Seven years ago today, I went from a morning ultrasound appointment (the baby was looking great) in Brooklyn, onto a slush-covered Belt Parkway that brought us to Garden City, Long Island, barely on time for the closing on our new home.
We rushed up to the lawyer’s office only to find out that our lawyer was stuck in court and so he had to send an associate, whom we’d never even spoken to before let alone met. The agent from the title company was running late. Our mortgage broker said she would try to make it but doubted she could. I would later understand why she didn’t want to be there. We might have strangled her.
The representative from the bank was running late too but we could start all the preliminary paperwork without him. Before I knew it, what seemed like an 18-inch stack of papers were set before us. Sign here. And here. And again here. The bank’s agent finally showed up with two more stacks of paper — one for our mortgage, and one for the surprise second mortgage we had no idea we had to take out (hence our broker’s absence, and my screaming at her from the closing table). Our stranger-lawyer simply nodded along and so I signed, and signed, and felt my anxiety growing with each ink flourish.
We had waited so long to get to this point. It had been almost two years prior when we first signed the purchase agreement for our home, a three-story duplex being built a block from the ocean in Rockaway Beach, N.Y. It was the house that would allow us to move back to New York City from Michigan, where we’d lived for 10 years and where our daughter had been born. My husband had received a job offer in Long Island but the only way we could take it was if we could find an affordable place to live. All things being relative, affordable in MIchigan is a lot different than affordable in New York City, and the house in Rockaway was two-family, meaning a tenant would help pay the mortgage. But almost more importantly it was a house. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving our perfect suburban set-up (three bedroom ranch on three-quarters of an acre with a garage) and moving into a cramped New York City apartment. But a house, with a backyard and a garage, and the beach as our playground, seemed like the perfect compromise. And so we uprooted our lives. We had no idea what the next decade would hold for us.
The house that was supposed to take six months to build took two years. This meant that the six-month stay in my sister’s tenant apartment in Brooklyn went much longer than expected. In addition, the house in Michigan that we were sure would sell quickly and for a great price took 18 months to sell and we lost money. It was 2007, after all, and the auto industry was beginning to sputter — a harbinger of the recession no one saw coming.
When, lo and behold, I discovered I was pregnant in late 2006, panic set in. I could not bring a newborn home to this cramped apartment, where we still had packed boxes stacked up to the ceiling and there was barely room for my toddler daughter to run around, let alone another child. And so I went on the warpath, nagging the developer, calling my councilman, doing everything I could to get the paperwork necessary to secure us a closing date.
On Feb. 14, our long wait was over. After seven hours of waiting and signing and being deafened by legal explanations my brain lacked the energy to understand, we were given the keys to our new home. Despite all the waiting, the frustrations and the hardship, we were ecstatic.
It was late — the closing lasted seven hours — but we decided to drive to the house. Freezing rain whipped sideways against the windshield. The sidewalks were covered in ice and Sid refused to let me get out of the car until he could first open the door and then escort my wobbly self inside. We pulled into the driveway — our driveway — and I watched as Sid struggled to get the key in the lock. He turned it up and down, juggled and jostled, but that key would not work. The entire lock had been frozen shut by the blowing rain.
We sat in the car deflated. It felt as if we had just signed away everything except the unborn child — every dime we had, every hope that had carried us through the last two years — and there we were, homeowners yet home-less.
The next day the weather warmed up and the building management company was able to help us get inside. We brought Mira with us. We sat on the new carpet and had a picnic lunch — McDonald’s, the 2-year-old’s pick. I watched her run up and down the hallway, something she never had space to do in the apartment. We showed her her bedroom and pledged that her dad would make good on his promise to paint it pink and yellow. I remember breathing deeply — space. We finally had space. And it was our own.
It’s been an eventful seven years. For our son, Miles, it’s the only home he’s ever known. We’ve had barbecues and birthdays, Christmas parties and dinner for two in the backyard. We’ve relaxed against the gentle ocean breeze, and cried over the might of a surging sea that reminded us that to be so close to Mother Nature is to risk blurring our boundaries.
Today, on the seventh anniversary of buying our home, we took ownership of it yet again. All the physical work of rebuilding after Sandy is done, and this morning the check for our final payment to our contractor cleared our bank account. Just as it was seven years ago, we have sunk everything we had into getting the home we dreamed of. Our insurance only covered about two-thirds of the cost of our rebuild and the balance came from our own hard work and painful attempts at frugality. We had a meager Christmas. I did whatever I could to increase sales through my business. Sid and I stayed in when we wanted to go out, said no to the kids on things we’d never said no to before. But it all worked to bring us to this moment:
We are now free. We can move on to the future. The nights of waking up in a panic trying to figure out how we’ll make payments are over. There are still loans to pay and Sandy will forever leave a mark on our history and our finances. But the storm has taught us that when we put our minds to something, and work together towards it, nothing is impossible.