Just about every weekend, I go walking with my mom in a small nature preserve in the next town over from mine. After that, we drive by what for years I’ve called “my house.” Not the one I currently own, but the one I’d buy if one of my books went Hunger Games-level supernova.
It sits on 2.6 acres (an insane amount of space for our area, nestled as it is a few miles from Manhattan) and is a massive, rambling, slightly run-down structure with all the charm of a home built nearly 100 years ago. (1919, to be exact, according to Zillow). It’s been empty for years, possibly someone’s investment property or inheritance. It’s the kind of house that needs a bit of work, the kind you can really make your own. It has an endless driveway which I would line with thousands of iris plants. It’s over 8700 square feet, stately, gorgeous, surrounded by a six-foot wall topped with Spanish tile. According to Zillow, it’s got a massive curved stairway at the entrance and high ceilings throughout.
It’s also priced at over three million dollars.
The truth is: if I had the three million in my back pocket, I wouldn’t buy the place. My children are leaving for college in a few short years. What I need is to downsize, not “upsize.” Plus… the property taxes alone on this monster are over $90,000 a year. Never mind repairs and landscapers and decoration. It is a fantasy strictly of the never-gonna-happen variety.
And, yet, a few months ago, when a For Sale sign went up outside its ornate wrought iron gates, my pulse quickened. Maybe I’d get to see it on the inside and walk its well-kept formal gardens. We drove by week after week, but no Open House sign ever went up.
Last week, after a hike with my son, I swung him by “my house.” I told him about it and he, ever the traditionalist who hates change, grumbled that I could never sell our house so I should just forget about any big, fancy house.
“What if I hit it really big? Wouldn’t you like to have a house with a tricked-out game room and a wall-sized TV for your video games?” Although I was tailoring my pitch to his likes, he wasn’t buying.
“Our house is perfect. I would never want a different one.”
What’s it like to grow up with that level of contentment? I wondered.
As if driven by his dislike of the idea, when I turned down the block to my “dream house,” I spotted it right away: the For Sale sign was gone. In its place: a “Sold” sign.
Although I’ll most likely never earn enough to buy a house like that, and although, I’ll reiterate, I wouldn’t actually buy it if I did have the money, I felt a moment of letdown. Something about a possibility being erased (even when it’s no possibility at all) feels like a loss.
I drove back to my house, a fifth of the fantasy house’s size. I reminded myself that it also has an eighth of the property tax burden. I looked at its riot of messy green things, each placed where they are by my own hand. I eyed the shutters I repainted myself last year and the garage door I’ve been meaning to paint for about three years now. Everywhere I looked, there were seventeen years of my history etched into every crevice, gutters that need replacing, the steps where my toddlers discovered fireflies, the climbing rose bush I bought to grow up the side of my garage but which stubbornly stays runty. I was reminded that there’s always something better than pie-in-the-sky fantasy: hard-won reality.
Turns out I have my dream house after all.