Friday, August 22, 2008

House Reflections

Since moving back into the house my ex-husband and I bought, several of my friends have asked me if it feels strange to live there. The answer is... sometimes, but not in the way you might think. My ex and I bought this house together a few months before we got married, and to tell the truth, it just never felt like "home" to me.

He and I had been living in his one bedroom apartment. It was working, but it felt a bit cramped. On top of that most of my things were in storage, so I always felt like a guest living there. He did his best to make me feel welcome - we even redid the kitchen and painted the dining room together, but still I was always aware that the apartment was his, and it was in his house. At some point we decided to start thinking about buying a home together, someplace with a little more room. So, we made a list of all the things we wanted:

  • It needed to be a multi-unit. (At the time my ex wanted to invest in real estate and he wanted the house to have at least two units in it.)
  • It needed to have a garage with at least two stalls, if not three. (My ex was and still is a car guy.)
  • It needed to have an area for gardening. (My request.)
  • It had to have a spacious, modern kitchen.
  • It had to have room for entertaining plus room for two in-home offices.
  • It needed to have air conditioning. (Again, something my ex really wanted.)
  • While we are both handy, neither of us wanted a "fixer-upper." Cosmetic work was ok, but it had to be in "move-in" condition.
  • It had to have at least one outdoor living space - deck, porch, something.
  • We had to be able to afford it.
And for extra credit:
  • My ex wanted a fireplace and stained glass windows. As for me, I had always wanted to live in a particular neighborhood. This wasn't a deal breaker or anything, just a long standing dream of mine. It was an area near where I lived before I met my ex and I loved the neighborhood and wanted to return.
For me this was kind of an idle thought, but a few weeks after we talked about it, he told me he found the house. He had taken a look at it and thought it was perfect. The next day I met him and the realtor over there and took a look at it.

The house was all that we had wanted and more. It had everything on the main list - a two unit, with 3/4 belonging to the owner and a nice sized one bedroom apartment on the second floor. It had a three stall garage, a small yard that would be perfect for gardening, a newly redone kitchen, and tons and tons of space. It needed a paint job, but the interior was in great shape. It had air conditioning, a new driveway and a new porch on the front - plus a patio out back. For extra credit, it was even in th neighborhood I had dreamed of living. The only things it didn't have were stained glass windows and a fireplace.

I wasn't quite sure what to say when I saw it. While it had all that we wanted, it didn't instantly feel like home to me. When I bought my cottage I walked in the front door and I just knew. It felt right and deep in my bones I knew this was the place I wanted to buy. But this house didn't have that for me. It felt... fine. And kind of cold. I thought it was the paint colors; every room was painted some cold color - greens with blue tones, grayish purples, that sort of thing. Then there was one room that for some unknown reason was painted hot pink with black and white splatter paint. The wife of the couple we bought it from said that it was that way when they bought it, and eventually it became her favorite room. I thought it was because it was the only room with any warmth to it.

Because I wasn't sure about it, and it felt wrong to just buy the first house we saw, we spent the next couple of weekends going to open houses and looking at other homes in the area. Nothing we saw could even compare. In fact, the next thing that even came close needed a ton of work and was $25K more! So, what was I to do? We made an offer.

In retrospect I should have listened to my gut, but hindsight is always 20/20, isn't it? I guess I thought that I could make it work somehow - some new paint, my own furniture - I could make it into my home. And, I tried. We repainted the hot pink room a warm taupe and the purplish gray dining room a bright yellow and a warm olive; colors that I picked out. We put in a garden area out back and got my furniture out of storage, yet still, I felt like a stranger in my own house. Somehow I never lost that feeling of being a guest in my ex's house, even though this one was in my name. I tried finding my own spaces in the house, places I could carve out as my own. There is a small room in the attic I used as my "writer's garret" and home office that I decorated with all my own things. Still, I kept looking around, feeling lost and thinking "Where am I?"

When my ex and split, I moved into a little apartment and he was to keep the house. Of course things didn't work out that way and he is back in his old apartment and I am now in the house, so it makes sense that I get asked if it feels weird to live there.

The truth is, not as much as it did the first time I lived there. I didn't want to take the house, I didn't want to move back in, but when it became inevitable I did the best I could to accept the situation gracefully. Now that I am there, the house is actually starting to grow on me. There are things that are strange - I find myself looking for the time on a clock that we used to have that isn't there anymore. Occasionally I head to the dining room for a cookbook, only to remember that I keep them in the kitchen now. When I come home, I still look at the wall where the phone was to see if there are any messages - even though I don't have a land line. Those things are all habits, but they stand to remind me of my former life. The spare bedroom and his basement office are the only two places that still have my ex's, I don't know... aura about them, I guess. The rest of the house is gradually feeling like mine.

One thing I want to do though is repaint the bedroom. The bedroom doesn't really have much of that 'past-marriage' air but still, I feel a strong urge to recreate that room. Currently I have done what I could by putting my bed in an odd place - smack dab in the center of the room. I didn't want it where the old bed was, and there are limited options in that room. It has worked though - the room feels very different. My next goal is to repaint it. The other two areas will also get re-purposing. I don't think they are going to require paint or much money, just changing the way the space is used. The spare bedroom is the worst area since my ex chose to use that as his bedroom when I moved out, and I still "sense" him there. However, I am turning that room into my office and eBay room. Right now it is still full of boxes, but I know where everything is. I think organizing it and getting my office set up properly plus taking down his old curtains will help. As for his office downstairs, I may turn that into a craft area.

To me, the "weird" things about living there are these: 1) It is slowly occurring to me that I can spread out and put my things wherever I want to. Just this morning I realized I could use up the entire medicine cabinet, I had found that I was still keeping one side empty, (which was actually the inspiration for this post) and 2) it isn't as strange living there as I thought it would be. It is weird that I don't feel weird. Part of my brain thinks this should be strange, yet, I am finding myself surprisingly comfortable here - far more than I ever did in my marriage.

Now that is strange.

More to read about how I got where I am:

Where it all began - Help! I don't want to go bankrupt!

More back story - Number Crunching

About getting divorced - Well, it finally happened


JB said...

So do you ever plan to rent the upstairs? Or why not just sell it and get something that you really like and is YOURS?

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Dawn said...

JB - I had the house up for sale for awhile, but with the housing market being what it is, even my realator said I shouldn't expect it to sell right now. I would do much, much better to save up, get it painted and try again in a couple of years when things turn around. Currently the upstairs one bedroom apt. is rented. (Thank goodness!!)

Stop Foreclosure - Thank you so much for reading!!