Once upon a time, we bought a big green house. I could stop there. But I won’t. Because I’d like to tell you the story of that green house that, by the time you’re old enough to read this, you’ll probably just call “home.” This is the story of our homecoming.
Ten years ago, I was traipsing around the Bronx fresh off the heels of an interview for my dream job. All my life was for this: To be a single girl in the big city, eating roasted chestnuts out of a wax paper funnel and listening to some old man playing jazz saxophone from his front stoop. Except for, of course, it wasn’t. And that feeling like there was something, someone, someplace else waiting on me is the reason I decided if (when, it turned out) I was offered that job, I’d politely decline. And that’s precisely what I did.
A month later, I moved to metro Boston somewhat on a whim (my great-grandma and her grandmother and her grandmother before her and so on and so on all the way back to the Pilgrims lived there so maybe there was something to it). I took a job that was different from anything I thought I wanted – until I did. I worked a 2:00-11:00pm second shift doing impossible work for next to no money – right alongside this guy who’d grow up to be your dad. I had just enough to cover the rent for a studio apartment in a left of nowhere town nearby my job and no one I really knew. Not in those days. My unit was sandwiched between a sex offender on the right and a family, newly-arrived from India, on the left: eight people in 400 square feet, whose cooking always smelled better than the Ramen I microwaved for lunch. In that space, which your grandparents helped to furnish, I used to watch late-night TV by myself. I used my renter’s insurance (the infamous
Leak Flood of Thanksgiving Weekend 2004!) for the first time there. I lost my favorite necklace in the parking lot. (It was a thin gold chain with a charm shaped like a windmill with moving parts, a souvenir from the year I lived in Amsterdam.) I never found it. I still miss it. I hosted boys for an overnight (your dad and this weird/wonderful kid named Eric, after a moe show). They splattered shake-and-serve pancake mix on the wall. I was still cleaning up after them when I moved out.
A half hour away, on the outskirts of Boston, your dad was living in a one-bedroom, second-story walk-up, which he leased from an Indian-American family whose cooking always smelled better than the cigarettes he still smoked in those days. It had black-and-white barber shop vinyl floors and Dead Head tapestries for curtains. There, we used to sit on a futon in front of a tube TV and eat dumplings.
The next year, more in like but not having uttered those three magical words that, by our moral compasses, justified cohabitation, we decided not to live together – just closer together. I moved into this even smaller apartment in a brownstone down the street from him. I spent next to no time there (ah, young love!) but loved it when I did. I loved that I could hear people talking at the bus stop below my kitchen/living/dining room window. I loved the way I could snag a Thai tofu wrap at 2:00am. I loved the way I could walk to the T. I loved the way your dad and I didn’t have to commute a half hour to have a sleepover. Around that time, we both changed jobs that – if we’re being frank – were probably a little less fun but paid appreciably more money for working the standard nine-to-five. We ate dinner together almost every night. (We graduated from Ramen to Zateran’s jambalaya.) We used to take walks to a place called Prospect Hill Park. On the Fourth of July, we saw fireworks that shot off so close to the crowds that we left covered in ash. In that place, on the nights we were apart, we used to message one another on the “AIM.” That was a thing. In that place, I opened the mail to a law school acceptance letter. In that place, we agreed it was time to share one. We finally said “I love you.”
So, the year after that, we moved together to a place right down the street from my brownstone and dad’s one bedroom with the barber shop floors. The ad described it as a “not-to-be-missed, old, Victorian home!” Note the exclamation mark. (We were excited, too.) We sold our futons on Craigslist. We bought couches. We grew tomato plants in pots on the porch. We continued our walks to Prospect Hill. We talked about things like, “Well, if we ever get engaged…” We hosted our first seder. (In the infamous Pesach Grease Fire of 2007, the shank bone went up in a blaze of glory!) Our parents, your grandparents, met over Thanksgiving dinner. In January 2008, we got engaged. That August, we got married. And when we decided to take the suburbs for a test drive, that “not-to-be-missed, old, Victorian home?” We missed it. Plenty.
We rented a two-bedroom with a garage at the end of a cul-de-sac in a burb west of Boston. We moved there for the excellent school district and because (could it be?!) we might have our first child there! We walked someplace new: a “peaceful spot,” a perch overlooking the Charles River where you could sit and watch folks canoeing. We walked there a lot. We talked about things like, “Well, if we ever have a baby…” We hosted our parents for Passover. Nothing caught fire. I graduated from law school. I passed the bar. We changed jobs. We bought a dining room set. We tried to get pregnant. We tried again and again and again. (Ewww, Mom! Please, G-d, no.) It didn’t work. Again and again and again. There, we confronted Infertility. In that place, we were so happy. In that place, we were so sad.
We pressed on the way we supposed we were supposed to. If we were grown-up enough for Infertility, we were grown-up enough for home ownership, right? Trouble is, we couldn’t afford a place of our own in that excellent school district in the burb west of Boston. So we moved back in the direction of the old, Victorian home and we did the very best we could. Which was pretty freaking good. We bought our first place, a town home off the Minuteman Trail, a proper urban retreat. We spent almost no time reveling in how dope it was that we didn’t have to ask anybody’s permission to paint the walls. We were too busy trying/failing to get knocked up.
There, in the place Bubbie dubbed “la casita” – a euphemism for “Holy shit, this place is small!” – our office was a pop-up shooting gallery, that spot where your dad mixed meds and I injected myself with fertility drugs. In that place, we were Infertile. In that place, we were pregnant. In that place, we weren’t. In that place we were pregnant (and so on and on). There, we told your grandparents the whole sordid story. We told them the news of you. They cried. They cheered. Before it came to be that my belly was an obstruction and my legs couldn’t hold us, we took long walks along that bike path and talked about things like, “I wonder what this kid’s going to be like?!” and “I can’t wait to meet her!” (Eventually, we resumed those walks from our town home to the “coffee store,” walked there every day, day after day, pushing a carriage, until you were eleven months old and I returned to work and, after that, every single weekend.) We ate Jade Garden. Your dad painted the office, your nursery, lime green. He pieced together your crib. We spent a night in labor on the couch in the living room, you and me.
Dad and I brought you home. There, I was your mom. There, we were parents. There, we were Survivors. There I used to snuggle you and rock you and feed you. There we scratched your initials in wet concrete below the back porch. There you were a baby, a toddler. There, you paid daily visits to a neighbor’s wee little garden to see the clay owl and hedgehog statues she situated among the shrubbery. (We couldn’t leave the house without first saying goodbye. Our last goodbye was tough.) There, you went trick-or-treating. There we hosted your grandparents and great-grandparents for birthdays and long weekends. There, we dreamed about that someplace where we’d never have to tell you to shush because your neighbors wouldn’t live close enough to wake. Our family was complete and it was growing. Every single day it grew because we did. We three? We knew. We knew in our guts we’d outgrown “la casita.”
So, that summer-turned-fall-turned-winter, with Dad working in the center of the state, with you pre-schooling there, with a hankering for a place, the place, as large and warm and wonderful as our love, we listed “la casita” and commenced a search for our new forever someplace, the home in which we’d become older people, then old people, then memories, then curiosities. It wasn’t easy. Our first almost-forever-home was a cape on a huge plot of land on a rambling country rode. (The inspection revealed well water contaminated with other people’s poop.) Our second almost-home was a mid-entry in a planned community with an average-sized yard abutting others just like it. (What set the place apart was the crazy-ass selling it. At long last, he decided to push out our closing date in an attempt to screw over the wife we didn’t know he was divorcing until it was too late, until we were way in it and so, so sad to see it slip through our fingers.) We’d go on to visit dozens and dozens of other perfectly lovely places before doing our due diligence by one we’d bypassed altogether early on in a busy, downtown historic district: an oversized, hunter green colonial across a cobblestone courtyard from a two-story barn of the same color. Your “farm.” Circa 1812.
On your third night in this place which will serve as a backdrop for lots and lots of those things you’ll remember about being a little kid, you professed to love it here. “My new green house.”
It was built by curiosities, owned by women – a long line of women (recall the Nineteenth Century, behold my surprise)! – who raised daughters, whose daughters grew up and called “the green house” a memory. Their names were committed to a scrap of looseleaf paper by the previous owner. (An orphanage? A boarding house? A place for scarlet ladies both isolated and on display?) Women. And it strikes me as special, it strikes me as powerful, that you should share it with them.
In this place, which stands on your parents’ memories, in this place which is mysterious and familiar, we are home.