In between worlds.
That’s how I’m feeling these days.
My house, where my office (and thus, writing desk) is, is currently almost completely empty and covered in drop cloths. I am writing this from the dining room table of a too-small Airbnb where my children are noisily being children.
Over the past year, while we weren’t paying attention, our house shot up in value. So much so that it’s actually possible that we could sell it for twice what we paid for it just a couple of years ago, and we decided that we’re just not willing to miss an opportunity to pay off our debts and put a nice chunk of change down on a new place so we can reduce our mortgage and expenses.
Arizona is where my wife grew up, but it’s never felt like home. We’ve moved back and forth from the East Coast to here a handful of times over the past 20 years, always for pragmatic reasons. Our current stint here had a lot to do with having a good school for our kids and taking care of my 89-year-old father in law, who is slipping ever more quickly into the arms of dementia and ill health.
But last year, everything changed. We took all but one of our children out of school during the COVID fiasco (our 15-year old daughter wanted to keep going, masks or not), so school is no longer an anchor. We lost our parish during the incident I wrote about back in May, which was never resolved. (A number of folks there turned against us after I brought it to light, so even if our former pastor had attempted to atone for his error, it would have no longer been a place we’d have felt welcome.) My father-in-law also finally moved in with us full time, and he (and the properties he used to own, which are also being liquidated) was the last substantive tie to the state. We have a few good friends here, but we all live busy lives and only see each other once in a while. It’s going to be a real loss, but it’s not enough, on its own, to hold us here.
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Meanwhile, just like every other time we’ve found ourselves living in the desert, we find ourselves collectively exhausted by the heat and the endless expanse of brown and pale green. We instead discuss how we pine for green forests, and autumn leaves, the first snows of winter, the regular appearance of clouds and rain, and the rhythm of the seasons. We want our little guys to have places to run around and ride bikes and climb trees and build forts and go sledding and all the things kids do best with growing up. We have ten people in our household, and we needed a big house to keep them all along with our home-based businesses. There weren’t many available. What we wound up with was an upscale but outdated home in a snobby neighborhood with a few very cool neighbors, but even more Karens looking for any opportunity to report us to the HOA or the City. Our kids have long since stopped trying to make the best of the postage stamp back yard and pool. Instead, they have mostly retreated into electronic screens during their free time. Gone are the days at school with 2 or 3 recess periods and other activities. Everyone is bored, and bored of being cooped up. All I want to do is send them outside to play, but they have no place to go do it.
So we made the decision to take a leap of faith, and now we find ourselves here, in this little rental house, while contractors paint and fix and replace and remodel the place we’ve called home since 2018 so we can hand it off in better condition than we’ve found it, to a buyer eager for a home like ours, which is more well-suited to entertaining adults than housing rowdy children.
And once we get it on the market, we’ll pack everyone in the car and go for a multi-thousand mile road trip to New England, where we’re thinking of starting a new life within reasonable distance of the coast, something my wife and I have wanted for many years. We’ll look around and get the lay of the land, looking to see if there’s an area and culture that are a good fit. If we’re lucky, we may even find a house to put an offer on while we’re there.
It’s been an insanely busy few weeks, with seemingly everything shifted into high gear. And during all of it, Arizona has delivered monsoon storms like none of us have ever seen. The other night, high winds during a thunderstorm knocked a tree down on our Jeep, making us one vehicle short in a time when we need both. $4,000 worth of damage, and nothing to be done about it but wait for the insurance system to do it’s thang.
Everywhere we turn, there’s an odd sense that the normal engines of commerce are struggling to keep up with demand. We’ve been waiting since Tuesday for an authorization from the insurance to repair the Jeep, but there’s a backlog of cases, and the auto body shop told me that insurance companies are understaffed and notoriously slow to process claims. Contractors, too, are hard to come by. We wanted to replace windows and doors on our house before selling, but we were looking at a three month wait. Home Depot couldn’t get a carpet installer out for over 20 days, and the carpet company we found that did have the manpower to do it on time had a hell of a time finding any carpet in stock. Our landscaper, right in the middle of a big overhaul of our in-desperate-need-of-TLC property, has been MIA with his crew for two days, likely because he’s out on emergency calls cutting up downed trees and cacti. He propped up this palo verde tree in our front yard once already, only for another storm to blow it back down. The rental car we were supposed to get while the Jeep is in the shop has not yet materialized, because they don’t have enough vehicles in stock.
Logistical challenges aside, this is the first move when we’ve been able to afford to hire help, and I’m grateful for it, because it’s the 14th major move of our 18-year marriage, and we can’t do it alone anymore. When we were in our 20s and early 30s, my wife would pack the house and I’d move all the boxes and furniture, taking help from family and friends where I could get it (but always hating to ask, because moving is the WORST!) This time, my mouth still stitched and aching from 3 recently-removed wisdom teeth, my energy levels now having tapered to those of a sedentary, middle-aged writer, I watched the packers and movers tackle what we couldn’t get to (which was a lot) with a huge feeling of relief. I had the same feeling as I watched the painters and landscapers do their work, much of it in the sweltering heat of an Arizona summer made unusually thick and heavy with monsoon humidity.
It struck me when one of the painters said to me how glad he was to not be a landscaper, since the work is so much harder. From where I was standing, they were all working harder than I could on a daily basis. I had a lot of manual labor jobs as a young man, and decided pretty quickly that I wanted to use my head and not my body to make my living. I’m very glad to be a writer and not a painter or landscaper or mover. But I found myself humbled in appreciation of their dedication to the tasks at hand. I have huge respect for the guys who do this kind of work every day.
The dusk-to-dawn busyness of our current undertakings are mostly keeping me away from writing for now. You may or may not notice my absence for a bit, though I’m going to try to deliver at least one Substack post a week, internet and schedule permitting. The bigger obstacle now, even more than time to write, is time to read and think about anything that isn’t move-related. A lot of writing is not-writing; time spent perusing information and thinking it through, so that when at last the keyboard is under your fingers, you have something worthwhile to say.
It’s my hope that we’ll identify a new place to live that is conducive to such things as soon as possible. Until then, I hope you don’t mind being included in our little adventure.