Today is my 66th birthday. In 14 years, I might be dead. Gruesome, I know. But my dad, 14 years hence my current age, had open heart surgery at 80 and my mom, she died in her 60s–my age, I believe. So, there you have it. Reality.
I decided on this day of my 66th birthday, as I gaze at the sea from the Central Coast cliffside and drink Eberle 2019 Tempranillo grown by Claudia Woodland, the grower I met at an impromptu winetasting on my way to a 10-day camping sojourn, that today would be the day I start writing my book. It’s a story about the twists and turns of an unexpected, yet expected, life of a grandma, a mother, a cousin, a sister, a retired teacher, a former journalist, an ex-spouse who decided to sell her house and start over.
Today, the 66th day of my birth in Lawndale, California, a young couple put an offer on the house, the house I have loved and lived in for almost 30 years. This beautiful California Craftsman that I have adored, believed in, supported and nurtured for a bunch of chapters my life, well, someone else now sees themselves in, sees their future in; without me, the master storyteller, the craftsmith, the caretaker. My home without me and my children and grandchildren. Without my hopes. Without my future. Without the story I thought I’m charge of, The Story, the one I anticipated was going to be told. Without. Without.
The worries. The financial burdens.
Without the future I anticipated.
Today, on my 66th birthday, a new family will fall in love with my house, with the past, with their future.
And I will launch mine.
A new beginning.
If I am blessed to live 14 more summers. !4 more healthy years. What will I do? Where will I live? How will I feel? What will I say about what I did, what I accomplished 14 years from today?
This story is about what I accomplished. What I learned. My regrets. My sacrifices. My successes. My risks. And my lessons. It isn’t a fairytale. I’m not proud of some of the experiences I will share. But let me promise you, it will be real, it will be gritty, it will be the ride of your life, via me, and you better hold on to your seat. It’s about to get real.
I have 14 summers, maybe more, if I’m lucky.
It didn’t exactly work out the way I thought it would. The young couple who fell in love with my house backed out. The stock market crash made them nervous, they said, so they decided to keep their money in the bank. Probably a wise decision.
It was strange though. I met the “interested buyer” today. She was walking by, on the phone, and took the “seashells” (Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”) out of her ears. She wanted to chat, like an investigative reporter. I immediately knew she was the potential buyer from the description my Realtor provided; lives up the street, obsessed with the garden, would need to sell her house first, wondered how she’d keep up the house, the garden. She asked, “Are you going to lower the price?”
No. Some of the money from the sale will go to help a family friend who is sick. I need to have enough money to live on, I told her.
She asked if I’d ever rent the house? “I might.” But I won’t. Too much hassle. I am at a point of my life I just don’t want to be responsible. Don’t need the complaints, the aggravation.
100% she was the woman who was supposed to submit an offer this weekend. And I blew the deal. I acknowledged the steep, old staircase is a problem, and listed the various projects around the house that need to be done, that aren’t a big deal to me, but probably an issue for others. I said that the new owner would probably want to expand the house and add square footage. I confessed to her how hard it was for me to sell, that I loved Angel Cove Cottage by the Sea. She is a loved house and I saved her from being scrapped by developers, I explained. An R3 lot is enticing to those who wish to squish three tall condos on a lot.
My sister called right after our encounter: “What! Never—ever–talk to a buyer.”
Times are different, I guess. I can’t be chatty. Not supposed to be forthcoming. Play the game. And because I didn’t, maybe now that’s the reason the house won’t sell. Fool!
I had finally just wrapped my head around change and now, maybe I won’t. I jumped and the parachute I thought would appear didn’t. Fortunately, I have a soft landing. I am still in my 105-year-old cottage by the sea with all her aching bones and paint bubbles and cracks in the ceiling and slopping floors. Character, that’s what they call it, and she surely does have it. Indeed, it’s a lot to keep up for me. Expensive too on a retired teacher’s salary. But I was really looking forward to–and ready–for a change, to travel and re-set my life. It may happen. I figure I’ll keep her on the market until the first week in June and if no one is interesting in buying her, then I’ll tighten the financial belt for the summer and wait-it-out until the prices spike again in about five years. Then I’ll be 71. 71 years old.
She could sell. There’s still time before the next interest rate hike. But I am prepared to accept being in a holding pattern for a while.
It might be for the best. My ex-husband is pretty sick: He needs support and I’m it; I’m all he has. I’m ready to run, and his life is about to get really, really serious.
How can I be so selfish?
I long to flee; I want to experience what my life might have been like had I said, “No,” instead of, “Yes,” back when I was a teenager and ridiculously naïve. Looking back, what could I have said or done to young JanZ to improve her decision-making skills?
“Believe in yourself,” I would have whispered.
“Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”
I am in the most unusual moment in my life: I’m ready to graduate, but it might not happen. Not yet. So I have to, as author Michael Singer says, instead of latching on to the difficulties, having them attach to my soul, I have to let all that’s going on around me, “pass through me.” I am working on it.
ONE WEEK LATER…
I am in tears. I am having stress headaches. I have two offers on the house. Lower than asking price. Still…
It’s what I wished for, what I’ve been dreaming of, and now that it might be real I am filled with an overwhelming sensation of disappointing my children, breaking their hearts. It’s an unbearable feeling, knowing that those I love most don’t understand what I am doing, fear that I am making a horrible mistake, one I can never take back.
I have so much love for my little beach cottage. She is an almost living, human, part of my family. I never imagined selling her.
But I believe it’s time to let go, time to move on, time to explore what’s out there, fulfill the dreams that have lingered in my head, and in my journal.
A few minutes ago I called my Realtor and told him, through tears, that I had made a decision:
Let’s counter the counter offer.
Later today, I’ll likely know the answer.
Perhaps I’ll feel like eating again. Perhaps, I’ll sleep. Maybe I won’t feel like throwing up all the time.
I jumped, I mean really jumped, and now I wait to see how the Universe will unfold.
I know my life’s “torment” is terribly inconsequential compared to real problems. But this is a big moment for me.
Last night, as I struggled to sleep, I asked God for a sign. I didn’t dream the answer, nor did I hear any harps and choirs. I didn’t even get a call back from the plumber I was expecting to show up 30 minutes ago. Instead, I got my answer from my two adult kids: They gave me their blessings.
“It will all work out, Mom,” my daughter said. “I may not agree with your decision, but you’re an adult and you need to do what’s best for you. I will always love you.”
“It might be for the best,” my son reassured.
Turns out, jumping isn’t what I thought it would be: It’s much scarier.
See, all along, I thought all this worry, frustration, and doubts were about selling property. Not so much. It was about trust, me, standing on the top of what felt like the world’s tallest diving board, legs shaking, hyperventilating, and trusting that nudge, that gust of wind–my children--who gave me permission to fly.