Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Big Think

by Zinta Aistars

I could feel it coming on. The Big Think.

It was time. After weeks, months, of swirl, of dizzying indecision, or decision made and then unmade, of making a commitment and signing my name on the bottom line, only to have the other party fail to meet the deadline. Offers, counter offers, more counter offers, inspections, appraisals, addendums ...

I kept handing the seller of The House rope to hang me and he kept dropping it.

Universe, are you trying to tell me something? Could that be You shouting in my ear, stamping your universal big feet, waving your arms, tossing bricks at my head, just to get my attention?

Yet, truthfully, it was the voice of my daughter, a state away and in a clearer state of mind, who gave the voice deep inside me an echo that resounded, finally, in my head.

Here's where things stood ... the last hold up. The last addendum, based on a detailed home inspection, came from me, was sealed not quite with a kiss, sent by real estate agent to the seller, with a list of five items out of several more that I considered "must fixes" before I would agree to buy the new house I had been circling for a couple months. It had an expiration date and time on it that gave the seller three full days to have his Big Think and sign on the dotted line. Either yes, he agreed to repair or replace all five items on the list and proceed to closing (now only two weeks away), or no, he did not agree, and we would both walk away free to pursue other houses, other buyers, other plans.

That was Monday at 5 p.m. The clock ticked toward deadline. Morning of Monday, my real estate agent called to say his agent had texted that repairs were busily under way. "You do recall we indicated the broken and antique central air conditioning unit was to replaced, not repaired," I reminded my agent. Oh yes, she knew that. It was written in the addendum. She had called the other agent to clarify. Replace, not repair. New unit, not old vintage unit given a heart transplant, only to fail once closing was closed. We had spent enough time together on this house hunt for her to know that I have zero tolerance for heat. Soon as the temps went up over 75 degrees Fahrenheit, she knew without a word to turn the air on in her car as we trolled the neighborhoods. She silently shivered beside me. Priority #2, after Priority #1 on my list of Must Haves, was that the house must have central air. Priority #1 was wooded seclusion.

Priority #1 was why we were doing this dance around The House. An acre of wonderful woods surrounded it. The house itself ... eh. Nice. Okay. Just fine. But I had long said, I would rather spend my money on a good piece of land than house. Setting mattered most to me.

And staying cool. Summer is my season of hibernation. My least favorite. The season of steamy lethargy. Give me a deep white snow rather than a steamy and humid one always.

Tick tock. Deadline for a signed addendum came and went. My real estate agent called his real estate agent and left a voicemail. Hello? Anybody home? This is a buyer's market, isn't it?

I'm not being unreasonable, am I?

By Tuesday, I was increasingly irritable about the entire House Affair. How many times would we be doing this dance? I couldn't recall my previous house hunt being this complicated. Offer, counter offer, inspection, fix it, done. Keys in hand.

Empty boxes were stacked in my family room in my current house. Movers had been called, but put on hold. Mortgage was approved and finances were in place. Family had agreed to take time off to come out and lend a helping hand. My request for a day off from work had been approved.

Tick, tock. No signed addendum. Rumor trickled in from the other agent that the seller was still trying to find parts for the old air conditioning unit. The same one my home inspector had told me was too old to repair, wasn't up to code.

I was starting to hiss. When I vented steam to my daughter, she coolly replied: "I sense you don't really want this house, Mom. Ambivalent maybe? If you really wanted it, you wouldn't let an air conditioning unit stand in your way. You'd put it in yourself."

Ambivalent maybe?

The world came to a screeching halt. Was I surprised to hear these words from her? That was just it. I wasn't. These were the words roiling around in my own head, and had been from the start. Sometimes it takes hearing those words roiling around inside spoken in someone else's voice outside one's own head. And suddenly, you know.

You know. I knew.

Premarital jitters, I'd called them. But if you are truly in love, truly, and you have found your soul mate, do you really hesitate at the altar? Do you still quibble about the fact that the rose on his lapel isn't the right shade of red?

I drew in my breath and held it. It was time for a Big Think. This was a big decision, and I had to get it right. Buying a house really can be a lot like choosing a long-term relationship, even a marriage, and I wasn't looking for a divorce. I wanted to march up that bank aisle with pen ready in hand to sign the contract and take the keys to the door.

So why are you buying a new house? my daughter asked me, even though I had spoken that answer before.

Because I am tired of this infernal commute. 110 miles every day, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. My mornings were early, my evenings were slim. I was so dang tired of that interstate drive ...

Once more, I drove that long drive home. 55 miles to home. I pulled in the familiar driveway of the blue house with the white picket fence. I laughed out loud when my son put that fence up, found pieces in one of his adventurous dumpster dives. A section of white picket fence from the corner of the house to the boundary line. I stood out front and laughed, because that was one thing I'd always said I didn't want ... a house in suburbia with a white picket fence, and there it was. All mine.

He grinned, hammer in hand. Knew dang well. But with more than 16 years of living in that house, I knew he was starting to feel the same way. The blue house had grown on both of us. He had helped me in the last few years of renovation. He'd put some real sweat into the place, too. It still needed work, but that house was really coming around.

Too bad it was 55 miles from work and without an acre of woods surrounding it.

Wouldn't it be perfect if life could be perfect?

Big Think. With no signed addendum in hand, effectively freeing me of any and all obligation (again) to go through with buying The House, having invested no more at this point than a few hundred in a home inspection, I could still walk away from all of this. Should I? Or was I just being a wuss? Just acting out of frustration?

I threw off my work clothes and changed into my home comfies. My favorite T-shirt from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, that place that hummed in my heart for retirement years, and my worn gray jammy pants. I padded out back, grabbing a cigar on the way from the humidor with wooden match and cutter. My old pup dutifully followed me, close on my pink heels. My black calico twirled along just behind him. We three were in a caravan to the back yard, where the grass grew thick and trees leaned overhead, and the evening felt cool and breezy.

I hadn't lit a stogie in I don't know how many months. Many, many. Hadn't felt the need or want. Tonight, however, it felt right. The one reason I did ever put a match to one was to slow down the clock and have reason to sit still and enjoy an hour or so of quiet meditation. It set the mood.

It was a small Carlos Toscana cigar, and I cut off the tip and held a long wooden match to it, twirling the cigar in my fingers until the end was an even circle of red. There. I sat on the middle step of the deck, my bare feet in the grass, shrubbery forming a green arc overhead. My dog lay down beside me and put his muzzle on my leg. My cat stretched out gracefully in the grass, one paw stretched forward and the other tucked beneath her. The tip of her tail every now and then ticked from one side to the other.


A thin wisp of smoke rose from my fingers and the cigar gradually turned to ash. One third down, the ash finally fell to the ground. I listened to the evening. Quiet. The neighbors were inside their houses. Somewhere in the distance, another dog barked and mine raised his head for a moment to listen, his ears perking up to points.

I wondered how long it had been since I had last lain down in the grass. The way I used to when I was a kid. Eye level to the ants. Staring up at the sky or across the expanse of lawn, pieces of grass tickling my face.

It felt good to lie in the grass. Why hadn't I done this in so long? I mowed this lawn. I planted it, cared for it, walked it. Why not lie in it? The world had a whole new look to it from here. Tree tops made such a beautiful and many-colored canopy ...

Okay, so why so ambivalent? My girl was right. In my gut, I knew it. I knew it when she said it. I only needed someone else to say it, not trusting my own inner voice.

How many times did I need to learn and relearn this lesson? That inner voice is wise, it comes from a lifetime of accumulated experience, observation, a warehouse of stored memories and introspection. Whenever I didn't listen, I made a wrong turn. But the cacophony of voices around me had drowned it out, and I grew confused on which voice was which, and ...

Ambivalence should always stall us in our tracks. Something left unsettled. Some thought not thought through.

Think. Tap into my heart, not just my mind. Think, feel. Listen.

Could one lousy air conditioning unit really trip me up if I really wanted this house? If I was really ready to take this step?

What was holding me back?

A community I had grown to love. Family and friends. Aging parents nearby. Yes, all those, but also a sense that I was getting off track again with a long-held dream. Maybe I needed to write it all down again. Just where do I want to end up? Where am I going and how do I plan to get there? Balance heart, mind, and checkbook, too. Was this the best use of my finances?

But I'm so tired of that long drive! Little twit of a whiny voice tugged at my other ear. And gas is expensive. And I care about how I treat the environment. It's wrong to have such a long commute. It's an indulgence.

Are there other ways to solve this problem?

I flicked a bug off my arm and flipped my dog's velvet-soft ear in my fingers. A cloud peeked between the leaves of the trees, white against green against gold against burgundy.

Other ways ... other solutions .... surely more than one. My mind picked up speed, running through possibilities. The cigar was but a stub in my fingers and I let it burn out. My eye caught on the edge of the deck. I could see beneath it from here where I lay in the grass. That deck was really showing its age. I could pay my son to re-do it. A new one? Or just power wash and paint and ...

Huh. I think I just made a decision.

I sat up and reached out to press my palm to the gray, weathered wood of the deck. No need to take down the old, yet. Give it a face lift.

I went inside, my dutiful dog immediately leaping to his feet and following me again. My cat circled, stopped to scratch, and trailed behind us.

Favorite reading spot. Here on the new couch. Lie back on the pillows and I can see the pendant lights my son hung for me. In the evenings, they make a honey glow on the pages of my open book.

Ceramic, hand-painted tile on the fireplace mantel. A gift just recently given to me by my sister on our family reunion trip up north. We both loved Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The painting on the tile is of a northern evergreen, covered in soft snow. That place where I want to end up ...

It had felt really hard, surprisingly hard, to leave this house where I live now for a seemingly better house near work. I had put a lot of myself into this house in the past years ...

... and I wasn't finished.

I would call my agent in the morning and let her know. No signed addendum, no obligation. I kept handing the seller the rope to  hang me, and he kept dropping it. Maybe it wasn't so much that the Universe was trying to frustrate me ... as trying again and again to tell me, bonk me on the head, slap me in the face with the flash news: not now, not this house, not this way.

Funny. I suddenly remembered the evening I told my real estate agent I was ready to make an offer on The House. For the first time in the two or so decades she had worked as a real estate agent--and she truly was a terrific one--she had forgotten the paperwork. We sat in a restaurant over dinner, ready to get it all on paper, and there was no contract to sign.

I had missed so many signs and signals and trains racing toward me with bright lights shining in my face that it was almost comic. And maybe all that really wasn't happening. No mystical swirlings happened around me. No bricks falling out of the heavens to wake me. Maybe it was all just a momentary misstep on a fork in the road before I realized I had almost missed the longed-for forest for the woods. This was not the acre for me.

Other solutions, yes. I would take some time to reassess ... everything. Make sure I have found my way back to that right path, that point where I turned off for a while. Then proceed again.

In the morning, my real estate agent and I have a heart-to-heart. By now, I've come to think of her as a friend. She, too, doesn't seem all that surprised. "I knew you weren't in love ... " she says, and I smile to recall that metaphor I've used all along. Finding the right house can be like finding the right partner. Sometimes you almost make it to the altar before you realize the one you left behind really was the right one all along.

I also talk to my daughter. I tell her thanks. She was the voice in my head, outside of my head, and just in time for me to listen. Ah, what a wonderful thing it is to have raised such a wise young woman. That, too, is like building a sound house. The rewards go on and on.

I close the back door and head upstairs for bed. Dog and cat follow me. One curls up at my head, the other leans his back into my side. A breeze sweeps up the curtains of my bedroom window so that they billow and wave overhead, and for a moment it almost seems like we are on a ship set to sail toward another horizon.


1 comment:

  1. Wonderful, Zinta. This was not the right acre. Hearing your daughter's voice say what your heart already knew was the right thing to go on. Relax a bit now, will ya?