big house and large mortgage and the pool, all of it weighed us down, especially when my husband’s corporate job evaporated along with the security of regular paychecks, bonuses, and stock options, life and health and dental insurance, paid vacations and the newest computers.

Our dream home

My husband had climbed the corporate ladder well: he led the philanthropic endeavors of the tech companies that employed him. He made a positive difference in thousands of lives around the world, but he was continually told to do more with less money and fewer employees. He worked crazy long hours, making international phone calls before dawn and well after dinner.

We decided to sell our house and move near Seattle, where another tech company was courting him. The new job wouldn’t involve international travel or carry as much responsibility. This commute would be different: bike ride, bus, and ferry instead of an hour alone in a car. So we bought a fixer upper in a neighborhood with water access and a view, where we could build a studio apartment for me to host writers—my dream after I earned my MFA.

We moved in and began remodeling, but the job didn’t come, or the next, or the next. And actually, it was nice to see so much of my husband, to work side-by-side as he taught me how to use power tools, to eat lunch together overlooking the water, and keep our own hours.

Refinishing a room divider

The severance package ran out, unemployment ran out, and since my husband was no longer obligated to apply each week for jobs he had no interest in, I asked, “If you could do anything, what would it be?” “Flip a house,” he answered, and we began to look for a home that would spark his imagination. We found a waterfront property that’s more complicated, costly, and challenging than anticipated. To swing it, we decided to finish our remodel and sell our own home.

Our project house

We’ve already moved to a rental in another town, and our house has been on the market three weeks without an offer. We continue to wait and see.

Sunrise view from the deck of our rental
Leaving California, becoming entrepreneurs, selling our own home to finance our business: all of it unexpected. But, as one of our daughters noted, “except for the whole financial thing, you and Dad seem really happy.” She’s right.

Leaving California for Washington

 Now to answer, “Do you have one place you call home?” The question stumped me all day.

I can’t name a location. Where I’m from isn’t where I’m going, and we may bounce from house to house around the Puget Sound, so I will answer “the water is home.” And my childhood friend from Seal Beach will understand. She’s at home still.

The Seal Beach pier and a sea lion, December 1982

More than that, I’ve come to trust that home exists within me. Everywhere I’ve ever lived, and everyone I’ve ever loved, brought to life and mind by a song on the radio, a photo on Facebook, a story told or written.

Someday I may lose my memories, but even then, home, like salt air and sand and fog and brine will pulse in my veins, animating me until I have no need of skin, no use for a body, no home but the eternal sea that birthed us all.

Puget Sound at sunrise from the deck of our rental

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for writing. I'm glad to know the story behind your choices. Let's talk.