I never wanted this old place.
The first time I stood out in the yard and heard a rooster crowing over the hill, I wondered what kind of “Green Acres” vision of hell I’d signed on for.
Buying a house wasn’t my idea at all, but was something my then-wife wanted. She wanted to put down roots and it was hard to deny her. She’d grown up a modern day gypsy with parents who moved their three girls around a lot.
They’d seen the kind of poverty that sounds like science fiction in stories until someone shows you the places where they’ve been and gets that funny look in their eye –nostalgia.
They lived in beat down houses, half-starved sometimes and once spent a summer sleeping in tents by Summersville Lake.
My then wife wanted a place of her own, a place to put down roots. I’d had that. I’d grown up mostly middle class, been raised in a house I’d mistaken for being somehow lacking compared to those owned by the parents of my wealthier friends. I’d never gone hungry or worried about staying warm.
Of course, I argued against buying anything at first.
I wanted to pull up stakes and move on. I’d already lived in West Virginia 10 years longer than I intended. I wanted to go somewhere closer to the sea or somewhere near a big city. I wanted to go out west or go south. I wanted to try something, anything else.
We got the house anyway.
To be fair, she hadn’t thought much of the house either. It was too close to civilization, too comfortably nestled on a street with other people. She wanted a nice, big farm with acres to explore and plenty of space for her to write and paint.
I didn’t disagree with these ideas. I’m a writer. I wanted inspiration and I’d made noises about being self-sufficient, about raising a proper garden, about being a gentleman farmer of some kind, but they were just noises. I was, at heart, a child of the suburbs, who liked grocery shopping, pizza delivery and reliable phone service.
Still, this house was better than the place she’d wanted, but could not buy, which had terrified me. When I looked at it, all I saw was endless work, work I could not keep up with and would not survive.
I’d have rather had a small place in town with a little yard that I could mow in half an hour or could plant a few tomatoes in buckets.
The house we ultimately bought seemed like a reasonable compromise. It was 16 minutes from town, though only two minutes from a gas station that sold aspirin, bread and beer. In less than 10 minutes I could be at a grocery store or a library.
There was space. The house sat on 2/3 an acre of land. There were neighbors, but not too many. Somewhere off in the distance, there was that rooster and at dusk, right after we moved in, I watched a group of deer pull apples off a tree across the road.
It wasn’t what either of us wanted, but it wasn’t bad. It would do.
We signed our names on the mortgage, bought some second-hand furniture and moved in. Two weeks later, we figured out our marriage had quietly died in the long, dark night of double shifts, post-graduate classes and trying to make ends meet.
There’d been very little argument either before, during or after. We’d both been absent, and without noticing until it was too late, she’d fallen in love with somebody else.
I didn’t want to fight about it.
Neither of us had been happy in a long time.
We tried to be diplomatic. We divided up the house, looked for reasons not to be home at the same time, and tiptoed around each other. When we were both at the house, which wasn’t much, I hid in a backroom and binge watched “The Wire.”
Out of the blue, the owner of the place she wanted to buy called and asked if she was interested in renting.
It seemed like a weird nod from a higher power.
She moved out and I didn’t make it past the third season of the show. I still haven’t seen the end, but I have an aversion to finales.
It has been seven years now.
I have lived in that house longer than I’ve lived anywhere else during my adult life. Depending on the day, I hate or love the house. It costs too much, but is less expensive than what some of my coworkers pay for a couple of rooms in town.
All of the major appliances are nearly as old as I am and not doing well. I can’t afford to replace any of them and lack the skills to do more than nurse them along.
I like having the freedom to make noise, keep pets and dig anywhere I want. I hate cutting grass, bamboo and shoveling snow.
I like that there’s space between myself and the people next door. We know each other’s names and wave when we pass, but we’re not friends. We’re only a community because of geography. We do not speak much.
From time to time I talk about selling the old place and moving on. I’ve actually tried to sell the house a couple of times, but the realtor wasn’t all that interested and there are plenty of nicer places for sale in the area for about the same price.
Some days, owning the place feels like a millstone around my neck. I can’t get rid of it.
But I have no idea where I would go, if I could.