Sometimes you just have to go home
When my husband and I began dating 11 years ago, he was living in a nice house on a cul-de-sac in a subdivision in East Brainerd.
The first time I visited his home, I looked around, confused. He was a bachelor in a family neighborhood, a single guy with a big house where he lived alone. No previous marriage. No kids. No reason, at least as far as I could tell, for all these suburban trappings.
“So, um, why do you live on a cul-de-sac in a subdivision in East Brainerd?” I asked.
It turns out my husband is both a planner and a born family man. When he chose the lot in the subdivision in East Brainerd and built the house, he was thinking that someday some woman would really like that house and that cul-de-sac (and, he hoped, him), and they would raise a family there.
He didn’t count on meeting me, a woman 15 years his junior with a distaste for suburbia. And he didn’t count on being laid off from his longtime job with DuPont, leaving him with a big mortgage and a small income.
So, a few months after we started dating, he sold the suburban house, and we bought a little dumpy cottage in North Chattanooga where — if you can imagine this — houses were cheap. I was thrilled to be in town, to have a dump to renovate, to be clear of all those nice, neat streets in the subdivision in East Brainerd.
The first night we spent in our cottage, in February 1997, it snowed. We woke to a world softened and bright, and it felt like a blessing on our new start.
We settled into life in town, got married, had a couple of kids, renovated and expanded our dumpy little house until we had a beautiful, big house. Nine years slipped happily by.
Then, though I loved our house, I started longing for a quiet street and a big, flat yard for our little boys. We didn’t want to leave North Chattanooga, so we found a rambling, brick fixer-upper on the expensive side of Barton Avenue. We took a deep breath, sold our nest of nine years, and signed a 30-year mortgage on the bigger place.
And then it all fell apart.
The first night we spent in the brick house, in April 2006, we lay awake for hours and hours, listening to the neighbor’s dogs barking incessantly at the back fence. That was the beginning of an utterly bizarre feud that became a blight on the landscape of our sleep-deprived lives.
In the months that followed, I got seriously sick, and my husband got hurt and had to leave his physically demanding job.
Also, in May, a tree fell on the children’s backyard playset, crushing it. We rebuilt the playset. In October, another tree fell on the children’s playset, crushing it.
“You know,” I told my husband as we stared, amazed, at the second ruined playhouse, “I just don’t like it here.”
One night, ruminating on our bad luck, I told my husband I was kind of sorry we had sold that nice suburban house he’d had when we met. That cul-de-sac in East Brainerd would have been a good place to raise the boys, I said. It would have been so much simpler (and cheaper) than living in town.
“Honey, if you want to move back to that neighborhood, I’m sure there are houses for sale there,” he said.
So I looked online at the real estate listings. And there it was. His old house. For sale. At a price that would get us forever out of house debt.
We found a buyer for our big fixer-upper, made an offer on the suburban house, and things fell miraculously into place. On a bright, cold day at the end of January, we signed two sets of contracts — one to sell a house, the other to buy one.
Now, 10 years after we left it behind, my husband and I own that house on a cul-de-sac in a subdivision in East Brainerd.
“Is this Daddy’s old house?” our 6-year-old asked when we brought him to see the place.
“Yep,” I said. “Daddy had this house built before I met him.”
Our son’s eyes widened. “Before I was even born,” he marveled, impressed that anything that important could have happened before he arrived.
“You weren’t born yet,” I told our oldest son, “but Daddy was thinking about you and me and your brother when he built this house.”
Our life is still a little unsteady — my husband is looking for work, and I’m looking forward to the day I’ll feel healthy again — but now we are home, together in the place where my husband dreamed of us, and that has made it all a little easier.
The day after we signed the contract on the East Brainerd house, it snowed. We woke to a world softened and bright, and it felt like a blessing on our new start.