“If we walk far enough,” says Dorothy, “we shall sometime come to someplace.”
-L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
I had not entertained the possibility of defeat. In the six months since making an offer on the one condo we could make our own, I had only allowed Yes and its ilk to join me on this convoluted voyage. At every twist in the yellow road, I simply closed my eyes for the half-second required to tap heels and picture home. Square shoulders, gather senses, and press on.
Until the letter arrived.
One slim envelope, and not a surprise, turned up in the mail yesterday. “Your application for credit has been denied.” No big deal. I pulled the plug on the quasi-approved loan after it became clear the short sale was going to eat into my finances for another month or three. Two banks on the seller’s end are duking it out over a piddly $3700 discrepancy in the assessed price of the home. Meanwhile, my lender is awaiting word from a county engineer indicating that recent repairs at the complex pass muster. The county engineer, whose name and number I scrounged up in my determination to gain some semblance of control over the situation, takes my call but to no avail. Her hands are tied as she awaits word from the property manager indicating the dispute over rehab costs is resolved. The property manager refuses to say spit because the complex is involved in legal proceedings.
To tip the whole endeavor into emerald absurdity, my bank started charging me $450 every two weeks to extend a loan with no fixed end date. I made the harrowing decision to let it all slide for a month and then reapply. The dream condo is still under contract with me, though, so I trust this is merely a waiting game.
Perhaps my trust has been a fool’s errand.
When I open the letter, an entirely different story tumbles out. My lender has denied my loan not because I failed to extend it but because of a laundry list of credit problems. In the nine months I have been working with this bank – my bank, the one I have used for insurance and checking accounts and credit cards for 15 years – not one of these issues has surfaced. Too many credit inquiries? Too much money in rotating accounts? Insufficient collateral? How is any of this possible, and why has no one mentioned it before?
A breeze from the open window lifts the pages from the bed where I have dropped them. I can’t bear to look at those terse, typed lines. The simple goal of buying a home blurs and retreats. Without this, there is, quite literally, nothing.
Nothing but here.
It’s not as if another place is out there waiting, one that’s just a little less expensive or a tiny bit further from my son. Not a single local condo even at the outer reaches of my price range has been listed in the past three months. The only affordable properties are an hour’s drive away. As the weeks of economic recovery tick by, the asking prices at the low end are ballooning beyond reach.
Let’s not get into a discussion of rental costs. I can actually afford (just barely) a mortgage and condo fees. Stick the extra few hundred per month on top that local landlords demand and I cannot even squeeze Bug and me into a one-bedroom, let alone a place where we can grow.
Mother’s day just passed. I had started to believe those friends that generously reached out to tell me I am a good mom. I can’t help biting back the response: So the f**k what? What does it matter? Sure, I love my kid and give him a decent-enough life. But what to make of this this very basic metric of providing? What to do with this failing grade? I cannot afford a home for my child.
As the breeze scatters pages around my room, every mistake I have ever made pushes up like a twister and tilts the world. That knotted string of poor decisions spills out behind me. At any point, I could have chosen differently, chosen more wisely. Chosen to fight harder for the marriage. Chosen to nourish my own career instead of Tee’s. Chosen to pursue an MBA or a teaching degree instead of my indistinct master’s in nothing remotely marketable. I could have decided to stick with the GIS which came so naturally instead of foregoing it for dance and revolution. I could have studied harder, maintained a professional network, written about something substantial, stopped hiding. Could have stopped pouring energy into worthless shit like gardens, bread, mountains, books, and friends. Cut short the conversations. Culled the flourishing heart.
Gotten to work.
Then, perhaps, I could have the capacity to reach this one simple goal. I might be able to provide for my son.
As it is, I have to live at the front end of this frayed string. I try to braid it into some sort of rope to haul Bug and me up and out of this spinning house and onto a patch of solid ground. It splits in my hands. It shears to nothing.
Paper and sisal. Me, suddenly trapped in a tiny bedroom not even my own. Stunned into paralysis. Now how to proceed? The choices I make today, are they similarly foolish? I can’t begin to understand how my credit is rated poor. Aside from a car I paid off in 2006, I have never held one penny of debt. I pay my cards in full each month. I have no college loans, no collections agencies after me. Somehow, I manage to maintain small but steadily growing balances in retirement, 529, and brokerage accounts. Ample funds to cover expenses both planned and otherwise are a click away every month. In fact, my checking now has more cash in it than I’ve ever seen in my life, squirreled away there to cover 20% down on a vanishing dream.
My credit is poor, quite simply, because I am.
A good-enough job for the Commonwealth of Virginia is barely sufficient for a single woman to survive. It falls short of thriving, and barely enters the ballpark of getting by when a kid is added to the equation.
Yet, I had I assumed my choices are the right ones for right now. The daily mile to and from the metro saves me $5. Taking breakfast and lunch saves me $10 or more. My hair looks like a factory-floor mop squeezed a few too many times through the rollers because I refuse to put money where the payoff isn’t evident. I hold onto a low-paying job with good benefits and flexible hours so that I can pick up my child at the end of the day and still have time for a conversation with him over dinner. We spend our weekends wandering the woods or roaming the neighborhood, eschewing outings that require a fee. All the small sacrifices, the little denials of indulgence, the hand-kneading of the pizza crust from sourdough starter and hand-making of Christmas gifts, because I believed that simplicity could lead Bug and me to the place we belong.
But what if I’ve been wrong?
What if it is cowardice or stupidity keeping me quiet in my room at night writing poetry? What if contra dancing and nighttime walks are just time – precious, would-be productive hours – tossed in the garbage? What if I have only been avoiding the hard work of launching a real career? A girl’s got to pay the bills. This isn’t a game anymore. I don’t get to make decisions based on what feels good or what compels that tenuous aspect called “spirit” (something, as it so happens, I don’t even believe exists) to roam those lush meadows of the imagination.
And now I wonder what it would take. Which missing part drives me to Oz to tap the source? I fear I lack in every regard. My loose, anemic heart has not loved self or son enough to get past my idle ways. My brain has languished in a vacuous, quasi-childhood of pleasure instead of erecting bridges with industry and precision. And my courage? Never has it been emptier than when I have tried to draw upon it as I lurch towards the lip of necessary change.
Without doggedly pursuing these attributes, why would I expect to find my way anywhere more substantial than Munchkinland? How could I have been so silly as to think I could tap my heels and carry us home?