So. I’m a little less poor and a little less plump and a little less rested, and I’m alive. I’ve recalibrated my scale of suffering. I’ve officially lost the only home I’ve ever had. More of my belongings are in storage than are with me. I have a dwelling, but not a home. Where the fuck am I going? I’ve been asking that question for a few years now. The answer, in short, is north.
Fly North in the Winter
As I mentioned, we knew when the Overlord took out that million-dollar mortgage that we would not be able to keep the property. Knowing this and despite our total lack of financial resources, we started looking for somewhere to go several years ago. This is how we met one last key player, who I haven’t mentioned yet. She is a real estate agent and we will call her Virgil (to our hell-wandering Dante).
Virgil covers some of the more north-lying sections of the Central California coast. She had a listing back several years ago that my parents wanted to look at, which was how we met her. Virgil went from a one-off realtor to a font of knowledge to a personal friend to a minor miracle worker. To say that I am a fan of Virgil, to say that I am grateful to her, is to vastly understate the ways in which she has saved our lives.
When the Overlord started her own search for property this year, we did not tell her about Virgil. The Overlord had her own agents to guide her. Moreover, she refused to look as far north as Virgil’s territory. Mostly, though, we did not tell the Overlord because Virgil was the one ally we had who was ours alone. The Overlord did not know we had been looking for property for years; she would not have reacted well to us finally deciding that escaping her was the only viable option. We did not know if or how we could get away from the Overlord, but Virgil kept up the search for us.
The Overlord wanted to move to the Santa Ynez Valley, that prestigious wine and ranching area in Central California. Had she lived, she would have eventually been forced to admit that she did not and would never possess the necessary money to buy up there. Not the size and sort of property she needed. Keep in mind that she had partial ownership of almost twenty horses, most of whom would need to be moved with her to a new place. (Don’t get me started on the idea of selling some off. It has been suggested. There are exactly four horses that were both owned at least partly by the Overlord and which could be sold. The rest? Retired due to health issues or mental issues or extreme old age. There are multiple horses older than I am. No, oddly enough, we wouldn’t be selling off the stock, thanks.)
The three of us, though, set our sights farther north. Keep going up the coast. Pass over a grade and drop down into the next valley. Head inland. You are now in San Luis Obispo County. Vineyards are taking over here, too, but there are still areas with horses or cattle instead of grapes. There are still places where you can get ten or twenty acres of land. There are even a few areas where you can get water to go with that land. (If you ever have occasion to buy property in California, a word of warning–the only thing that really matters is water and the one thing you probably cannot have is water.)
We look at property in agricultural valleys and we look at property up a goddamn mountain and we look at property at the bottom of a river bed. (Look, the money we have won’t go far, even up here. We need rather a lot of land for horses. This is not a favorable combination of circumstances. Sometimes, that means looking at some eccentric places.)
We look at one property near a lake nicknamed Dragon’s Breath, which is when I start to think we are on the right track. Ludicrously cheap, it has a big house and land with issues. It is inconveniently remote. It is unfenced. It needs brush clearance and roadwork. It is the loveliest thing I have ever seen. I want it more than I can stand.
We make our first offer before we have one on the Overlord’s place. The sellers refuse. They want someone with a firm date to close escrow. Two weeks later, we go into escrow on the Overlord’s property. We go to make a new offer. We find out someone else has opened escrow on the property we want. Inconsolable, we put in a backup offer, on the off-chance that their deal falls through.
The buyer there suddenly announces he wants the place fenced, even though the deal is for as-is. He asks for an extension to the inspection period. He then disappears into China for a month. We are baffled but hopeful. He misses his inspection period. He ignores the Order to Perform sent by the sellers. We are about six hours away from resorting to black magic to make this guy stay away so we can have the place. (We have no back-up property. We keep looking and not finding.) More time passes. One final notice is sent to the buyer to break off the deal. We are almost there!
He comes back. He asks for another extension. We scoff, wondering what kind of moron would give dude a second extension after this whole spectacle.
The sellers give him a second extension.
Last we hear, the buyer is actually performing, the deal is going ahead, and we are still waiting in the wings as a back-up offer but we are unlikely to get the place. Our desire to use black magic is getting worse but with slightly different goals in mind. I mean, what the actual fuck? We suspect the Universe has it out for us. More than we already thought, that is.
We look farther inland. Way, way farther inland. Like, nearly in another state, inland. We look in all directions, trying to find that one perfect spot that has land and water and places to work and actual electricity and that still doesn’t cost more than we have. It starts to feel like a riddle, like a test from a fairytale: a week when two Mondays come together; a box without hinges, key, or lid; a land fit for humans and animals and affordable for this damned family.
We lower our standards (again) (again-again). We look at land that is too small or too remote. We look at land with no house, with no electricity, with no flat areas. This is how we find it, at last, and it is none of those things.
It is perfectly flat. It is big enough for everyone and everything. It is a short drive into town. It is in an area known for better water supply than the surrounding areas. The land is perfection, a blank slate waiting for us.
It…has tenants who have destroyed the manufactured home on it. Um. Okay. So we have to think hard about this. The house is barely bigger than what we have now (what we have now does not, in fact, qualify as “bigger than a bread box”). The house looks like someone has been chewing on it. The plumbing in the master bathroom leaked and it appears someone decided to drain the accumulated water by slicing into the floor with a chainsaw. Also, it was probably the same person who kicked in all the doors. And some of the walls.
The house needs a little work, is what I’m saying. A little.
But you know what? We know how to look at the big picture. We know how to put years of work into a place to make it a home. Screw it. We want it. We will make it work. Just…um, there is water, right?
We wait through weeks of desperate hand-wringing and impatient waiting. We wait through inspections on the house and find out just how much work it is going to need to be fixed up. (We also find out that we cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, afford to have it replaced. Oh, we might be able to swing a new house. Permits, though, will add tens of thousands in costs and delay us by a few months.) We wait for word Monday, Tuesday, wait for the only Christmas gift any of us want. We don’t hear anything.
Until Friday. Oh, choirs of angels, nothing can compare to the joy and relief. The well is good. The well is fantastic. In winter, in a drought, in a state that wouldn’t know water if you lopped it off the continent and set it adrift in the ocean, we have water.
Ladies, gentlemen, and gender rebels, we have a home.
To Be Continued…