Buying a house is the cornerstone of the American Dream. I bought into that dream hook, line, and sinker when I was young, but none of it has turned out like I imagined it would.
I was supposed to be a homeowner by now. I took a selfie in front of a sold sign and signed my life away, ready to move my family into a boxy post-war home with a koi pond in the front yard. We visited the koi, feeding them once a week, until the day my mortgage withered up and died a slow death in underwriting.
The yellow house with the koi pond wouldn’t have been my first home. My ex-husband and I bought a towering two-story on a large lot a decade ago. We planned our future in that house, and I believed him when he told me we would grow old together on the front porch. We laughed then, imagining ourselves wrinkled and gray, rocking together in battered chairs. Instead, we gave up the house in the mortgage crisis only a few months before our marriage ended.
I haven’t wanted to own a home since then. I’ve toyed with the idea of living in another country, and I’ve even given away everything I own on Craigslist. For a few years after my divorce, the idea of roaming the globe without a home base appealed to me far more than home ownership. I liked renting a house and having someone else pay the plumber or electrician. I had no desire to be emotionally or financially invested in a house.
I’ve never thought of myself as someone who is responsible with money. In college, I maxed out my first credit cards and had no idea how to repay them. Later, as a young single mother, I was always juggling utility shut-off notices and empty cupboards. Years later, when my ex-husband yelled at me for using a non-network ATM and accruing a $3 fee, I remembered those years of financial woes, and I knew he was right: I was no good with money, no matter how hard I tried.
A few months ago, I wrote about my journey through bad credit and I finally summoned up the courage to check my credit reports. What I found surprised me; it wasn’t terrible. It was mediocre, but mediocre was good enough for me. For the first time in a decade, home ownership was within my reach. I didn’t stop to ask myself whether it was what I really wanted, I just leapt headfirst into the purchase.
Becoming a homeowner was supposed to be my redemption. After a lifetime of bad credit and questionable financial decisions, I was finally going to be like everyone else. Instead, my salvation fell apart on technicalities and a sudden, inconvenient loss of child support payments in underwriting. The future my ex-husband and I once planned together has long since rotted and decomposed, but my ex-husband’s mistakes still have the power to torpedo my present.
I’m not going to pretend I didn’t cry when I knew my home purchase was over. I sobbed huge, heaving cries that threatened to tear apart my chest but even in the midst of my despair I knew a part of me was relieved. Maybe even the biggest part.
I didn’t want to move into the house with the koi pond. I wanted to silence every voice that told me I’m a failure—mine, his, and theirs—and prove that I’m finally a success. In one incredibly tangible way. Even if it wasn’t what I wanted at all.
Buying a house is the cornerstone of the American Dream. I bought into that dream hook, line, and sinker when I was young, but none of it has turned out like I imagined it would. Working my ass off for a company I loved didn’t prevent me from ending up on disability, and devoting myself to my marriage couldn’t change the fact that I married the wrong man.
My dreams are gone, but I’ve woven their ashes into a patchwork quilt. It looks nothing like I imagined my life would look, but it’s a good life. It doesn’t offer pat solutions or false promises, but it’s the life I’ve created for myself and my children. No marriage, no career, and no brick and mortar home, but plenty of love, time spent together, and a home we carry inside of us.
When my home purchase failed, everyone told me I could try again. My realtor told me I’ll find a better house for my family, and my friends reminded me that I’ll be able to buy a bigger house in a few months. Everyone had a plan for how I could make my home purchase happen, but as I moved my family into a new rental house, I knew that wasn’t what I wanted. I’m happy renting, even if it means sometimes we have to move when we don’t really want to. There’s always another house to rent and it isn’t our house that makes our home.
There’s nothing more normal than buying a home. But maybe there’s more to life than chasing normal.