I had no business looking at houses back in 2010. We had just moved into a little, rental home tucked in between a blackberry alley and the bustling highway. There were several months left on our lease before we could entertain the idea of becoming homeowners.
But I was on the prowl. I knew the lifestyle I wanted to have and exactly the neighborhood in which I wanted to live. It was the only time I can actively remember WANTING to live downtown anywhere. And it was all because of the church that I knew would become the epicenter of our communal life.
So when I saw the little yellow house with green shutters and a white picket fence pop up on my search and recognized immediately the location, my skin literally tingled. I already knew. Whether it was God, kismet, or just low blood sugar, the feeling in my entire body was certain that this was the place we would be living. It was to be the first place wherein I could finally put down roots. Our days of always packing up and moving around with the military were at an end now and I was longing to find a place into which I could settle and plant a garden and feel HOME. This was my chance.
Knowing the seller’s agent from church, I asked her to walk us through it immediately. A bit taken aback, but pleased with the immediate attention, she allowed us in. They were still in the staging process and the previous homeowner’s girlfriend was sheepishly trying to get out the door with paintbrushes and overalls when we got there.
I was in absolute love walking through it. Beautiful coved ceilings and original hardwood floors impressed me a little. But what sold me was the lifestyle of being half a block away from the church, in walking distance to the library, and across the street from the small, community park that was about to get a brand new upgrade. It was an enviable opportunity for the kind of lifestyle that Catholics everywhere often dream of.
We didn’t even have an agent. So we requested that the seller’s agent to find us someone and get us the paperwork quick. Had a home inspection done by our good friend (my now husband) who very quickly realized that I had very little interest in hearing about all the problems the house had (being built in 1905… one can just imagine) because I was already mentally arranging bedrooms, building bookshelves, and serving oatmeal to my children around the dining room table…
I ended up giving birth to two of my babies inside of that home. The lifestyle was everything I dreamed it would be. Imperfect and challenging at times, but gloriously wrapped up in this bubble of an existence afforded to us solely by virtue of where we lived. I would get up in the mornings and wake the children; the boys would walk down to the church by themselves about 15 minutes ahead of me and the babies so they could serve daily Mass. I designed and implemented careful curriculum plans to attend to after our morning devotions. I’d haul laundry up and down the steep basement stairs. We’d eat a basic lunch. The children eagerly waited for the tiny Catholic school to get out so they could join their friends for one of the thousands of pickup football games in the park… it was the kind of thing that has now become an anachronism of America’s yesteryears… we had it there on that particular street because of that particular parish. And I never once took it for granted… it was much, much more than just a home.
During the vile process of dissecting and dividing up our lives in court during 2017, I lost this house. It was during a very ugly trial and my ex-husband’s attorney was pushing and badgering about how this home was a “zero asset”. They cited all the issues with it and talked about how it would be impossible to refinance or to get someone to buy it.
And I was exhausted.
It was the most expensive exhaustion of my life and one during which my attorney at the time failed me greatly by agreeing with me to just let it go and move on. Through an outpouring of love and benevolence of some family friends, I had already been offered a secure and stable housing situation and that was all I cared about at the time. I had been so eroded during the nonstop harassment and legal bullying for the entire year that I just wanted to be left alone and couldn’t even think of the financial implications this would have on my future.
Pushing hard enough and long enough, he won the house in its entirety.
The injustice of it crept into my awareness over time as the imminent trauma receded just enough to where I could finally eat lunch without being prompted and think beyond the next 48 hours. I took out extraordinary amounts of loans to be able to put myself through grad school. The child support awarded to me was such a pittance that it was critical for me to be able to get a job that would support myself and my seven children. Being out of the workforce for 15 years in service to my husband and family had not prepared me to be in a position to be financially secure without that education.
Those loans haunt me today. And it is a wretched thing to think how they could’ve been paid off twice over by the rightful equity in our home that I deserved to share.
And that gall is mine to swallow.
Lord, I reject this bitterness and pray to be filled with your grace!
In a couple of weeks, this last piece of continuity in my children’s lives will no longer be ours. And yes, I say ours because despite no longer having my name on it, the home has always still felt like it was mine too— on behalf of my children and the life I had tried to preserve for them with such stubborn hope.
The house has been sold. My children will no longer experience that city, that parish community as their home. Just the place they used to live…
The youngest ones won’t feel the significance of it the way my middle and older kids do. They have always called it “Dad’s house.” The memories of Mom in that space are very few for them. But my presence is still there. I’m there in the high, hallway bookshelves I insisted be put up.
The hand-painted panels that still got used next to the window AC long after I was gone. The green floral curtains I made still hanging from a bedroom window. The large letters I painted up on the attic wall where I went to write and cry when life was falling apart. “Courage, dear heart…” The Free Little Library sitting on the front fence;
it was the first in the city. And I am in that…
Mostly what aches is that the sale of that home is one last nail in the coffin of the Life that I used to have. And that my children used to have.
I want to offer all the pious, happy endings now— reference the silver linings and fresh starts and real pockets of joy found in our life here and now. Because that stuff is real. But I would only be writing them for my reader’s benefit… in an attempt to make you feel better because the discomfort of sad tales is too much for many people.
For me, sorrow is so familiar that it feels like home to me. Not that I seek it or willingly dwell in it or catastrophize my circumstances to bring it on… but just that I am comfortable hurting.
So I want to leave this grief right here illuminated by the votive candle that words can sometimes be.
I cry with my children.
I hurt with my children.
And I seek the courage to praise God through these tears and forever.