I had been looking at acceptably deceptive online profiles for over a year. I was searching for my perfect match, and grudgingly surrendering bits of hope with the passing of each day. Occasionally, one would pop up that I thought might have potential. But, deep in my heart, I knew that it wasn't right for me. Day in and day out, I scrolled through the short list of profiles vying for my attention, their eagerness radiating through the bright light of my phone's smudged and dusty screen. Day in and day out, I reached the end of the list and sighed. Finally, I would defeatedly click my phone's "off" button, effectively shutting out their false gleam of hope before it had time to infuse and infect my purposely discouraged self. Day in and day out, this was my morning ritual, taken before my coffee or my morning pee. Then, one day last week, there was a change in the path of my morning journey from hopeful to hopeless.
It began as always. I woke up, grabbed my phone off of my bedside table and robotically clicked on the link of potential matches that appeared in my inbox every morning. Half-asleep, I expected to quickly glance over the list, feel briefly disappointed and then go about my day. But, as I glanced, something caught my eye. A potential match. My heart lifted in the hopes that I had just found a piece to the puzzle of my future.
I called Chris. "I think I found a house!" The words exploded from my mouth as my heart threatened to explode from my chest. Then, I called my realtor and made plans to view the house on Sunday, the following day.
Until that point, my yearlong search for the perfect house had been fruitless and lacking in such excitement. It was a seller's market, houses were moving fast despite being overpriced for what they were and worst of all, I was picky and unwilling to budge. I loved older houses, but finding older houses that had masterfully escaped the rampage of some well-intentioned homeowner's attempts at renovation was rare. I loved older houses for their sturdy build and for their sometimes-humble, sometimes-ornate craftsmanship from all-natural materials. And, I loved older houses for their quirks.
It's their quirks that tickle my imagination. Their quirks force me to see their beauty where others may not. Quirks -- like the slight crookedness in the bottom row of my boyfriend's teeth. Quirks -- like the tiny, linear scar that smiles back at me from above his chin. It's quirks that bring out beauty and banish the mundane.
And, I just knew this 1960s' house had exciting and enticing quirks, and my search for a home was coming to an end.
On Sunday, Chris and I arrived a few minutes early to explore around the house. The land felt like that of my childhood home. We separated and explored the property alone. I crossed a slightly warped footbridge over a tiny stream into a clearing in the woods. I sat down on an old bench and looked over the property. As my imagination started to take hold, I heard Chris call from the workshop. He had climbed up into the storage loft and, with an ear-to-ear grin, poked his head from the open window.
"This shop is awesome", he yelled.
The realtor arrived and we finally got to see the house with all of its quirks. It had a tiny bathroom and a long, narrow bedroom. Some sections of the hardwood floor didn't match neighboring sections of the hardwood floor. The attic beams were a beautiful deep auburn, a hidden beauty of which only the homeowners would know. The house had an above-ground pool cleverly masked by a well-built deck. I scoffed and turned my nose up at the innocent pool steadfastly balanced on the gentle slope at the bottom of the mountain. Then I pictured myself sunbathing nude (because there were few neighbors) by the large trashy vessel of water. And, suddenly, its quirkiness and unapologetic presence made me love it even more. I dreamed of the house, but mostly I dreamed of its quirks and how I would learn to love its quirks more than I loved its perfections.
When we got home, I mentally started packing up my rental house. Every time, I looked out of my kitchen window at the peaceful stone Buddha sitting in my garden, I would think, "I can't forget you, Buddha. You're going to love it there." I started to whittle away at my pantry, attempting to consume all of my dried beans and boxes of pasta so that I wouldn't have to move them with me. I was giving an imaginary middle finger to my landlord who, in a Type-A frenzy, snuck into my backyard while I was away last summer and dug up my precious plants of lemon balm, mint and calendula. I searched through my recycling bin for discarded plant and flower catalogues. I was going to plant blueberry bushes, sunflowers, passionflower vines, Japanese maples (for my Buddha) and anything else I could get by hands on and into the inviting soil of my new home. My new home! I could feel it in my bones.
The feeling wouldn't leave. It was a feeling of excitement, hope, anxiety and pressure. It was a feeling that kept me awake at night.
"Can you sleep?" Chris asked me.
"No, can you?" I replied.
"No, I'm excited."
Chris and I laid in bed the night after we saw the house. Neither of us could sleep due to the excitement and anticipation that raced through our minds.
"I think we should tile around the window and install a shower in the bathroom." he said.
"Me, too" I replied, pleased that we agreed on a vision for our future bathroom.
"We might have to put the bed against the other wall in the bedroom. I measured our bed today and I don't think it will fit." I continued.
"We'll see." he said.
Like rice, gleefully showered on a just-wedded couple, full of hope and excitement for the future, we tossed ideas at each other into the night until one or both of us finally fell to sleep.
The next morning, I told my realtor that I wanted to make an offer on the house. He said that he would gather up some documents and call me in a few hours. While I waited for his call, I daydreamed.
I pictured myself meditating next to the cool stream that boldly tumbled down the mountain and proudly gurgled and sang past the house.
I pictured myself with room to breathe. I pictured myself breathing air that was pure from the mountain and the earth. No longer forced to breathe the air of other peoples' dinner and stale car exhaust.
I pictured privacy and quiet. I pictured no longer being conscious of the "beep" of my neighbor's car alarm system signaling her arrival home from work or a late night out at the bar.
I pictured calm. I pictured no longer hearing UNC-A students speeding down my narrow street on their way to the newest, heavily-financed (most likely by someone from Atlanta, Charlotte or New York), industrially adorned (but dismally ordinary) brewery downtown.
I pictured perfection.
I dreamed of our future love, life and travails until my ringing phone startled me back into reality. It was my realtor, with empathy in his voice. I knew what he was calling to say before he even said it. The owner had accepted an offer from another buyer. I acted cool. I pretended that I was a laid-back, easy-going, roll-with-the-punches, ever-positive kind of girl. I thanked him for calling and hung up the phone.
And, then I bawled. In my heart, I was 15 years old again. I had just hung up the phone with Jason Carter**, the 17 year-old boy who starred in my beautiful, teenage vision of my romantic future. He had just informed me that he might like someone else and didn't really care to talk to me on the phone anymore. I had no logical reason to be upset. We had nothing. We had no past. We had no present. And, now, we certainly had no future. I was hormonal. I was devastated. My planned future had just been erased. And, so, I cried. I cried and I cried.
I finally quit sobbing, put on my "No, really, I'm fine" voice and called Chris at work.
"We didn't get the house." I said, meticulously steadying my voice to hide my emotions.
"That sucks," he said. "That really sucks."
He reassured me that we would find something even better, and then we hung up the phone.
Later that day, as I sat on my living room couch reading a book, I looked out the window and saw Chris walking up the path to my house. I met him at the door. We hugged. And, I cried.
"Are you crying?" he chuckled
"Yea," I sheepishly admitted.
"Well, here" he said.
He handed me a stack of two chocolate chip cookies topped with a tiny nosegay of Spring wildflowers, all tied together with a coarse, jute ribbon ending in a stiff, awkward bow.
"Thank you" I said, plopping back on the couch and shoving cookies into my mouth.
"Do you like them?" he asked.
"Sure. They taste like Chips Ahoy." I managed to say as factory-processed cookie crumbs fell from my mouth and into my lap.
"You know," he said. "The house wasn't perfect. The bathroom was tiny and you dream of a house with a front porch. And, this house didn't have one. It also didn't have much of a view. Plus, all of this has provided a learning experience. We know that we like that area and can now look for our perfect house out there."
Like a pouting child with a face full of cookie crumbs, I reluctantly nodded my head in agreement.
"Look, I have to run some errands, but I'll be back in a little while" he said.
We hugged again and then he left.
I watched him walk back down the path away from my rented and resented house. I wiped the crumbs from my lips and out of my lap, bittersweet crumbs falling to the floor. I twirled the nosegay of pale, quiet flowers between my fingers and smiled. Out of all the beautiful and exotic flowers that he had ever given me, these were my favorite. They were simple, sweet and unassuming, tied together by a shiny gold twist-tie. They smelled of empathy, love and hope.
That night, when I went to bed, I left my phone in the living room. In my phone's usual spot, on the bedside table, I placed the tiny, almost dried flowers. And, bathed in their imagined perfumes, I slept peacefully for the first time since I had fallen in and out of love with a perfectly quirky house.
**Name changed to protect myself (because I don't want him to know that I had a crush on him).