Mr. Magpie and I sold our house on Monday. As with our move to New York, there was nothing straight-forward about its sale. Though we managed to have the house cleaned, landscaped, photographed, and posted for sale within about two weeks of making the decision to move to New York, it sat vacant on the market for weeks and we were too preoccupied with the botched move and our transition to a new lifestyle and a new city to make any decisions about it. We had called on the realtor we’d used for the purchase of our home — a genuinely nice guy — but it became apparent within a couple of weeks that he wasn’t as good of a fit on the sale side: he’d mis-priced our house, and we were convinced that our home was not being marketed properly. We knew something had to change, but we continued to punt all decision-making about the house down the road: it felt like too much to take on. Neither of us felt like “breaking up” with the realtor, and we hung our hats on the idea that winter in Chicago is the worst time to sell a house, and that things would pick up with the spring thaw. But truthfully, we simply did not have the capacity to think about anything else. When we arrived in D.C. for Christmas, my dad asked Mr. Magpie: “So? How are you?” Mr. Magpie took a deep breath, looked my Dad dead in the eye, and said: “Exhausted.”
And we looked it.
The weight of changing careers, moving across the country, walking away from our business, deciding to sell our beloved home, accommodating a completely foreign (pedestrian, urban!) lifestyle — and all while parents to a baby under a year who did not sleep through the night until nine months and a dog under two who took the move rather badly (she did not eat for three days straight) — had worn us thin.
It took us until January, when we finally felt we had our feet under us, to pull the plug on our realtor and interview a couple of alternatives. We were embarrassed by the fact that every other realtor immediately commented on the fact that we needed to stage our home in order to sell it: “People feel like the house is cold and empty and, oddly, smaller than it is when it’s unfurnished,” and “People see a vacant, empty house and think the sellers are desperate.” Yikes. Moreover, there were touch-ups and stylistic changes we needed to take care of around the house that we’d not thought of. We ended up needing to spend a substantial amount of money to get the house ready for sale, to re-price it, and then to re-post it. But once it was re-posted, we received and accepted an offer within two weeks, and then closed within a month.
We were both startled by our emotions after accepting the offer. I felt my chin wobble, Claire Danes-style. Mr. Magpie heaved a deep sigh. Neither of us felt as relieved as we had anticipated we would. I felt beat-down about the entire process, frustrated for not having had the foresight to know that we should have interviewed multiple realtors from the get-go, and then for lacking the backbone to part ways sooner, frayed by the financial burden of supporting a mortgage and the cost of our new apartment in New York for many months, but — principally, and unanticipatedly — I felt sad. Our home was no longer our home. I knew in my head that we would never live there again, but my heart said something else. In something akin to peripheral vision, I had vague, hazy mirages of minimagpie back in her gingham-wallpapered nursery. Of sitting in that green striped rocking chair in front of her enormous window, with her in my arms, in the purple-bright glow of dusk. Of the pitter-patter of her feet across the hard-wood floors, of her head peering around the corner of the steps on Christmas morning, of her sweet voice trailing down the stairs from her nursery.
When we walked to the UPS store to have all of the closing documents notarized, I had a funny set of butterflies in my stomach. I felt like I was about to do something enormous. And I was — I was about to sign away the promise of a future I had been building in my mind for years. After a rather unconcerned gentleman named Axl notarized all of our documents, we quickly stepped out of the way of the rather long line that had formed behind us, shuffling the papers into a folder and unceremoniously dipping them into an envelope to ship them overnight to Chicago. Mr. Magpie had to run an additional errand, so I walked back up eighth avenue towards our apartment by myself. The city was just as it was ten minutes prior: the same taxis whizzing by with their screechy breaks and bouncy suspensions, the same throngs of unwieldy tourists meandering across the sidewalks at Columbus Circle, the same smell of manure from those dead-looking horses that draw carriages through the park — the same, the same, the same. But I felt different. I felt as though I was drifting, anchorless. That a cornerstone of my life had just been hastily removed from the premises.
I have puzzled over my reaction to the sale of this house many times. My parents were complementary, joyous — “What a happy day! Congratulations!” And my cousin clapped her hands and said, “You must be so relieved!” And my good friend Erin said, “Oh, what great news!” And — they were right to say these things; the house was holding us back, in a way. It was a very expensive reminder of the hasty move to New York, the rather abrupt transition to a new life with new careers.
It’s just a house, I say. We’ll have many homes in the future, I assert. Onward and upward, I offer. I’m always quick to say these things, but the truth is that I carry a lumbering, unwieldy emotional tie to it. It was our first home, and we were so proud of it. We got into a bidding war over it. We laid on our backs on its roof the day we closed on it, drinking champagne and holding hands and dreaming about our future there. We talked in hushed voices about the kids we’d bring home there, the holidays we’d spend in it. We brought our puppy home there. We took pains to decorate it thoughtfully; we invested in the furniture and art, agonized over the small patch of wall that Tilly gnawed on one afternoon, took loving care of the roof when it needed patching and the backyard when it needed mulching. Mr. Magpie dragged hundreds of pounds of high-grade soil to our roof to build his “urban farm,” complete with oversized planters and a watering system. We built our business there. We quit our jobs and hustled day and night to pursue our ambitions there. We held family reunions there. “Wow. What a great house,” my father intoned, looking around with approval the first time he stepped into it. We hosted dozens of dinners with dear friends there, lingering over trays of saffron-fragrant paella or shallow dishes of hand-rolled pasta or juicy ribeye steaks and too many glasses of wine. We got pregnant there. We brought our baby home there. We became parents — and true adults — there.
Its quiet, cool presence saw us through the happiest and saddest times of our lives, and I suppose that leaving the house is saying goodbye to all that and I’m overwhelmed by the tangle of emotions that finality elicits.
The French say au revoir when bidding farewell, which literally means: “until the next time we see each other.” And I had pecked that out on my keyboard to close this post, but I sat here wondering whether that was right. It’s possible I won’t ever see that house again, or if I do, I won’t see it as it was — our house — the inviting center of our life in Chicago. But then again, I will see it again, even many times each day, as the backdrop in so many of the memories of the pivotal moments in our lives.
Alors, au revoir, ma maison!
Ordering this breezy jumpsuit for an upcoming family reunion. We’ll be taking a trip to the National Zoo and it looks comfortable/practical for running after babies and also chic.
These bowls look a lot like a more expensive set from Anthro.
Grace from The Stripe swears by this stuff. I’m intrigued.
Gap Kids has so many adorable shoes for toddlers — how cool are these?! I want them in my size and I’m not saying that to be cute. They could be Aquazzura!
Do any of you have kids that ride horses? Check out this Etsy shop for the most incredible personalized equestrian gear.
Such a pretty, ladylike jacket. ($60!)
This highly-recommended steamer is on sale!
P.S. The Polo sale is back on!