Saturday, September 26, 2015

How we found her

Ten years ago--a whole decade!--I was one month into my first semester of grad school.  I was (am?) easily the dumbest person on earth, and there I was in grad school struggling through some of the worst work I had ever been assigned.  Somewhere halfway between Baltimore and DC, Ron was in grad school too--he was due to walk in May, and then he would be coming home to West Chester to get a job and move on with his life, ideally with me.

2005-2006 was hard.  It sucked.  Ron was dealing with a psycho prof in his attempt to finish his MS; we were on year #5 of a long distance relationship (not knowing that he and I were BUILT for the long distance relationship--we could totally do it again if need be); I nearly failed three different classes (keep in mind, fail = B minus. yeah. no grad credits for B minuses ... I guess it's good my program had standards, though); I had a crummy retail job to keep myself from going broke (God that SUCKED); I lived with my parents ... did I mention I was 22 at the time? (mom, I love you but UGHHHHHH); ... I don't know, a lot of stuff was in limbo. I didn't know what I was doing, where I was going, what I valued, what I wanted, what I needed. Nothing. I knew goddamn nothing.

Ugh, I hate remembering that year.  I remember it so clearly, so crystal clearly.  I would give anything to erase it.  It was bad.

(How bad? When it was over and I had turned in my last of three papers--a paper for which the prof generously gave me a B even though I didn't deserve it--I came home and had no idea what to do with myself.  My angst was off the charts and I couldn't handle it.  So I filled a bucket and started scrubbing the bathroom floor.  I sobbed my eyes out.  Scrubbing and sobbing for--I don't know--an hour?  I was the only one home.  But I lost track of time and Leslie came home--she was a senior in high school--and she found me.  I'll never forget the look on her face.  She was searching for something to say ... and finally she landed on, "You need to calm down.  This is ridiculous. What would Croul [our kick ass high school English teacher] say?  You KNOW what she would say: 'IF YOU'RE UNHAPPY, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  NOBODY ELSE WILL.  TAKE CHARGE. STOP MESSING AROUND.' Right?" I remember it was way more eloquent and way more existential--who knows what Croul was making them read at the time.  I remember thinking that those were the easiest instructions in the world--SO EASY!--and yet I couldn't imagine being able to actually do it.  Do what? I didn't know.)

So I was pretty messed up.  But, there was one bright spot.

Summer was starting and I managed to snag the same summer job that I had enjoyed since my sophomore year (ie, not the retail job, although YAY!  I still had that going too).  The guy I worked for had moved to Wilmington and I was following him there.  I had no familiarity with this office, so rather than wing it and try to find it successfully on my first morning there (this is way before smart phones and GPS, people), Ron and I drove there on a Saturday just so I wouldn't be freaking out on my first day.  I hate highways, so Ron figured out a whole route that avoided them, and there we were on this gorgeous road that took us out the other side of West Chester down to Delaware.  It was Memorial Day weekend and the weather was beyond perfect.  I was still really rattled by how awful school had been (how could something I love so much--philosophy--make me feel so terrible? so not like myself? It was a terrible betrayal, one that would take me eight more years to sort through).  But, I distracted myself from all of that by thinking about how great it would be to shift back to a job I knew and loved in the meantime.

On the way back from Delaware, Ron was talking about where he would live now that he was done at school and had accepted a new job that had practically fallen into his lap.  (That's its own post--still can't get over that.)  He was living with his parents and wanted to get out of there fast (what almost-24 year old guy WANTS to live with his parents?).  On a whim (understatement--I can't emphasize enough what an understatement that is--we randomly just made this turn), he turned right into a neighborhood that we had passed on our way out of town.  The entrance was gorgeous--just a tree-lined road that eventually brought you to houses.

April, not May.  And it was completely sunny--totally blue skies--the first day we drove through.

I don't know, I can't explain it.  The further we drove into the neighborhood, I just knew with total certainty: "Yup. We're going to live here."  I knew it in my bones.  Every cell of my body knew it. Finally, I had complete certainty about something after months and months of nothing but question marks for everything else in my life.  It was bizarre.  And wonderful.

Ron and I couldn't articulate why exactly we pulled into this neighborhood.  And we understood even less why we thought it was so wonderful.  We just knew that we knew.

A few weeks later, we returned with a realtor.  We went through one house and then another. And then another.  They were ok.  One was super dirty and messy (I swear they had five kids living there--these are tiny houses).  Its crowning glory was the nasty hot tub in the darkest corner of its unfinished basement.  Not joking.

We got back in the car and drove down this street all the way at the back of the neighborhood--two more houses to see.  The first one had emerald green carpet throughout (brand new! yay!) and a bright yellow kitchen with white cabinets and electric blue countertops.  I remember I wanted to cry, it was so ugly.  It could've killed someone, that's how ugly it was.  It had a finished basement though ... but I remember I looked over at Ron and just shook my head.  No. This isn't it.  He didn't feel it either.  Only one more.

(Ugh, and there I go. Now I'm crying.  It's impossible to type and cry. And Penny's trying to shove my computer away to sit in my lap. What a mess.)

One more.

I remember the realtor pushing open the door.  It was early afternoon and it was so bright out--full sun.  I remember stepping inside and I couldn't see a thing because my eyes hadn't adjusted.  I could only make out the bright light coming through the front window.  And the smell--this house smelled good.  And I knew in a split second.


I stood in that family room and just felt a buzz.  Like listening to a thousand people talk at once.  I can't explain it.  I couldn't even see the place--it was still dark to me. And I knew.  I looked at Ron and I said in disbelief, "This is it. This is it.  This is it."  I could tell he wasn't convinced--we had barely walked through the door.  I was just walking a circle in the family room.  "This is it!"  Ron (or maybe Harold) said, "Don't you want to see upstairs first?"  I remember thinking, "Who cares? I already know it's perfect."  Nothing about the place disappointed me.  Yes, it was tiny.  Yes, it only had two bedrooms (not good for resale).  Yes, it had hardly been upgraded.  And yes, it was the most expensive house for sale in the neighborhood (in a pre-recession world ... this is 2006, remember? OUCH).

But, there was so much I loved!  A white kitchen and hardwood floors; two full bathrooms upstairs so I would never have to share with Ron (Amalie is laughing, but it's true, I've never shared a bathroom with Ron. Never will, either); a big deck out back; recessed lighting and dimmers EVERYWHERE because an electrician owned the place; southern exposure on the front of the house, and all those front windows--five of them.  All that bright light all day and then all afternoon when the sun was going down. It would never be dark in this house.  I could have a million plants and take a million pictures, and it would never be too dark.  I had to have it.  I cannot explain this part fully.  It went beyond all of this.  To me the house was constantly talking, and I could hear her loud and clear.  She just chattered away to me the whole time we were there, talking talking talking.  No way was I letting her go.  Ron and I were finally going to start our lives here with her.

Buying Amber was hard--she was at the top of Ron's price range and since she had only been on the market for a day or two (we were the first people to walk through), the owners didn't have any major motivation to wiggle on price for us.  I remember Ron called me to tell me that he was going to let it go--too expensive and there would be something else.  I remember I cried and said Ok--he was buying the house on his own (I had hardly any savings and no salary to speak of), I wasn't married to him or even engaged to him at the time ... I didn't really have a right to make decisions in this process. But I was crushed.  Really crushed.

I honestly don't remember what happened next--I think Ron was taken aback when I cried? don't know--but something shifted in Ron's mind, and a day later he decided, "Screw it--I'll take their counter offer.  If you have to come home to the same place day after day, it better be something you love." It was early June at the time.  Settlement was schedule for early August.  I was THRILLED.  Beyond ecstatic.  I knew that we would never regret it. KNEW.

KNEW IN THE MOST CERTAIN EPISTEMOLOGICAL TERMS.  KNEW.

She was all ours, and I had no doubt that she was perfect.  And all because I had myself a little job in Wilmington, Delaware to make myself feel better about how awful school had become.  Can you believe that? I still can't.

Still can't.

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