Sunday, January 28, 2007

the blessings of renting (or, another house about to be sold out from under us)

I am writing this from where I'm holed up inside Isaac's bedroom waiting for the people who've come to look at the house to go away. Isaac is asleep. Has been for an hour. I told the landlady he would be and if they wanted to see the whole place and not tiptoe around, she should change the time. She didn't. It's her house, we just made a life here.

I am sitting on the floor with my back barring the door and feeling more than a little like a protective mother bear. I didn't want Isaac to wake up and find strangers wandering around his house, and, frankly, I didn't want to have to deal with them myself – didn't want to worry about how much to smile or smirk, or where to be while they peered into our closets and sniffed around our salad spinner. Okay, I'm lying – we don't have a salad spinner, but you get the idea. Mike's out there; and I'm in here.

Isaac hasn't moved from the position I put him down in. He's tired. Been out with his dad playing in the dirt all morning. But all these new energies in the house must be reaching him, at least you'd think. Aha, he's starting to stir. I just want him to hold on until all this is over.

It must be a blessing. This shuffling, this moving against our will. Four rented houses in three years' time. How grateful I am as a writer to be given this opportunity over and over again to reinvent, live in turmoil, flare with anger at realtors and property managers, the former arriving in canary yellow Porsches and standing in the driveway discussing my family's fate with the landlady. Thank goodness I am forced to review my years one by one, or by season, (“Hmm, that was spring, we must have been living on 10th Street.”), forced to look hard around me at what would soon be taken away.

Why just the other morning I swelled with joy and nostalgia on seeing that man in the black knit cap walk past the white for sale sign in the front yard. He walks past every day. Every single day, talking to himself. I sometimes hear him shouting at invisible people as he approaches from farther up the hill. Whenever I back the car out, I look for him first. You never know when he'll just appear, one shoulder sagging, always dressed too warmly for the weather, muttering crossly and staring at the ground. He waved at me once. In a couple months, I'll never see him again.

He'll be banished into history like the man who used to wander around the Forest Avenue apartment – that was four moves ago already – his big belly never quite willing to remain under his striped teeshirt, his beard wild. He came to our garage sale, bought my Matisse prints for 50 cents each.

What would I rail against? What would I worry about? If landlords kept promises and leases were more than leashes? How would I be able to write so carefully and with quite as much ardor about the sunflowers in the small square of dirt the gophers tilled for me, their rust and gold plumage blooming nearly to the size of hubcaps a foot from the ground, and when they're through, bowing their starry heads.

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