About six months ago, I stood up on the side of a steep slope, wheezy with an inconvenient chest cold I picked up traveling, and looked down into the stark beauty of Glencoe, momentarily sunlit and full of (literal)rainbows between showers, and considered what a crazy year it had been. “The craziest!” I thought. All high peaks (real possibility of creative success, travel) and dire canyons (possibility of creative success pretty much dying on the vine, hospital, infection caught in hospital), but I’d made it so far, and here I was, in Scotland even, carefully settling into some cautious status quo. Not quite normal, exactly, but spitting distance from. A new normal. I could adjust.
I’d been home from Scotland for two weeks when my landlord told me he was selling the house I’d been renting for the previous 15 ½ years. I’d been anticipating that announcement for months, but I still wasn’t ready for it, and after several nervous weeks for negotiations, and for reasons both more and less complicated than I feel like getting into, I couldn’t buy that house, which was a blow. No place had ever felt more like home, and I wasn’t sure I could get a new place nailed down. It was, by then, days from Thanksgiving, weeks from Christmas, not even two months from a new year. I felt like the rug had been yanked out beneath me. First health, then housing. What a year, I thought. It’s like playing Jenga with Abraham Maslow up in this piece.
I found a house, a dreamy house, in a dreamy spot, and entered into a super-speed closing (seller’s request) that took the typical stress of closing and, by abbreviating the time frame and spacing it right in the middle of family and holidays and follow-up medical procedures, amplified it exponentially.
I passed through Christmas a total wreck, New Year’s worse, and even after I finally closed (not quite on schedule, but close enough) I spent the last night in my old house sobbing in my bed, surrounded by a throng of befuddled (though supportive) friends, all wondering why I was such a basket case.
The mess of it all, the combined psychological weight of the whole experience had crashed me out. And even as I moved into the dreamy new house, in the dreamy new location, I still felt residual aches and pains, anxiety about the health stuff coming back, half-convinced I didn’t belong in a house this nice. I didn’t deserve it. I secretly worried I couldn’t sustain it. I didn’t sleep well. I didn’t eat well. I tried to keep the new house at arm’s length, because I didn’t want to love it. Because I secretly thought it was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped, and I found myself back in the wilderness again.
The thing about living alone in a new house during a pandemic is that all you have to do is fall in love with your house. And I did. I have. It’s extraordinary. Every morning I wake up, before and after the wave of pandemics, I look around and think, “I can’t believe I get to live here. It is remarkable to get here before this hit, because look how cool.” Of course, the worst thing about falling in love is the accompanying fear that you now have something else you’re terrified of losing. There’s so much uncertainty. I have this thing now that I love. For the first time in my adult life, I have something of my own, outside of a bunch of records and a fifteen year old Corolla, and outside of the pangs about illness and death and maybe never seeing the people I love again, there’s the whole, “what if I lose my job, my house, this house that I actually love now? What happens if I truly go unmoored? Where do I even go? How do I even survive? I’m not great at survival. I’m way better at having houseguests and dinner parties.”
When I was in the throes of house drama, back in December, when not knowing if I could close was the scariest monster stalking me around the middle of the nights, I offered up prayers to a whole pantheon of entities I don’t really believe in. I promised that if I could get my house situation sorted, I would make my house a haven. I would never turn down a guest. It would be open for whoever needed it. I would use my house to take care of people. Which I guess, by not leaving it, is what I’m doing, but I still worry that I’m welching. I don’t have a lot of faith, but I’m genetically predisposed to an appalling amount of superstition. What if I’m doing this wrong? How much do time I have left here? Do I even bother to plant flowers? Should I even think about trying to make it better for a future I’m no longer sure I have?
The shrinks in the papers tell us the best way to muddle through this is day-by-day, which is fine, because I’m not going out to get paint for the downstairs powder room anyway (I hear the hardware stores are nightmarish at present). But night-by-night I like the house more and more and thus day-by-day I worry about losing it more and more. Sometimes it’s overwhelming.
And listen, I know. It’s an extraordinary privilege to be worried about this thing right now. I’m lucky I have a place to live at all. I still have a job and money to buy food and pay bills. I’m not sick. My family is not sick. There’s no particular reason to think I’m going to come out of this so much worse than anyone else. In fact, odds are good that I’ll come out a lot better. Maybe better enough that I can make good on my promise to feed people and host people in this house that I don’t want to lose and try remind my guests that the show isn’t over and there are probably a few good episodes left before the finale. Because that’s how I make myself believe it. The houseguests and dinner parties are how I survive, not what I survive for. Because the bringing people together and sharing what I have? That is not just the good part, but the best part. The greatest argument I have for seeing it through.
Friends, I really hope we make it through. I really want to have you all over again. Because this house? It’s great. I love it. But it’s not the same without you. It’s wasted when it’s not full.
Picture today is the front of my house, about five minutes ago.
As of this writing, 527,471 people have recovered from COVID-19.