Friends With Houses

I stood looking into the doorless townhouse on a newly paved road that was flanked by a mature stand of woods and a sprawling field dotted with leaning road signs. This row of townhouses had been under construction for less than two months but was already nearing completion. Windowed, shingled, and veneered, the houses had barren front yards wrapped by a ribbon of a concrete driveway, hearty juniper bushes and lone mass produced maple trees. I followed the concrete path into an open garage where two enormous propane tanks sat, feeding snaking fuel lines to several heaters positioned throughout the three-story house.

From the second story floor, I gazed out through a set of windows to across the field in the long autumn light as a few pensive deer stepped from the cover of the woods. Down the street, a stand of half-vacant townhouses stood in phalanx formation overlooking an empty silt pond. I turned and walked through the long living room into a roughed in kitchen. From the dining area, I took a long moment with the last moments of sunshine to stare into the woods just thirty yards from my toes.

The next morning, we called the development real estate office for lot number 151. We left a message, and within a few days, a gruff, callous real estate agent with the classic phlegmy smokers cough returned our call. Lot 151 was sold: the appliances, hardwood floor, and counters had been picked out and were scheduled to be installed within the week. She asked if there was another house that I’d like to look at. She was snide, condescending and short; we happily ended the conversation.

A few weeks later, the agent called. She explained that the deal fell through and that the buyers were actually the second couple to sign paperwork on 151. The house was near completion, and we could have a walk through tour if we were still interested. The week passed, and on Saturday, Alison and I entered the corporate real estate offices in a model home tucked at the end of a cul-de-sac. 

The agent did not impress us, but the house, the natural light and the opportunity to buy into a community, did. A few weeks passed, and we again sat at the negotiating table with our own real-estate agent.  The corporate agent was visibly upset that we brought in our agent, knowing that she had to split the commission with him. We understood this too, and he was simply there because it was his lucky day. We also didn’t pay for the substantial upgrades to the home as the previous purchasers already paid for the granite countertops and hardwood floors. I produced the down payment, and just before a fit of smoking-induced phlegm-filled cough consumed the corporate agent, she leaned across the table and snatched the check from my hand.

After the coughing ended, I asked her to hand the check back to me. The corporate real-estate agent glared across the table. Alison and our own grey-haired agent sat pensively, wondering what I was doing. As I began to stand, the corporate agent slid the check back across the table. “Now you have to ask for it nicely,” I said. Our own agent chuckled a little. The corporate agent used the right words, we signed a few stacks of documents in her office and then later at a lawyer’s office. We had a house.

I stood in the vacant living room eating oatmeal out of a coffee cup; one of the few possessions that we actually owned, thinking about curtains. The row of townhouses directly across the narrow street was under construction; the fields disappeared under asphalt, concrete, prefab, siding, and veneers. To my great disappointment, we never actually saw any beavers or creeks on Beaver Creek Drive; but we soon were surrounded by young families, smiling faces and kids playing in the streets. Cars lined the roads, filled the narrow driveways and cul-de-sacs. People with friendly smiles walked their dogs around the drainage pond, and others put polite signs in their yards asking residents to pick up their dog poo. Grass grew to knee high lengths, hedges went untrimmed and trash cans sat at the front of garage doors. The homeowner’s association distributed threatening letters, fines were levied, and contract yard maintenance crews were deployed to deal with derelict yards.

Occasionally, we’d come home from a late night and find a car blocking our driveway. Sometimes I’d have to have a conversation with our neighbors about the loud T.V. or have to track down whose bass was thumping through my wall. I became the cranky old dude or the resident advisor depending on the interpretation.

Whatever the interpretation was, our neighbors were super cool, accommodating and fun. They all had beautiful families and worked hard at building a community on our little section of the snaking Beaver Creek Drive.

By the end of our second year in the four bedrooms, four bathroom house, we were uneasy and felt like the house, and our things began owning us.

November arrived, and we had a new to us, but very used Catalina 36 sailboat, renters in the townhouse and we practically gave away the majority of our possessions.

Two years and four months later, we were carrying Eleanor down the dock for the very first time; and as I sat next to the fireplace rocking my newborn child, I asked myself if we needed to move back into our townhouse when the lease was up. We talked about it, carefully weighed the options and the finances.

We went back to Beaver Creek for some reason. Maybe it was to visit a friend or talk to the tenant about an issue; we can’t remember why. But, we both clearly remember the moment we drove back into the parkway. As we approached the neighborhood, I pulled over to the side of the road next to a small park. We sat quietly in the car staring at the houses, the so many houses, the streets crowded with cars and the massive power lines that loomed above the development. By that point in the year, Eleanor was a few months old, and we had proven to ourselves that we could raise her aboard. That the liveaboard lifestyle and the Republic of G dock was a great alternative to townhouse living.

I remember looking at a house that I had once admired. The large backyard, the two car garage and the giant trampoline next to the sprawling deck. It didn’t hold the same appeal to me anymore. “I’m glad we live aboard. I’m glad we rented out the townhouse.” I said to Alison.

“Yeah.” She said without looking away from the development. “Me too.”

“We need a bigger boat,” I said, balancing all the financial chess moves in my subconscious.

One of our biggest concerns about raising Eleanor aboard centered on how we would raise our daughter. In many ways, boat life is on the fringe. We are self-reliant, independent as much as possible and live under a set of rules and conditions that are very different from our life back on Beaver Creek. As winter approaches and we move towards a new set of hardships, I think about the hot Hollywood showers, full-size oven, walk-in closets and all the space that we gave up.

On Halloween, Alison built a beautiful costume for Eleanor, and we went to a friend’s home for trick or treating. We walked through a neighborhood, collected 6 pounds of candy and saw amazing costumes. We also saw kids playing in the street, teenagers carrying edged weapons and the occasional front yard bonfire. Eleanor was confident, careful, inquisitive and a little daring. This Halloween was her first real Halloween experience, and we watched and judged her interaction with strangers in a very different environment with a critical eye towards our value system, parenting styles, and life choices. As we drove away from the trick or treating and our daughter asleep in the back seat, I asked Alison a question.

“What’s better than owning a house?”

She laughed. “Having friends with houses.”

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