"It smells a little like the Bronx zoo in here," said the friend as he was walking up the stairs, sandwiched between me and the man who would become my husband.
From my position as lead guide I smiled and laughed, but in my thoughts I was so violently crossing him off our Christmas card list I think I may have ripped the bit of gray matter where his words had been indelibly written.
Our home has always been, shall we say, primitive. Even the people who sold it to us said they knew it was time to move on when their kids started referring to it as "The Dump."
It is, after all, a barn made habitable for humans by generations of either semi-skilled or completely untalented craftsmen ... all of whom had pets.
The offending odor detected by our honest friend wafted up from the carpet on the main stairs. Up until his pronouncement we'd been ignoring it by mouth breathing and opening windows to let it dissipate. There was so much to do before it would feel like home, ripping out entryway carpeting wasn't a priority.
Of course, the stench might have come from the rotting sub-floor under the bathroom carpet ... also deemed less of a priority than the kitchen, which was almost as closet-sized as the loo.
"Don't think about what's under there ... Don't think about what's under there ... Don'tthinkaboutwhat'sunderthere" became my mantra every time I stood at the tiny sink.
Slowly and steadily, hopefully, goes a life. And so too, it seems, does the work of making pretty the place you live that life.
There were walls to reconfigure, closets to built, a kitchen to remodel and so many things we'd never even considered that nearly sent us, as a couple, off to separate apartments. "How are we going to renovate the bathroom if there's only one bathroom?" became the Catch-22.
That was so many years ago. … Before we decided to get married. … Before we envisioned kids.
But as flawed as it was -- as crusty and haphazard -- we loved this place. We agonized and fought bitterly over changes. Should we open this up? Should we close that down? What about windows here? Skylights?
And then the kids came. A beloved dog left us and became entombed in the "garden." We finally managed to finish the hardwoods and change out the repugnant bathroom floor. Real walls replaced plywood safety measures. Molding.
I couldn't imagine ever leaving. We were so close to getting the master bathroom of our dreams. (Granted, I am the type of person who dreams I've gone to the Post Office to mail letters, but that's not really important to the story.) A home has memories that can be more valuable than masonry.
And then the opportunity presented itself ... as opportunities always present themselves: in murky, cloying ways that can be just as easily perceived as bad omens ... but we ignore them. Or rather the man that I love ignores. Rewards, he feels, sometimes involve risks ... calculated risks.
So we jump. Thinking we've secured a safety net at least so how bad can it be?
This time will be different. We’ll do all the work that needs doing first. We won’t live amid sheetrock dust and unfinished floors. It will be a real house with three bedrooms and three bathrooms and a choice of three rooms to make the playroom.
Good things can come in threes, too. (Or so I tell myself.)
We plunge ahead.
Yet when we open the door to this new life we find our old one right there waiting for us.
"It smells a little like the Bronx Zoo in here."