Maybe it’s because my family moved so often when my sister and I were growing up that I’m so unhealthily obsessed with houses. We’d always buy a new house on the edge of town and plant a new yard. Just when the lawn was finally taking root and the sapling trees we’d staked down were throwing off a little bit of shade, we’d move again. Off to another house to plant some more roots somewhere. It was always a losing battle. But we kept doing it.
As an adult, I’ve now lived in our current house 11 years and the one before it in Dallas for 10 years — a record in my life. After we left our Dallas house, I dreamt about it for months. I was always back there, trying to get in, or inside it, knowing it wasn’t mine any longer, that I’d been displaced and would have to leave.
I know this is all the stuff of therapy, like so much else in my neurotic life. But there it is, Dr. Freud. I’m fixated on owning a house and living there not because it’s a good investment (I read the newspapers) or offers tax advantages. I’m obsessed because it offers me the closest thing on earth to a sense of permanence and security. I’m so unreasonably possessed with this feeling that I even have the remote suspicion that, after years of people living there, houses develop a certain sense of soul.
“You told my friend that you felt the house you bought was a happy house,” said a woman who knew the daughter who grew up in our current house. “And you were right. We had such great times there.”
I knew I was right. I could feel it, somehow. So, make fun of me. I know it’s nuts. I’ll just have to live with it.
Yesterday, as I was driving to meet friends for a weekly coffee, I passed by a lot where a house had been torn down on Enfield, close to the freeway. I’d passed the lot earlier in the week, wracking my mind to try to recall which house had been leveled. Surely, I thought, it couldn’t be that house — the one I’d always admired that sat so gracefully on its large lot. It was beige stucco, with aqua accents, so dignified and classic and comfortable-looking. Surely not that house.
But this time, on the second trip, I realized it was that house that now lay in splinters and shards. That house that clearly had such a fine and graceful soul and years of sweet memories to it.
In this perilous real estate market, I know there’s a chance the new owner will lose his shirt on this investment. I don’t care. Tough luck, buddy. Whatever they put up on that lot — and I’m envisioning some monster of a Tuscan villa or a Versailles ripoff or a fucking Swiss mountain chalet — who cares? I, for one, am already planning to hate it. If there’s any karma in the universe, you mess with soul at a risk to your own.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)