For two years, the restrictions have been a willful suppression of pleasure. The diet was imposed by uncertainty. Not knowing how long this journey through the desert would be, not knowing how long the provisions would hold out, required strict limitations on expenditure. That control became so second-nature that it barely required thought. It did, however, require a denial of sensation and a refusal to acknowledge desire or even pleasure except in the dark moments.
Today, a small but noticeable shift occurred. I was able to forgo grabbing lunch out not because I wouldn’t let myself, but because I didn’t want it. Same went for parking that 3/4 mile from the metro and crossing the distance on foot. I was excited to walk and to save that $4.50.
For the first time, I know exactly where my spare change is going.
The condos and townhouses I checked out in the past couple days are within my price range (more or less) and at least one looked just about right for Bug and me. In Northern Virginia’s hot real estate market, simply finding places to see is no small chore. I have visited eight homes on the furthest outer reaches of my commute, and that’s all she wrote. Those are the only properties listed. Can you believe it? Only eight two bedroom properties under $220,000 whose condo fees are in the vicinity of manageable are for sale anywhere in two of the largest counties in the state. And only one of those is both affordable and not a roach motel.
It boggles the mind.
At some point, I have to stop letting my memory wander around the lovely four-bedroom cottage on Lake George that Tee, Bug and I inhabited rent-free a little over two years ago. Or the three-bedroom split-level sitting on the hill overlooking Four Mile Creek in the middle of Pike National Forest in Colorado, when our nearest neighbor was a half mile away and we also paid no rent. No, no use picking at the scabs. Camp was a magical, bizarre chapter in my life. It is the past. This is the here and now.
Here, now: the one condo that has captured my attention. I can afford it and still have a little money left to buy a couch sometime in the next five years.
The place is tiny. It sits underneath a larger townhouse in a crowded community. But it is cute and it backs up to a small playground. It has a fireplace and room for a table in the kitchen. A deck just big enough for a grill and two camp chairs. New kitchen appliances. A bedroom each for my boy and me.
I returned to the neighborhood tonight after work. The commute is tough, but it is not as bad as I had feared. Also, it sits on a bus line that feeds my metro stop. So far, so good.
I walked alone through its cul-de-sacs and back lots in the dark. I saw families inside their kitchens eating meals. A couple leaning close on the front steps. Halloween decorations. Harvest wreaths on glass doors. Mums along walkways. I saw a few folks walking dogs, and a few women, like me, strolling alone in the dark even without dogs. I heard only the faintest traffic hum even though rush hour was roaring along one of the busiest arteries in the region just a block and a half away. I saw people driving with care through the neighborhood. I saw tennis courts. A community room. A pool covered for winter within walking distance along back sidewalks.
I saw places Bug could ride his bike. I saw a patch of soil where I could plant my own mums.
I am not sold yet. I have not fallen in love, but that’s no surprise. My romantic capabilities have always been a bit stunted. In matters of the heart and, it appears, the estate, I tend to delay immersion until I have a good handle on depth and currents. I am learning to see the possibilities here, though, and to feel the swell of pride in knowing I could do this on my own.
When I met with the real estate agent, I had my questions printed in bullets and ready to fire. She answered them all, agreeing to send me copies of contract templates and a few other items so I can be ready to rock when it’s time to put an offer down. Places we are seeing are only on the market 4 days, 5, before they are under contract and gone gone gone. One property that was listed Friday was already under contract by this morning. We have to move. It’s exciting, especially for someone like me who wants to read everything and ask every question.
That means I sit on the metro and read. I curl up on the living room couch and read. I have worked my way through three books on first-time home buying, one for condos and townhomes in particular. I understand concepts that were indecipherable even a week ago. Earnest money. Title insurance. Inspection contingency. I am learning what to ask. I was on the phone again with my loan officer today asking for further clarification on how HOA dues and condo fees affect the pre-approval.
So much to define, to absorb, to sort. So much to learn!
I can see that if I do this. . . no, when I do this, my lifestyle is going to look quite different. But before that, first this: a single mom living on an university administrator’s salary can own a home! She is not helpless or stuck. She can provide for herself and her child while also building a life that is sustainable for the long haul. She even may even be able to replace the cabinets one day and pull up that rotting deck and build something sturdier.
That’s why it was so easy to bring my lunch and walk the mile to the metro. It didn’t require an ounce of self-restraint. The pleasure is not in the immediate quenching of a passing thirst. The pleasure is in walking steadily towards the mirage, and watching with shivering disbelief as it moves closer, grows larger, and resolves into clear relief.
Yes, it is an oasis after all. Yes. It is real.