published Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

For sale: One house, one messed-up story

No joke: I just looked out my window in time to catch the neighbor's dog hiking his leg on the "For Sale" sign in our front yard. Before I go off on a metaphor witch hunt, which I happen to be very good at, let me explain: After 20 years, six dogs, five careers, two renovations and a wedding, my husband and I are selling the house that saw us through it all. The house that he, upon first sighting and before the renovations, dropped his jaw and cried, "You want THIS?"

But I digress. There is a dog in my yard relieving himself on our "For Sale" sign, and I am having a hard time NOT seeing it as an omen. Only I'm not sure what the omen is. Does this mean we won't be able to sell the house, thus leaving us disappointed and feeling like life has hiked its leg on us? Or does this mean we WILL sell the house, thus leaving us disappointed for entirely different reasons and feeling therefore that life has hiked its leg on us?

The truth is, I have gone back and forth on the matter of moving. Every step of the way -- from our first discussions about selling, to house hunting, to talking to the real estate agent -- my husband has taken my emotional temperature. "I'm fine!" I'd say. "Let's take the next step."

On and on we went, taking steps and checking temperature, until the day the real estate agent arrived with signage, at which time what had been a romantic dalliance became a serious commitment, and I ceased to be fine.

My husband felt the same sudden hit of reality, but offered up his own metaphor. "It's like when you know someone has died, but then you go to the funeral and see the body," he said.

So I called my shrink.

I told her about the house, the 20 years, the six dogs, the five careers, the two renovations, the wedding. About the fine feeling that disappeared when the "For Sale" sign appeared. I babbled for 30 minutes. I may have wept. Copiously.

At last she asked me a simple question: "What's the story you're telling yourself about selling your house?"

There is no story, I said. There is only the fact that I bought my house when I was 31 and that I'd searched for it for three long years during which time I felt homeless and bereft. There's the fact that the house and the road, the creek and the pasture, the neighbor's horses and all the big and little animals that have come to visit or live have inspired hundreds and hundreds of pages of prose.

There's the fact that when I move, I will be saying goodbye to that part of my life forever. Goodbye to the thoughtless incaution of buying more land than I could possibly take care of. Goodbye to the mountains rising up like a cradle. Goodbye to the gutsy vision of myself as horse tamer and animal sanctuary proprietor, goodbye to the two dogs buried at the creek, goodbye to my youth and to the silly, impudent dreams of immortality through writing. When I move, I told my shrink, time will collapse, and like some kind of epochal Rogaine, I will age at double warp speed. Fifteen minutes after I am no longer in the house I have adored, I and my life will cease to be relevant.

Which may have been the point at which I understood that I indeed had a story.

There's a "For Sale" sign in our front yard. A neighbor dog is hiking his leg on it. And none of it means anything except this: Either the house will sell or it won't.

And that will be another tale.

Email Dana Shavin at Danalise @juno.com.

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