A short five years ago, I was married, living in a four-bedroom house in a nice town, and trying to manage my three beloved, unruly teenage boys. Now, that life is so far in the rearview, I barely remember the woman who lived it. Today, I’m a divorced empty-nester, living with my boyfriend in a cramped apartment. The house in the nice town belongs to someone else now. Most of my belongings are in storage and I’ve been living out of boxes for almost a year. I hardly recognize my life.
Enter “The House (TH).”
TH is what real estate folks like to kindly refer to as a fixer-upper. It’s over a hundred years old and hasn’t been updated in at least forty. The kitchen is all cheap oak veneer and cracked linoleum. One of the bathrooms has mustard-colored fixtures. At one time, it had been a beautiful farmhouse. Now, there isn’t a crown molding or claw foot tub in sight. Instead of repairing and restoring, indiscriminate prior owners had stripped all the period treasures and left TH with only the cheapest of 1960s-era basics–things that were never known for their aesthetic qualities.
TH had nothing I was looking for in a house except that it was in the neighborhood I wanted (location, location) and sat high on a lovely piece of land. It was also close enough to the city and not too horribly far from the town where I raised my kids.
So…we bought it.
TH, we quickly discovered, needed everything. Everything included a new kitchen and a new roof. Every window needed replacement. Most of the sinks and toilets were inoperable. The stairs were unsafe and needed to be restored. The heating system was ancient. The entire electrical system was a disaster waiting to short-circuit. There had been a fire in the house at some point and no one had bothered to make the necessary structural repairs. On some days, the movie The Money Pit comes to mind too easily for me to find the analogy the least bit amusing.
So, we began.
Walls have been moved and a new kitchen has been ordered. Architectural options have been pondered. Should we switch the kitchen and dining room? Makes sense. Should we make two small bedrooms into a master suite? Sure. Should we finish the third floor as a place for the kids to hang out when they’re home? Why not?
Why not, indeed.
TH is big. Probably bigger than we need. We didn’t start out looking for a big house but, now that TH is ours, we’re happy we have a roomy place for our kids to stay when they’re home. Between us, the boyfriend and I have five boys. My family, happily, is getting bigger, not smaller.
Some friends and family have questioned our decision. “Forget the big house. You don’t need it. Go get a condo in the city instead,” they’ve offered. Frankly, I’m mildly offended by the suggestion. Do they think getting divorced means I’ve forfeited my rights to any semblance of my former life? That somehow being divorced means I’m required to eschew the white picket fence and embrace the doorman building?
I think not. Divorce may change your life in ways you never dreamed, but it sure doesn’t change your dreams. The Hedonic Treadmill theory purports that despite negative life events, we humans strive to return to former levels of happiness. After the disappointment of my divorce, that drive went into overdrive.
So, yes, TH has become a metaphor for rebuilding. As crazy as the whole project is (and, just so we’re clear, it’s a gut job), it’s breathed some life into, well, my life. There’s something to walls being torn down and rebuilt that feels therapeutic. There’s something to taking something so neglected and making it beautiful again that’s quietly healing.
My five-years-ago-life is gone, never to return. Nor would I want it to. But there are things about it that were so wonderful, I’m not ready to shut the door on them. I still want to host big Thanksgivings and have comfy beds for my kids to sleep in when they do decide to grace my threshold. I want visiting to be easy for them and not a hundred frustrating circles around a city block looking for a place to park.
I can’t give my kids their old life back and some days that makes me irreparably sad. But I can show them that life can be good after change and, sometimes, better. I can show them that you can still live your dreams even when life changes in ways you didn’t plan.
At her advanced age, TH now has a whole new life ahead of her.
And now, so do I.