The sign went up about two weeks ago. It was probably a good thing I wasn’t in Los Angeles to witness the event. I might have started to cry. But a few days later, one of the realtors sent me a photo of it. There it was, firmly planted in the ivy by the stairs leading up to the house: the sign proclaiming that my house was up for sale.
Goodbye, house! Technically, of course, it’s still mine, until an offer is made and accepted and the deed changes hands. But with multiple showings and strangers tromping through, checking out the rooms and peering into closets, it feels like it has already passed out of my possession and somehow become a public space, like a library, or, God forbid, a gas station restroom. And eventually, it will truly belong to someone else.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m totally behind the decision to sell it. I’m not being forced into this by the sorts of miserable circumstances that have recently propelled so many people out of their homes. Actually, I’m letting it go for a positive reason – to become a fulltime resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico, a place I truly love. My husband and I have been splitting our time between Santa Fe and L.A. for the past eight years, but a new opportunity has now made living full time in Santa Fe completely feasible.
Leaving L.A. is a dream I’ve had for years, almost as soon as I’d moved there from New York City. I’d never able to adjust to its car culture, the suburban sprawl, or the police helicopters buzzing overhead in the middle of the night. I’d moved to L.A. because I was a screenwriter and the TV business, my bread and butter, had firmly shifted from New York to Hollywood. But after years of living in the intense, vibrant, Big Apple, L.A. seemed bland and way too centered around “the biz.” All people seemed to care about was the weekend box office and one’s latest credits.
When my husband and I started dating, almost 15 years ago now, one of the first things I told him was that I longed to get out of Los Angeles. Now, finally, here’s the ticket out! Shouldn’t I be rejoicing instead of getting all sentimental about a house?
Maybe so, but this house is dear to me. It’s my first house, and I suspect first houses are like first loves. We invest our hopes and dreams in them, cherish them, adorn them. No surprise that letting go of them can be so wrenching.
The house came into my life about three years after moving to L.A., during a short-lived marriage to my then writing partner. Tired of being renters, we went house hunting, and set our sights on a hilly old neighborhood called Silver Lake. It was an eclectic kind of place with affordable houses, no two built in the same style. Bright red bougainvillea and vines of blue morning glory tumbled wildly down the hillsides.
The house we chose was seriously old by L.A. standards, built in 1936, which meant it had character. But the elderly widow who lived there was something of a packrat, and it was stuffed with heavy furniture, thick drapes, and dingy wall-to-wall shag carpets. Still, I could sense its potential. It had “good bones,” with spacious rooms both upstairs and down. Besides, it was well priced. We bought it.
Once cleared of the former owner’s possessions, its true charms popped out. Underneath the carpets were good hardwood floors. When the drapes were pulled down, the sunlight poured in and we had clear views of the Hollywood Hills. The back patio had been a cluttered hodge-podge of potted plants, but once carted away, there was plenty of space for summer barbecues. A gnarled old camphor tree offered shade, and tropical ginger plants fringed the edges.
We set about doing a little remodeling and then moved in. Things were fine for several years, until our marriage went sour. During the divorce proceedings, my husband suggested we sell the house and split the proceeds. Sensible, maybe, but I couldn’t bear the thought of parting with it. So I liquidated most of my investments and bought out his share.
During the years I was single, I clung fiercely to the place like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. It was my Tara, my sanctuary, the place I retreated to after a difficult day or long trip. Most of my income went towards the mortgage and upkeep, even when I could ill afford it. But somehow, I managed to hang on.
Fortunately, when I remarried, my new husband viewed the house as an extension of me and embraced it. We only needed to clear out a closet and some drawers before he moved in.
By the time we decided to relocate full time to Santa Fe, I had lived in the house for 23 years. And during that time, I’d accumulated family heirlooms, along with stacks of books and treasures I’d brought back from writing workshops I’d conducted in Italy, France and Africa. When we invited the realtors in to discuss putting it on the market, they diplomatically suggested that things be thinned out a little and freshened up.
The process took all summer. We had some repainting and repair work done, gave away furniture we didn’t really need, and rearranged rooms. We organized all the shelves and packed up dozens of boxes of tchotchkes, books, files, and excess china. I hung baskets of geraniums on the front porch and planted yellow and orange marigolds in pots along the front hedge.
The house had never looked better. I fell in love with it all over again. But the better it looked, the stranger I felt. I was acting noticeably mopey, too. So mopey, in fact, that my husband sat me down and asked me if I was sure I wanted to sell it.
I said yes, we should stick to the plan. But I had to admit I wasn’t feeling happy about it, especially right now. The ginger flowers on the patio had just bloomed, giving out a delicious scent. Would we ever have another barbecue out there again, in our private little Eden? Or would I ever find another office where I could sit at my desk and gaze out at such a delightful patio? Or, for that matter, would we ever drink wine on the front porch again as the sun slipped behind the hills? Or have another meal in the cozy breakfast nook, watching the squirrels just outside the windows doing crazy acrobatics in the guava tree?
And almost certainly, there’d never be another Christmas morning sitting by the fire with the holiday decorations twinkling on the “Christmas cactus” – the irrepressible cactus I had bought years ago, then not more than a foot tall, but now almost reaching the ceiling.
Despite the flood of memories and the pangs of parting, I insisted, yes, let’s stick to the plan. It was time to move forward. We called the realtors back for a second look.
They were favorably impressed. Ready to go, they announced. We worked out the marketing details and set a date for the first open house. The house officially went on the market a few days later, when it was listed with the MLS. The listing accurately reflected all the important information and included some nice photos. But still, seeing it was something of a shock. And a bit disappointing, too -- a little like looking at a bad photo of one’s beloved. It just didn’t capture its charms or uniqueness. But how could it? An MLS listing isn’t supposed to be a piece of poetry, I told myself firmly.
In any case, the house is in the realtors’ hands now. No going backwards on the plan. And one of these days it will be goodbye, home sweet home, forever.
Carolyn Handler Miller (www.carolynmiller.com) is a writer who works across a variety of media. Originally beginning her career as a newspaper reporter and magazine journalist, Carolyn's work spans writing for TV, feature films, books and new media. She is the author of Digital Storytelling: A Creator's Guide to Interactive Entertainment (Focal Press), now in its second edition. She currently splits her time between Santa Fe and Los Angeles. To learn more about her house in Los Angeles, visit: http://guests.themls.com/Details/CA/LOS-ANGELES/2428-PANORAMA-TER/90039/10-472091.aspx