In Transit

July 12, 2010 at 9:30 pm (Uncategorized)

Pardon my dropping off the face of the earth. In my defense, I’ve been very busy and I haven’t been having any fun. I’ve been in a ring of Hell that Dante somehow left out of his Divine Comedy. Somewhere between the circles he identified, say, between Gluttony and Wrath and Sullenness, is the one I’m stuck in: Trying to Sell One’s House Quickly So That One Can Pack Up and Move Into a New One. Maybe they didn’t have open houses or buy-sell agreements in the 13th century. Or maybe, Dante knew that real estate is beyond the pale, too profoundly unpleasant even for his hellish lexicon. He could matter-of-factly consign the likes of Judas Iscariot to the Ninth Circle of Hell, in which betrayers were completely encapsulated in ice, “distorted in all possible positions,” for eternity. But who could deserve as punishment the prospect of moving?

That’s right. We’re moving—or, at least, hoping to move. Everyone’s been surprised at this news. Even Jay and I are shocked at what we’re doing. After all, I’m just getting a toehold on the steep slope of health. My new drug regimen of Rituxan, Remicade, Prednisone, and Cellcept seems to be reducing the symptoms of my chronic neurosarcoidosis. (I am frantically knocking on every wooden surface within arm’s reach so that I don’t jinx myself.) Now that I’m not getting blasted with chemotherapy every-other week, I’m feeling less exhausted and a little more functional. Over a long weekend a few weeks ago, I was able to write 50-odd pages of the memoir I’m late getting to a potential agent. I’ve been riding the stationary bike for twenty minutes, reclaiming some of the strength and stamina I lost after months of bed rest. So why risk my fragile new health by crushing it under the considerable work of moving? Packing up and storing 50-odd boxes of surface clutter, painting a room, and cleaning for another open house feels a little like I am parking a Hummer on top of the tentative green blade of my wellness. Why not stay put?

The answer is that I don’t feel safe in our home. Despite the significant progress I have made in the past few months, I continue to experience periods of intense vertigo and episodes of total blindness. Our current house aggravates these problems. I’ve got to negotiate three sets of stairs every day. Our bedrooms are on the top floor; the kitchen is one set of stairs below, and my home office and our family room are in the basement. I’ve already had a few minor spills on the stairs, when I’ve tried to find my way down in spite of my vertigo making me unsteady. I’ve even had one of my “white outs”—the minute-long vision losses that have plagued me this year—on the stairs. I clutched the railing and waited for the veil of total whiteness to lift. Rather than risk a bad fall, I stay up in my room when Jay’s not home to help me. It’s a lovely bedroom, with eighteen-foot ceilings, wide pine floors, a fireplace, and a view of the mountains. But it has become my cage.

We’re fortunate that our good friends, Jan and Didi, are realtors. We didn’t have to formally sign on with a real estate agent, but could instead ease into looking at houses. Walking through the one-level houses they found let us get used to the idea of moving. However, it seemed like we would never actually find a house that suited us. We didn’t want to leave our neighborhood, which is close to Jay’s work and Andrew’s school. We also couldn’t bear moving into a generic box of a house that lacked character or charm. And charm is usually expensive. We’re a one-income family. It seemed like we’d keep puttering around forever—looking at each new offering from Jan and Didi, murmuring how nice each one was, but concluding that it wasn’t for us.

Then we saw a house six blocks up the road from us. As soon as I walked through its front door, I felt like I’d come home. Light streamed in from large windows that face the mountains. The place had character and an open floor plan. It had hardwood floors, a large kitchen, and a redwood deck that wrapped around the back of the house. The backyard even had a ready-made fort for Andrew. Everything was clean and in good shape. It was lovely. We could live, play, and sleep all one level. It was at the very top of what we could afford—and its owners weren’t willing to come down much—but we finally settled on a price. Of course, the deal was contingent on the sale of our house.

I knew it would be a lot of work to get our house ready for sale. To say we had clutter would be like calling a tornado a breeze. My sarcoidosis became serious right after we moved into our current home. My neurological problems, chemotherapy, frequent long-distance trips to doctors—not to mention our busy toddler—meant that I didn’t have much time or energy to spend tidying the house. To make matters worse, Jay and I are both inveterate pack rats. We keep everything. Our closets were stuffed with five years’ worth of toys, clothes, shoes, sporting equipment, artwork, and miscellaneous junk. We’re lucky that our extended families help us pay for housecleaning, so we’ve never had a dirty home. But professional cleaners can’t sort out the kiddie artwork you want to frame from the ones destined for the trash. They can’t make your husband part with old copies of The New Yorker. They can’t give away clothes, toys, shoes, and books your child has outgrown. Nor can they determine which of the many shirts that over-stuff your closet were purchased on the day you apparently went color-blind and lost all sense of fashion decency—and thus should be destroyed. We had to deal with five years of negligence in two weeks. Jay and I filled 52—that’s right, 52—boxes of this stuff. We realized that we didn’t have the time to make decisions about what to toss and what to keep, so we boxed everything up and put it into a storage unit we rented for the purpose.

We also had to address five years’ worth of home repairs we’d procrastinated on finishing. We were lucky to find contractors who could help us finish the basement, fix the broken walkway in the back yard, paint the decks, and even put in a nicer kitchen ceiling. We tackled the overgrown thicket that our yard had become. We had not one but three gardening crews cut down weeds, trim bushes, and haul away a stunning amount of yard waste. We also got lots of help from friends. Leah and Jan helped Jay and me paint the basement. Martha spent an entire day sweeping our garage and paths. Jan and Didi weeded the yard and helped me cull my closet. Leah even loaned us furniture for the basement. Just yesterday, Martha and Geoff cleaned the whole house for an open house. Without our friends’ help, I would probably still be wandering around in my closet and Jay would be lost under a heap of boxes in the garage.

Once we got the house de-cluttered and put in working order, we had to clean it for open houses and showings. We shine and polish every room on every level. As I lug the vacuum cleaner to the top bedroom or clean the bathroom floor on my knees, it’s hard to believe that just three months ago I was predominately bed-ridden. The amount of work I could expend is a testament to how much healthier I am. If I weren’t still getting dizzy and disoriented, I could convince myself that we don’t have to move after all. But the work has taken its toll. Last week, the doctor discovered that all this effort has triggered the sarcoidosis-related brain inflammation to worsen. He ordered me to rest—a command I have half-way followed. But I can’t just lie in bed when there’s a lot of work to be done.

I am sad that we’ll be leaving our quirky, three-storied home. We moved here when Andrew was just under a year old. I have so many memories of him growing up here. I hate the thought of turning over to someone else these rooms that witnessed Andrew’s first words, first drawings, first Thai food. Homes are not just the structures in which we stash ourselves and our things. They become extensions of our beings. I don’t think anyone leaves a home without feeling at least a hint of melancholy, because in leaving this home we are leaving the person who lived in it. I was the mother of a toddler, a writer who found a new way to express herself, a wife. As I prepare to leave, I realize that the baby I brought to this house is now a first-grader, that my marriage is five and a half years older, and that I have much work ahead of me.

I had such high hopes and ambitious plans for this house—to add a bathroom in the basement, to paint our bedrooms, to get the sprawling yard into order. This list of unfinished and un-begun projects can feel like an accusation against me, a litany of broken promises to this place and to myself. Now that we’ve cleared out 52 boxes of clutter, I can see the bones of this house. And they are lovely.

Yet I am also relieved to be leaving this house. I have spent too many days alone in my bedroom, feeling too sick to find my way downstairs. No matter how spectacular my room was, it was still a prison. Even if I were able to complete all the projects I am leaving unfinished, these walls would still be permeated with my sadness and sickness. This is the house in which I became very ill. This is the house in which so many of my dreams were broken. I would like to leave it as the house in which I began to get well again.

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