In the fall of my second year of law school, Friday mornings began with Evidence class at 8 am. I’d stumble, bleary-eyed, into the classroom at 7:58, hustle up the amphitheater steps to my seat next to Carolyn (Evidence was one of the 17 law school classes we took together), and hurriedly arrange my papers, textbook, and computer. Fifty minutes later, after Professor Stensvaag had asked his last question, at last alert and energized, I would hightail it out of school and drive across town to a local golf course called Hi Point. On the way, I would blast music on the stereo, singing at the top of my lungs to U2 or Les Mis, Kanye West or Adele. I would cruise down the Iowa City streets, fall colors in full bloom, charged with the joy of being done with another week of law school, momentarily freed of cares, duties, and responsibilities. Once on the golf course, it didn’t really matter how I played (though I got pretty good that semester). It was the way it felt to be there that mattered. I was wonderfully, blessedly free.
I’ve thought of these Friday mornings quite a bit recently, probably because the weather is fine, and golf has been on my mind. (I haven’t played since last July, and I miss it.) But it’s not just the weather. You see, given the events of the past few weeks, I’ve been asking myself a question we all ask ourselves from time to time: How did I get here?
As Carolyn alluded to weeks ago (when last we posted on this blog), we are homeowners now. We have officially put down roots in Baltimore—on Guilford Avenue, to be precise, between 23rd and 24th streets, in a slightly beat-up, loud, and beautiful neighborhood, in a slightly beat-up, vast, and beautiful row house. We moved in two Saturdays ago, having rented a Zipvan and appropriated the Warner family minivan, lugging our junk the mile-and-a-half from our old place in Mount Vernon to the new neighborhood across North Avenue. It took ten hours, and afterwards we were bruised and exhausted. Carolyn’s family was there to aid in the move, and thank God for that, because we couldn’t have done it without them.
The next day, a Sunday, alone in our new home for the first time, we figured out the keys, set up the family room, and started shoving boxes and books and pictures into the as-of-now-unnecessary third floor bedrooms. Then we set up the kitchen and cleaned the bathrooms. After a moment of panic, we found the towels, toilet paper, and trash bags. We hung the shower curtain.
The following Monday, Carolyn’s mom came down and we went to Wal-Mart for necessities. She helped set up the kitchen and rigged a makeshift curtain for the living room out of a blanket that my mom had given us months before (ah, the power of moms!). When the box springs wouldn’t fit up the stairs, we sawed the wood in half, bent the whole contraption like a book, and shoved it up and into our bedroom on the second floor. (Improbably, this seemed to actually work. Although we now live in fear of it collapsing in the night without warning.)
Since the big move, practically every day has seen us complete at least one project. Yesterday we applied caulk to the window trim and floorboards. The day before, we filled up our bookshelves with books, finally unloading the dozens of book boxes that had been dominating the dining room. The day before that, we unclogged the drains. (Some projects are more pleasant than others).
We’ve had to adjust to our new surroundings. Unlike in Mount Vernon, where we were on the fifth floor in a neighborhood filled with shops and restaurants, children play outside our windows after dinner. The space—the sheer space—of our house means that Carolyn and I can both be in the house without being able to hear each other (this is weird; during the unpacking, we’d occasionally find ourselves wandering between floors looking for one another). In the mornings, our walk to the train station goes through a neighborhood—a real neighborhood!—filled with trees and parks and flowers. At 6 am everything is still and quiet and bathed in the golden, slanted morning light.
There are some unpleasant aspects, too. Those children can be loud. Some mornings we see prostitutes camped out on the street corners. There are rumors that one of our neighbors is a drug addict. There are ants in the kitchen, holes in the third floor bedroom walls, and the roof needs to be fixed. And don’t get us started on the color of paint in the family room.
But oh, how lovely it is to own a house. How gratifying are the moments of waking and realizing, “We are home.” How satisfying it has been to arrange the dining room; to imagine which paintings will go on which walls; to invite our friends to stay with us and assure them, “There’s plenty of room for you in the guest bedroom(s).” That we made the commitment to be here, together, for the long term. That if something needs to be fixed, we can fix it the way we want (and that we no longer have to wait two weeks for a maintenance request). And amidst all of this to know, deep down, that it’s ours.
Back when we told people we were shopping for a house, they’d congratulate us and tell us about how great it would be when we finally moved in. “You’ll be homeowners!” they would exclaim. “How exciting!” That never quite made sense to me then. I didn’t understand why it was meaningful, in and of itself, to own a home. Turns out, they were onto something. It is meaningful to own a home; or, to put it another way, owning a home makes the rest of our life more meaningful. There’s a depth to things now that wasn’t there before. Skip doing the breakfast dishes in the morning? Well, we may have just initiated a ten year ant problem. Staying in all weekend to “work on the house” is time well spent—after all, we’re investing in our future. When we lay in bed at night, thinking of all the chores we’ve done that day, we realize that most of what we did that day will affect our lives, in some small way, for many years to come. And without getting overly dramatic, that’s special. And it’s an entirely new way of living.
I still miss those carefree Friday mornings from two-and-a-half years ago. The joy of them remains pure. The memory glows in my mind. There will be moments in the years to come when I’ll wish I was back in my old Acura, gliding toward the golf course with Bono baying in through the speakers.
But I would never trade then for now. Because what I have now—a new home, a wonderful wife—is (if I can be allowed to brag) more than anyone could ask for.