Searching for Home

Our Home Buying Purgatory Story

I don’t know what to do with myself right now so naturally, I’m writing about it. I miss my pen and journal for this type of writing, however, I have virtually lost the ability to handwrite. It’s boggling but it’s true. Last weekend I was signing books at a festival and constantly flubbed up my own signature. Either I’d forget how to spell my name of nearly forty-four years or I’d literally write the letters incorrectly. Is this a perimenopause symptom or a lost-forever skill due to near constant computer use? Probably both. Probably stress, not focusing or staying present in the moment, probably my typical sloppy handwriting. All of the above compounded by the fact we’ve been homeless for about three weeks now. Six if you count my husband moving early for a new job.

We’ve been in a similar situation before, after a fire displaced us with nothing but our pajamas on our back. But even that only lasted two weeks, thanks to some amazing friends and neighbors. This experience, being between homes, with all of our belongings in storage an hour away, traveling on the weekends for book events and packing up every week so our Airbnb host can rent our house for the weekend, is honestly worse. The fire was traumatic, but there was nothing else going on at the time. Summer break meant no teaching, kids were okay with their other parents, no book events at the time, nothing to put in storage, nothing to do except heal. So that’s what we did. And then slowly rebuilt.

The funny thing is in some ways I think we are still healing, so to voluntarily put ourselves into homelessness again is a little baffling. But of course, that wasn’t the initial plan. And the initial plan went a little awry, as plans tend to go. The original plan was to buy a house in Virginia on a VA loan, with no money down. The area was cheaper, we had a good savings built up from a prolific year of book sales, and we were ready to dive into home ownership. Unfortunately, the appraisal came in too low and the sellers wouldn’t drop the price. But by that point, my husband had already moved for the job and we were moving our stuff to Virginia whether we had a house to go to or not. All of this came down to the last second — literally booking a storage place on the same day we packed our Uhaul. We scrambled and found an Airbnb, and then a second Airbnb, which is where we’re currently calling home, and we wait.

I’ve never been one to be attached to a house. The only one I was severely attached to was my childhood home of nine years — the longest I’ve ever lived in any single place. But since that move, at age twelve, no other move has reached that level of mourning. I used to swear left and right that when I grew up I’d go back and buy that home. Then I got a little older and thought living there again would probably be difficult considering the trauma I experienced there, violence from a substance abusing home. Then someone converted our horse barn into a second home and the fantasy faded away. They’d ruined the idyllic little farm we cultivated all those years ago. Yet, when I returned to the area as an adult, I passed by that house with nothing but fondness. I’ve healed significantly from those childhood wounds. I no longer want that house and I no longer fear it either.

All of the homes that came after it were home because of the people who lived there. Ironically that first house was not much of a home. My parents loved me and did the best they could, as most parents do. But my treasured memories of the place have absolutely nothing to do with my parents. When I became a mom I was determined to make my house a home because of my children, for my children, and for myself. So it still had less to do with the house, and everything to do with what went on inside the house, something my parents had a really hard time getting right. They had provided a roof over my head, which in itself for them was a great feat, but they didn’t provide safety and security under that roof. They provided rage, fear, violence, and zero communication. That was never a home I wanted for my own family.

We moved our kids a lot, my first husband and I. I will admit this was largely predicated by me. I enjoyed moving. I loved the clean slate, the new possibilities, the hopefully better financial situation, the upgrades. Each time we moved it felt like a chance to start over with a new project, something that was akin to oxygen for me. I needed projects, constantly. From the time we were married till our divorce — a span of about eighteen years — we moved five times, the longest stretch in a single house being six years. Since my divorce, I have moved four times. Five if you count the current purgatory, and you might as well because when we finally do move, it will be five. One year or less per home.

There are not many people on this planet who would chose this. However, according to the Census, Americans move on an average of eleven times in their lifetime, so I suppose I’m right on track. This is far higher than Europe, interestingly. Although with all of the ability to travel among countries in Europe, maybe wanderlust isn’t really a thing over there. It’s also stated that Americans move mostly for work and I imagine that kind of upward mobility and striving for a larger paycheck isn’t quite the same model over there. Seems an interesting statistic however, because most people I know haven’t moved anywhere near eleven times. My ex-husband’s parents, they moved once. I have no idea how he put up with my wanderlust for eighteen years. And yet, this sojourner is beat. I’m ready to settle. At least for a few years.

All of this makes me wonder about the idea of home, how people define it for themselves and their families, how they readjust when unexpected tragedies happen like fires, earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes — all the things as a little girl, I used to pray would never happen to me and of course did. (Literally all of those, except the earthquake was like barely a 2.0 and super exciting for this Jersey girl.) Maybe because of all of the upheaval I’ve experienced it’s easier for me to make home wherever I’m at, wherever my husband is, wherever my kids are. But it’s still tough when that place is temporary. When you don’t know where you’ll be from one week to the next. Or when you’re traveling between Airbnb’s every single weekend. That kind of mobility always seemed fascinating to me, but in practice the constant planning, adjusting, substituting, is simply exhausting. It sucks the creativity out of you.

I cannot imagine actual homelessness. There have been several times in my life where actual homelessness was a threat. But because I’m educated, physically capable, white, I’ve always known I’d get a job somehow. Even if it meant living with my sister or a parent for a short time I knew if it came to that I’d figure things out. And each time I have. So many others don’t have the privilege I have and I can’t fathom the challenges. I try to keep this in perspective as our savings dwindle away, as I have no new book sales in sight, am unable to secure benefits on my own. I’m fortunate my husband has a job that handles most of that right now. And I’m fortunate that as of now he doesn’t hate it.

We are under contract with a second home now. This time in West Virginia. Because. Why not? This transience is exhausting however. Maybe if funds were unlimited and we always knew we had a place to fall back on, it would be fun. Adventurous. It is a little bit of that, I suppose, but not enough to sustain. As we wait for the appraisal on our second chance at buying a home, I find myself holding my breath and waking up with a feeling of dread in my gut. Anxiety is at an all-time high, making it hard to do anything beyond average daily tasks. Even taking the dog out is a chore. But when she nibbles at my feet — her message that it’s time to go play — I do. I need the fresh air and the sunshine and the reminder that there is beauty out there, a house waiting, and a home always present. Wherever we are.




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Jess Rinker

Jess Rinker

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