July 1st, 2012
Two Days Before My Fifty-Fifth Birthday
Guess what I’m getting for my birthday this year? A NEW HOUSE!!! That’s right, we passed final inspection on the house on Friday, so I am really, finally, going home. At last.
When the inspector arrived on Friday, I was nervous. There were only a few electrical corrections to make from the previous inspection, but we’ve had so many setbacks these last few months that I held my breath and barely dared to hope. And when the inspector turned to me and said, “Well, you can start moving your stuff in now,” I choked up. I thought that when that moment came I would jump up and down and hug him, but instead I just stared blankly at him and said, “Really? Are you sure?” He laughed, and said, “Yep!” and I turned to Jerry the Contractor and said “Oh my God! I have a HOUSE!” And I have not stopped smiling since.
Building a house is an incredible privilege, and it is also a maddeningly imperfect process. You can make impeccable lists, research every topic down to the finest detail, check and re-check, and things go wrong anyway. The wrong bathtub gets ordered (that one was my fault) the light fixtures somehow get lost in the mail, you end up a box short on the bathroom tile and can’t quite get the back splashes done, and on and on. The countertops you thought were ordered two months ago somehow slipped through the cracks and never got ordered at all, and you have to send the plumber and the electrician and the tile setter home, and everyone gets grumpy and irritable, especially you.
Each major delay sent me into a new emotional tailspin. The worst was this spring, when I found out the house wouldn’t be done by the first of May as we had planned, which meant I had to go look for yet ANOTHER place to live (number four.) That was one of my low points. I was already so exhausted from moving three times, managing all the details of the insurance AND building a house AND helping other fire survivors AND working, and I just couldn’t face yet another temporary rental. People would ask, cheerily, “When will the new house be done?” and I would grumble, “Oh, don’t ask!” I was clearly not at my best.
Things never turn out quite the way we imagine, do they? We think we have a level of control, or security, and if we do everything right, voila! We’ll get what we expected. If we work hard and save, we’ll get to retire. Who knew the company would go belly up, and the retirement fund disappear? We think if we eat right and take care of ourselves, we’ll be healthy. And then wham – a terrible illness hits, out of the blue. We think, “Wait a minute, this wasn’t supposed to happen.” As John Lennon wrote, (over quoted, but so, so true) “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
In the beginning of this process, I imagined I would build the perfect house. Instead, I’ve gotten to the “good enough” phase, where instead of perfection, you just want to be finished. In the final months of a house building project, you’re just plain exhausted. The house is gorgeous, yes, and you love it, but your brain is fried, the money is running out, and it’s a race with the clock. By the time I got to choosing light switches, I was about done. “Plastic or metal? Paddles or levers? Dimmers or on/off? Screwless plates or the standard kind? White, almond, or a custom color?” Oh, I don’t know. Whatever. Just put something up there and we’ll call it good.
For the last two years, I have imagined that finishing the house would be like hitting a home run. I’d swing the bat and crack! the ball would sail out over the field, over the fence, while the crowd cheered. I’d take a leisurely victory lap around the bases, waving my little hat, and gracefully touch home plate without breaking a sweat. But these last few months have been more like being stuck on third. I’ve been standing there, itchy and restless, inching my way toward home plate, waiting, and waiting, and wondering if this inning of my life would ever be over.
And now, instead of a graceful jog around the diamond, I am sliding into home. On Friday, when I move – for real and forever – I will at last leap off of third, and run as fast as I can toward the plate. I will dive into the dirt – reaching, and reaching – and finally, finally touch home. It will be messy, and imperfect, but I will stand up, and dust myself off, and cheer, as the Umpire declares, in a loud and triumphant voice, “SAFE!”
And I know you’ll be cheering with me.
Thanks for being on my Home Team, and Sweet Dreams,