In Which I Bitch
Last spring, when we were negotiating our divorce settlement, I put the marital house on the market. We hoped it would sell quickly; then we simply hoped it would sell. Then we gave up, and I settled in for a long winter of high utility bills and sloth.
This spring I listed the house again. It wasn’t such a huge deal the second time around; most of the petty repairs from the year before were still okay, and I’d already done a massive cleanout/restructuring, so I kind of swabbed the place down with a rag on a stick, got the lawn mowed, stuck a few flowers in pots here and there, and waited. I was very Zen about it. If the house sold, great; if not, hey, life is a river. I figured we’d be fine either way.
Then I saw the cottage of my dreams for rent.
Excuse the melodrama. It really is, however, the cottage of my dreams. My boyfriend and my consoling-windows friend and I met my realtor there one morning when the tulips in front were shyly blooming; when we opened the door, sun poured into the living room. The wood floors are shiny. There is a fireplace. There are built-in bookcases. Two bedrooms, one bathroom, a half-finished attic where the children can cavort (for a while, anyway. Until they get too tall. Then they can cavort on all fours, dammit.) An absolutely adorable yard, of manageable size, with beautiful flowers and trees, and a stream (a STREAM!) running along its back edge. Half a block away is my younger son’s elementary school. There is, I kid you not, a little white picket fence in front.
“They’re looking for someone to sign a multi-year lease,” my realtor said.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that I freaked out. I immediately lowered the price of the marital house by several tens of thousands of dollars. I begged the listing agent to contact the cottage’s landlords, and considered showing up at their front door (they live behind the cottage, right across the stream, in a big castle-like stone house on a hill) as a supplicant, imploring them to wait for my house to sell. (The listing agent, not surprisingly, discouraged this.)
So I wrote them a letter, which I tore up after it reached its seventh handwritten page, and then I wrote another, which I decided was inappropriate after I added, “And of course, your husband should feel free to exercise his droit de seigneur at any time during my tenancy.” I gnashed my teeth every time a showing at my house ended without an offer. I tormented myself by walking past the cottage, peeking in the windows of the cottage, driving friends by the cottage, calling everyone and talking incessantly about the cottage. Once I saw the listing agent for the cottage getting out of her car with a couple of senior citizens–very senior citizens, it looked like–and I panicked. “I mean, seriously, how many years’ lease could they plausibly sign???” I wailed from my cell phone to my consoling-windows friend, as I crouched behind a tree at the end of the block, watching them walk slooooowly up to the door.
Then word came from on high that the landlords liked the sound of me, that they were in no hurry, that they’d gladly wait a few months. Cue cherubim, seraphim, trumpets.
Meanwhile, people kept coming to see my house. One couple came with four children under the age of four and liked the place so much they came back that same day (after I’d scrubbed dozens of small, muddy footprints from the floor), displacing us from 7-9 on a school night, which would have been quite inconvenient if our realtor, who lives around the corner, hadn’t sweetly invited us over. “I’m SURE they’re going to make an offer,” I told her, scarfing down the extra chicken from a dinner she’d made for a friend of hers who had cancer. She smiled benevolently, but shook her head, and she was right.
Another couple came and said they liked my house better than any house they’d seen. It was so GREAT, they said! Why, it was their favorite of all the houses in town! Which was lucky, since their price range was precisely twice the asking price of my house. I rubbed my palms together greedily and waited. I walked past the rental cottage again on the way to my son’s school. The lilacs in back were blooming. The sky was blue. A neighbor, spreading mulch, waved cheerfully. Soon she’d be my neighbor, I thought. I helped with second-grade reading, walked home, sniffing the lilac-scented air, and played the messages on my machine. One was from my patient, kind realtor. The couple in question just couldn’t decide. Maybe they’d like to rent for a year, though, while they looked for a really perfect house. Would I consider that?
I sat down with paper and pencil and figured out that no, I could not afford to consider that. I called my ex-husband.
Calculating the carrying costs of the house versus the rent on the cottage and so forth made me realize that having my ex-husband move back into the marital house, if I moved out and rented, would save him several hundred dollars a month. (It would COST me a couple hundred, but it was a price I was willing to pay.) This seemed weird, but then again our divorce agreement didn’t take into account the possibility that the house would languish on the market while muddy-footed pussyfooters failed to make up their minds. I offered my ex the option to move back in. He declined. I told him about the dream cottage. He said it sounded nice. I asked him if he knew whether he was going to renew the lease on his house, and he said he thought he was. He said he didn’t really want to move. I pointed out he’d save money by moving–either into our house, or (O fatal misstep!) into a smaller rental, like the dream cottage. He said he would prefer to stay where he was, thank you very much.
Well, that’s it, I thought, after I hung up. I wash my hands of him, he’s a moron. And I wash my hands of that stupid little cottage, too, since it’s obviously not meant to be. I marched off and bought a bunch of tomato and eggplant seedlings and planted them. Then I packed the kids up and took them to my boyfriend’s apartment for the weekend.
Yesterday my ex-husband emailed me to tell me that he’d gotten the realtor to show him the dream cottage while I was away. What a great little house it was! He certainly could see why I liked it! In fact, he’d decided to rent it starting July first.
I could have wept. I did weep. I threw things. I took a deep, cleansing breath and called him.
I didn’t know you’d decided to move in July, I said.
Oh, hi! he said. Yeah, well, my lease is up. And my landlord is putting my house on the market. So, you know, I’d be living with a lot of uncertainty month to month, wondering whether it was going to sell. That would be really stressful, and I’m just not up for it.
Yes, I said. It certainly is stressful.
I know you really like that place, though, he said. So, you know, if the house sells by then, you can have the cottage. And I’ll figure something else out.
Oh, I said. Well, that’s really nice of you. Thanks.
Yeah, he said. It’s such a great little house! I love the yard. And the location is so perfect! Right next to the school, and everything!
I know, I said. I like it a lot.
I’m going to sign a two year lease, since they even lowered the rent for me, for no apparent reason, he said. Can you believe that? So it’s mine if I want it. Which I do. Unless, of course, the house sells. Then you can have it.
Oh, I said.
I just can’t really deal with being in a house while it’s shown, he said. And having to keep it clean all the time! That would be a total pain in the ass. Well, I don’t have to tell you–you know what it’s like! And anyway, I’m just not as good at keeping things clean as you are. So there’s that to think about, too.
Yep, I said. There’s that, too.
We chatted a bit more–I couldn’t really hear him over the grinding of my teeth–and hung up.
I spent most of yesterday in a state I’m not proud of. I’m slightly better now. I’ll be better still tomorrow. I watered the damned tomatoes, whenever I wasn’t too busy tearing my hair and rending my garments, and complained to everyone who’d listen. My consoling-windows friend let me rant for a while, then told me I was acting like a fool. “I’d prefer for you to stay right where you are,” she said matter-of-factly. “The cottage is close, but your house is closer, and you know how lazy I am.” She also pointed out that my house has about three hundred bedrooms and sixteen bathrooms, which is a bonus when one has one’s boyfriend and his two children visiting. And she finally caved on the chickens, promising we’d get them together, provided I’d build the coop in my yard.
In my yard? Christ, they can have the whole second floor. I want the kind that lay green eggs. Like Martha fucking Stewart’s chickens. What kind are those?