The Resident’s Curse

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Our house in Palos Heights
Our house in Palos Heights

Last night my wife and I tallied all the places we’ve lived in our nearly 20 years together.

In that time, we’ve moved more than 20 times. And the longest we’ve spent living in one location was a little over three years in a double-wide trailer on the outskirts of Salem, Oregon while I attended the University of Oregon.

That was 13 years ago.

In the last decade, we’ve lived in 10 different places in four states.

Cheryl and I both turned 40 after we arrived in Chicago. And we soon realized that moving is a young person’s game.

We don’t enjoy it, if we ever have.

Upon finding a good house in a good neighborhood in a good school district just over 20 miles from downtown Chicago, we were relieved to feel a little more permanency knowing we’d be here while our oldest son finished high school.

So it was with more than a little chagrin that we got a notice from our landlord asking us to vacate our current home by July 31.

We lived here just shy of two years. Three weeks shy of two years, in fact, which would have been a bit of a record for us going back almost 10 years now.

We have rented homes, taken care of other peoples’ homes, owned our own home, lived in temporary housing, lived out of boxes, sold nearly everything we owned, purchased almost every furniture item at Ikea and felt everything but settled for as long as I can remember now.

Mostly I think I am to blame. I am nomadic by nature. I love new things, even if they involve hard work. I don’t like to feel settled in.

I moved us to Montana following the call of journalism to new adventures in a mountain state.

I felt secure enough in my job as a digital manager at a robust little newspaper in a great little town to buy a house and settle in for the long run.

I was laid off from that newspaper job when I couldn’t turn the ship around and keep it from going over the digital falls.

This was one year after we bought our first home.

I decided to move us to Alaska where even more journalism adventures, and perhaps the wild, were calling me.

Of course my wife helped in all these decisions. We talked over things and agreed together to tackle the challenges involved in moving our lives, often abruptly, from one location to another.

The big moves are one thing. You usually have much to distract you from the business of moving. The newness of everything is a gift for the body and mind.

It’s the interim moves that kill.

It’s moving in July, the hottest, muggiest month in Chicago, that weighs on me like a profound misery.

It’s packing up, yet again, revealing just how much shit we’ve compiled, even in a short two years.

I don’t want to move this time, but our landlord, a rather miserly old lady who inherited the house from her sister who died here, can’t be blamed for wanting to sell it while the market is high.

What kills me is that she had the audacity to walk through and call the place a mess.

This after we have asked more than six times in two years for her to fix the leaking foundation. Every time it rained heavily, water poured into a crack in the foundation and filled our basement with at least three inches of water.

Of course the place is a mess. There is water on the floor a dozen times or more through the spring and summer. The tile is peeling up, the wood is damaged. There is mold everywhere.

But enough ranting from me. She wants us out, so out we’ll go.

Onto some new location, hopefully in the same neighborhood so our kids won’t have to change schools again.

And that will make 24 moves in 20 years of marriage. An average of 1. 2 moves per year, which it’s starting to feel like.

The difficult part of the American dream is the acceptance of it.

The willingness to settle in and become part of the scenery. To buy into a place permanently.

My neighbors have all done it, and I respect them for doing so. Even though it terrifies me.

As I get older, I realize the attraction to permanence, to a home base, to a life defined by boundaries.

Perhaps only because I’m getting tired, and my resolve is weakening in the soft world of the West.

Or maybe we really are cursed to wander this earth in a biennial fashion until the end of our time here.

I hope not, for my wife’s sake. Her resolve is wearing thin, and though we’re long past the nest-making stage of our lives, I wish to give her a place to call her own some day.

As many of my expatriate and missionary friends would say, we are residents of this place and not citizens.

For some people it’s a choice, and for others, perhaps a curse.

At least there is this adage I tend to follow:

“An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.” G.K. Chesterton

Onward to better things.


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