This began as a short piece. I realized that the story has to be told as fully as possible. Part One’s about how I bought my house.
For a long time after I moved to the South, I grappled with how open I should be about my liberalism.
Was it right to come to another area of the country, and say: “these are my beliefs?”
But when candidates for local offices radio and TV commercials say: “He’s a good Conseratitive Christian,” I flinch.
So much is inferred in those five words.
Are Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, members of all other religions, atheists, and agnostics not good? Is it code for “only certain people are good enough for the South?”
I’m a cultural Jewish liberal from New York who came to South Carolina in 2008. Seven years earlier, my world shook to its core. 9/11 will never be a wonderful celebration of patriotism and love for America to me. I love my country very much. But that day was horrible. There was nothing fun about it.
People who live in California have seriously told me that it was as difficult for them as it was for people who live in Manhattan. That, of course, is impossible. Until you know what it’s like to have the streets devoid of traffic, fighter-bombers overhead, people walking with ash all over their body, and you have no idea if people you love are alive or dead, you can only say that you were scared. And I lived five miles up river. I can’t begin to imagine what it was like for people who were downtown.
A month later, my mother the person I loved and liked most in the world, fell and died fifteen minutes later. I handled everything so poorly, and have spent the past fifteen years blaming myself for all the things, both little and big, that happened for several years after her death. Maybe I didn’t handle things poorly; I have tried saying that it was the times; that New Yorkers were sick of death, and to most people my mother was just an old lady whose time had come, and I should have accepted that immediately and gone on.
But we all know that grief is a cruel master who plays tricks on you, and comes back just when you think it’s safe to navigate the world.
I needed to leave New York. I will forever hate my coop’s very strict subletting policy. In order to sublet the renter would have had to go through everything a buyer does. It was easier just to sell.
In my heart I knew that if I sold I was selling not just my home but my place in the world. A part of me thought that I was through with New York. It was too pricey, too crowded, too fast, too laden with tourists and new residents who believed the myths that New Yorkers are cruel, abrasive, nasty, and acted accordingly. I don’t know how many times a biker would ride into a “ped only” lane, and then yell at me for being there.
I began going grocery shopping at Fairway late at night as that was the only time of day it wasn’t crowded with people bumping into each other. I had no idea that in a few years Trader Joes and other stores would open, and make food shopping both more tolerable and less pricey.
I had no idea that the “Facebook revolution” would bring people into my life I hadn’t seen in years, and that both blogging and Facebook would open new worlds to me.
I liked the people I met in the South. They’re polite. Stores rarely have lines. I thought I could make a good life for myself here in South Carolina.
There were so many warnings that things weren’t going to be as good as I thought. I liked a house a lot that I had passed many times on my way into town. I knew that it needed a lot of work. The realtor couldn’t understand why I wanted to get rid of “such good wall to wall carpet.” The carpet extended into both bathrooms. I thought that gross. The kitchen needed to be gutted, and there were many other things I told the realtor I would have to do.
I had assumed that a realtor did what you asked. They would tell you if they thought it was unreasonable but, still you were the customer. At least that’s the way it had worked in New York.
I had put in a bid that I thought was fair. The seller, a man who was going to leave his wife and take over her family’s business in what she called “a hostile takeover,” refused it. (The wife and I somehow became friendly). I wanted to counteroffer with a bid closer to my original one. The realtor talked me into putting one in that was closer to the sellers.
I asked the realtor if she was working for me or the seller’s realtor when she wanted me to close on the house within two days after I put down earnest money ($5,000 showing that I was acting in good faith).
She told me that was insulting. She hadn’t realized I was “such a New Yorker, and demanding.”
Did I mention the recession was obviously beginning, and the housing market here was dying rapidly? Mine happened to be a nice house in an ideal locale for me but….
I know. I should have walked. My only excuse is none. I was in really bad shape but I’m smart. My friends were coming to see the house. The realtor wanted me to close before they came. I knew that was beyond gross. How does anyone expect one person to decide on something so major?
My best friend was one of New York’s first girl contractors. Her brother in law and my friend had been a buyer for a major big box store. There’s little he doesn’t know about construction.
The realtor, her employers, co-workers and others she knew kept telling me about horrible New Yorkers, and how really I wasn’t. I know they thought that played to my obviously nonfunctioning brain. It didn’t. Yet….
So I bought a house I put way too much money, time and effort into. I can’t get that money back now. I can’t even get the purchase price probably.
Many people made caustic remarks about me not doing the work myself. Hello! I’m a city woman who can barely put a nail in a wall. I will say that I’m better at picking flooring, cabinets and other things out and negotiating good prices. However, in the beginning, I let the contractor negotiate. Big mistake. I was just a girl from New York with more money than sense to him.
The recession affected me big time. I kept on trying to explain this to the contractor. He refused to listen. Finally, I took over. Things went much more smoothly, and I so wish I had realized that I was good at this before I started.
The plumber the contractor hired charged me for every nail. I had paid enough for decent toilets. I got crappers, not to make a horrible pun. The bathtub I had converted into a shower never ran the way I wanted it to.
The contractor refused to pay him. The plumber came over, and told me he was a “good Christian family man with five children. Would I lie to you?”
He pressured me into paying. I might not die with much but my tombstone, if I have one, will read: “she wasn’t a great person but she paid her bills before their time.”
I had never known what “feeling alone,” really meant before. I felt so alone. So alienated from my family and friends.
The city’s one bus stopped running for the recession. I felt trapped.
I walked and walked until one day I felt as if I were going to choke.