For nine months, Shawn and I lived under the same roof while we fought over who would get the house and who would get an equity payment. We'd both received the same advice from our lawyers: Don't move out. Whoever moves out first is at a disadvantage. It was this never-ending game of chicken and it almost killed me.
Finally last year, after yet another legal set-back, I decided I couldn't take it anymore. I would move out. And once I'd made that decision, it was as if I had to move out as quickly as possible. It took on this sense of urgency that defied any kind of rational planning.
Which is how I ended up in the starting-over house. The kids and I have walked by this house every morning for six years on the way to school. It had been for sale for more than a year. Isn't it cute?
From the outside, we couldn't tell why it wasn't selling.
Once inside, we figured it out. It's only 1,200 square feet. Yes, that's both floors. And it has one, very simple bathroom and no back yard.
But it was perfect for us, namely because it was the cheapest house in the neighborhood. With a little imagination, it could be a four-bedroom house. The owners were willing to do a one-year lease with an option to buy. It would need a lot of work to make it work. But some of the major stuff that old houses need had been done, like the roof and the air conditioners. And I would have a year to decide if that indeed was the place.
It was a good thing I had a year to make up my mind, because it took another year to finalize the divorce. Last month I bought the starting-over house. If I had been willing to spend another $75,000, I would have been able to find a bigger house, maybe even with a pool. But this house was really affordable. And it's a block from the school. And I just didn't have the energy to move again.
Now that I own it, I'm make lists that look like this:
- Concrete parking pad - $600
- Carport - $2,500
- Cover the front porch and install fans - $5,000
- New stove (old one is so cheap, it's useless in summer because it heats up the entire house) - $1,800
- Six new keep-out-the-heat windows for Molly's room - $800
- Bricks to replace front walk - $700
- Trees - $200 a piece
- Sprinkler system and pump - $1,800
This list lives on my refrigerator. It has become a sort of road map for the kids and myself. It's challenging, but possibly do-able. Yes, it's daunting. But not nearly as scary as tearing apart your family and trying to put it back together.
In a way I think the list is a good thing. It reminds us that we can't just have the life we want, this instant. The starting-over house is a concrete metaphor for our lives. There is still a lot of work to be done. A lot of work. But if we just keep at it, we'll get there.