Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dating Houses

by Zinta Aistars

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer." ~Rainer Maria Rilke

The day begins with a visit to my son. We fall into discussion about a mess of legalities in which he is embroiled; his heart is heavy with it all, as is mine, but we both strive to pick up one another's spirits. I bite my tongue to say aloud the words that burn in me ... I have lost faith in our system of justice, by now realizing that true justice is rare in the world, exceedingly rare. I know he, too, has lost faith. It has always, in the end, turned to one question alone: who has the power?

"You have always been my safe place," he says, and my eyes mist with sudden tears. I say nothing, only nod, but he knows, he knows, if there is one truth on which he can rely, always and throughout, it is my mother's love. His home in my heart will always be doors open.

And so, we talk of the future. We talk of a safe place called Home. We talk of a place with doors open. Life is so often about struggle, about battles we must wage and often lose, but go on to wage the next one if only because we have a safe place to go, an oasis, where we can gather our strength again, rest weary hearts and mangled spirits, make them whole again, if scarred.

I'm meeting with a real estate agent this afternoon, I tell him, and he smiles. He knows my hunt. He's been along for the ride for most of his life, but now has a hunt of his own. We are searching each for a place to call Home for the long term, for those deeper roots. We both need and want a Home of our own that isn't merely a stop along the way.

I have Gretchen searching for me in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and now I have Ingrid searching for me nearer to my work. In my fourth year of a daily 110-mile commute, even as I watch the rising prices of fuel, I am fast realizing there are yet two places in my future. That oasis where I wish to someday grow old, that quiet cabin in the woods (Gretchen's search), and that oasis now, where I can withdraw from the work day and rejuvenate for the next day. And the next. This now is Ingrid's search.

It is almost like looking for a new lover, I laugh, and my son chuckles. You check the ads, ISO a fine-looking build, may have started to gray a little at the temples, but otherwise sound of structure, with an open window on the world, easily accessible, yet offers peace, understands the needed moment for solitude, and can be counted on to withstand the occasional storm.

"You know, you and your lady Sarah could rent my house," I say. "That would save you the search for an apartment, and save me the frustrations of putting the house on the market ... "

"That would be great." His eyes light up. "I could work on building the new patio out back for you, build that fire pit you've wanted ... "

"Have to raze the old deck first."

"I could do that."

We sit for a moment in stillness, the electric shimmer of new plans, ideas taking shape, resolutions and dreams, stitching our thoughts together. His solution becomes mine, my solution becomes his, and we begin to realize how we can help each other get to where we want to be: Home.

"Call me later," I tell him when it is time for me to go. Ingrid is waiting. "I'll tell you about what I see today."

"I hope you find it," he says. "I hope you find that place you want."

"I hope you do, too. More than anything." 

The sky is thick and gray and heavy when I head for my car, spilling a sloopy rain that is thickening to something I will resist calling snow. I head out to meet Ingrid, and she is already waiting when I pull into the driveway of the first house of three we will view today.

I know instantly.

Odd, how something in us knows, within moments, even as we approach that first date, a hopeful new lover and yet will never turn into one ... because we know, before we have even come close, we know, this one will not, cannot hold us. Our mind wanders even before the conversation begins ...

I wander through the rooms of the log house anyway, and Ingrid trails behind at a polite distance, letting me get a feel for the place. There are elements of it I like. Of course, the logs, the warm ambiance of wood. But the kitchen is cramped, the spiral staircase to the upstairs master bedroom is esthetically interesting but difficult to climb ... and I try to imagine my old chow pup taking one look at it and heaving into a pile of fur at the bottom with a dog sigh ... or my elderly parents gazing up at the thin spiraling steps and shaking their heads ... and I bump my head against the low, sloping ceiling when I do make it upstairs, then consider that the bathroom is still downstairs ...

This won't do. As sweet as the wraparound porch might be around the log house, it is much too close to the road, the traffic zipping by.

No, I shake my head, no. On to the next house.

A sweet little cottage on a good-sized lake. I tell Ingrid the small space is just fine, I like a compact house that feels like a snug hug, as long as the view is to the light and the neighbors are far away ...

I peer out the window. The water is gray and even foaming a bit in the day's blustery winds, quite entrancing, but there, I could stretch my arm out the window and knock on my neighbor's window to ask for a cup of flour, please?

No, I shake my head, no.

The third house makes me open my eyes a little wider as we drive up the long driveway, past great old weeping willows, past a dark-watered pond, past a tall evergreen shuddering in the wind. I don't quite know what to make of the place ... decking winding up and around, up a small hill, and the house sprawling this way and that, rows and rows of white windows ... yet my heart is beating a little faster.

Compact, no. I am a bit stunned by how the rooms open and expand and lead one to another. An enclosed back porch is so large that Ingrid says something about large summer parties, galas even, but no, I wave away the distant echo of clinking glasses and laughter and bubbling conversation ... no ... I see the pale gray light streaming in the walls of windows and I hear the deep silence of a Sunday afternoon, my papers and paints spread out on the table in the brightest corner, my flat smooth stones gathered from Lake Superior and Baltic beaches, and losing myself in the hours of creation ... this is a good space.

The bay windows in the living room and master bedroom, comfortable places to sit with a book ... the great white tub slanted under the skylight and the windows on the quiet woods ... a white froth building up, and hot steam rising, evaporating all the stress of the long work day ...

Wait. Wasn't I looking for a small and simple place? Who is this Prince Charming?

I don't know, I'm not sure, is this love at first sight or am I just enamored? Love takes time, I remind myself, a great deal of time to unfold that greatest of complexities. Can one truly recognize home so quickly?

Two acres of woods surround. Such peace. Such quiet here. I imagine my old chow pup spending his final years here, watching the chattering squirrels and gray rabbits, the birds resting in the branches, perhaps even a deer wandering in to catch his watchful eye.

I imagine long winter evenings warming myself by the wood-burning fireplace. I imagine watching the pond ice over in late autumn, the willow leaves caught like slender little boats in the frozen surface, then in spring sitting at its edge with a grandchild on a blanket spread out in the grass, reading The Wind in the Willows ...

Oh, wait. I don't have grandchildren. I'm veering too many years into the future. Is that wrong? Have I grown so distrusting in the odd weavings and twinings of my surprising life? Surely in this second half things will calm ... and there will be many such calm and quiet hours to while away. This might be the sort of house where one does indeed retire, leaving only for the occasional trip north to hear the crashing of Superior waves against the rocks.
I'm not quite sure what to tell Ingrid when we have wandered long enough through the place, examining spaces. I'm not quite sure what I will tell my son when he calls later for a report.  

We imagine we know what we seek, quite exactly. Then we are surprised to find ourselves haunted by something entirely different. Or is it that the deep place where our voice of wisdom lives knows, always knows, and only waits, ever so patiently, for our moment of recognition?

I shrug stupidly when Ingrid inquires. I have no idea yet what I will tell my son when he calls. A momentary seduction? Or the slightly uncomfortable learning to see myself in something bigger, better than I ever thought I deserved?

I know this: the answers are somewhere deep inside. I have time. I will allow for time to do its work, the steeping and simmering, mulling and musing, so often the workings of our minds during sleep, until understanding rises, ready to be revealed. I keep trying on different visions, living inside them for a moment in my imagination, then either abandoning them or deciding, at last, that I have found the oasis in the storm.

"Let me sleep on it," I say quietly to Ingrid, already lost in my reverie.

I glance back as we drive back down the long driveway. I pause at the turn of the road.

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