When Linda and I first got married, I owned a house in the city; a leftover from an ugly divorce. When my ex’s lawyer pressed me for half of the equity in the home, I showed him that if we sold it I could split what would be the remaining debt with his client so she'd owe me a few thousand dollars, and instead he sent me a signed quit claim deed. So, in fact I didn’t actually own the house, I just carried a mortgage on the building in which I slept and played computer games.
Linda owned a townhouse in the suburbs, a product of having had her last landlord break into her apartment numerous times, bent on playing with her underwear. As my home was larger and we both worked in town, we decided she would move in with me and we would sell her home. Of course, things never work out quite as planned.
It must have been nearly the exact moment we had gathered materials and found a reputable real estate agent that a local newspaper had discovered her townhouse “community” had been built on the edge of a landfill, and that garbage had been used as fill against the basements and foundations of the closest buildings. It wouldn’t have been a huge deal if not for her unit being within one street of the edge, and for the fact that radon was detected within the basements of her neighbors homes.
The expected sale price plummeted to well below what she owed on the mortgage, so selling was pointless. Linda has a hard time making decisions, particularly under duress, so I came up with the big idea of renting, until the breaking news storm quieted down. She wasn’t keen on the idea, but paying a large payment for a place she wasn’t using didn’t please her either, so she eventually saw things my way and we began to advertise.
Then I made the first of two of my finest blunders ever. A woman phoned who explained to me that she was homeless, living in a shelter for battered women with her children, and gosh darn it she’d sure like to see the place so long as I could meet her somewhere on a bus line, pick up and deliver her to the viewing. I got roped, hard. I so wanted to “do the right thing” for humanity and all that jazz, that over the suspicions of my new wife, the owner of said property, I created a lease for the poor woman and helped move her into her new, wonderful home. I couldn’t help it I suppose. She’d begun to weep when she saw the place, so overwhelmed with the idea that she and her poor suffering children might have such a beautiful, safe place to live that she just couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. A year and 6,000 dollars in damages later the animal moved out, leaving us in the same quandary. The market price hadn’t yet recovered, and the mortgage was cramping Linda’s style.
Mistake number two.
I had this friend you see, who just at that moment was estranging himself, if that’s actually a word, from his wife, and desperately needed a place to live. Well dang it all to heck, I’d known the guy for 10 years by then, we we’re the best of friends. He was the best man at my wedding for goodness sake, and although he nearly destroyed the marriage by driving my then fiancé to begin walking home from our campground church rather than put up with his interference one more minute, I thought it would be simply grand if we could see fit to help the guy out in his time of need. He and I had nearly died together in a rafting incident, I couldn’t have been closer to anyone in my life, and could certainly vouch for his sense of responsibility.
Within a month he was late on the rent; within two months he was late on the utilities, within three months I was loaning him cash that he could pay to my wife so that she wouldn’t hate him for the rest of our lives. A few months and a broken relationship later, we put the thing on the market and sold at a small loss.
During this time, Linda’s family was constantly avoiding us, unless we came to their turf. Her father in fact would lecture me quite often about his daughter being a “country girl” accustomed to the slow and safe pace of the outer ring of suburbs. He and his sons silently refused to come into town to visit their sister/daughter, because it was not only out of the way, but just too damn scary. (More than once I offered to let them borrow my guns for the trip, so if any zombies were to attack them at a stoplight they could blow the offender’s heads off and save themselves from losing their brains. They didn’t think I was funny) The dad unit would say “for God’s sake, get her out of there; she doesn’t belong in the middle of no-man’s land.”
I ignored them in the main. I was a city boy, accustomed to the occasional gunshots and car crashes, the sirens and tire screeches, the drug dealers and whore houses that dotted our fair neighborhood. Linda saw it as an adventure. She once loved the new and different, the more challenging the better. And until she was accosted on the street by a road rage madman, I thought little of her safety being any more concerning than it might have been elsewhere. But then I started to notice, shootings were getting closer to our house, old men were being beaten nearly to death for pocket change within blocks of my doorstep. We were in what I still consider to be a middle class, middle of the road neighborhood, with plenty of diversity and very little if any poverty. Yet we were being pushed on by sources just outside our area. The more the cops pounded on the tight part of town, the more the dealers and punks fanned out onto our sidewalks and into our alleys. So I had to come to terms with the concept that I wasn’t alone anymore, and my lack of fear wouldn’t stop my wife from being hurt.
Sure, you might say the same thing could happen in the “burbs”, but the reality is for the most part the only place you’re likely to get stabbed out there is in the back, and even then only metaphorically. In town, it’s more likely that you’ll find violence graduated from metaphor, and your chance of being a victim is far more a crapshoot than a lottery.
Between us we had a little dough. I was just winding down the most profitable part of my life and what the ex didn’t steal from me was hanging around just waiting to be spent. Linda was fairly flush as well. So on a whim, shortly after a 12 year old boy had been gunned down in a park two blocks east of us by other children looking to steal his bicycle, we started combing newspapers for ads describing land for sale; the bigger the parcel the better.
It wasn’t totally off my beaten path to seek roots in the outback. When I was a teen I owned a horse and spent every minute I could riding and walking with my pal. Most of my days until I started working full time, and even then whenever I could, were spent outdoors. I was a hiker and sailor, a motorcycle rider and camper, a white water rafter and canoeist. I loved the big sky, and by the fact that I’m not dead yet I’d have to say it loved me back. I had always had this little dream in the back of my head, that one day, probably not but maybe, I would live in a place where counting the blades of grass would be a good day’s work; where neighbors didn’t look over your shoulder as you stood in your kitchen making ham and eggs on Sunday morning, and where, when you really, really wanted to, you could urinate in your bushes without setting off a flurry of 911 calls to the coppers complaining of indecent exposure.
I say “dream” with reservations; I never had a “dream/goal” I actually believed in. Oh I’d come up with them now and then, but it was more of the “my high school has been overrun by communist terrorists and I must rappel into the gymnasium where all those creeps that treated me like crap will have to witness me saving their lives, and then have to suffer the indignity of owing me their pitiful thanks forever and ever amen”. Anything else would only end in failure. I hated disappointment so I never thought too big, unless, as in the previous example, it was so big even a comic book writer couldn’t make it believable. But here I was, dreaming about a life in the countryside, building a house from a plan I developed, creating an arboretum where as many native trees and shrubs as I could round up would live together in peace and har-mo-ny. It made me a little giddy actually. Dreams are dangerous that way.