Mon 21 Feb 2011
we nearly bought land yesterday.
late Saturday night and we play the what-if game of MLS, of possible worlds. our dreams are tame, these days.
he wants land, insurance against a food supply falsely propped up. i want water, the tracks of sandy feet on summer grass.
seventy-three acres, near a picturesque harbour. twenty-five minutes from our house, just off the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. old trees. in the photos, the cottage takes my breath away. a loft, panelled in wood. tongue-in-groove. a wood stove.
we send a midnight message to the real estate agent. too good to be true, i whisper as we fall asleep.
the agent writes back Sunday morning. you can walk in, he explains. it’s been abandoned, vandalized. the owners live far away. they don’t want to fix it.
for that cottage, on that much land, in that location, the only way we’ll ever lay our hands on it.
snow to our waists as we hike in. there is an apple tree off the wraparound deck. abandoned three years, maybe four, it is no more than ten years old.
it was somebody’s dream cottage. left unboarded, the door has blown in and snow sweeps across the hardwood floor. the bay window is green with mold, its wood frame sagging. insulation is scattered across the floor. someone has tagged a wall in periwinkle paint. an animal – perhaps a human animal – has taken a dump on the floor of the upstairs bathroom.
i stand in the loft, under a ceiling of perfect pine planks, watching warily for raccoons, and i realize. MY dream cottage.
but not to beggar ourselves for. too much pig in a poke. the land a strip too hard to parcel and sell, under restrictions for eleven years. it does not make sense, and i know it.
too good to be true. but i am tongue-tied to explain what it is that makes me so terribly sad.
we go home and he builds a snow fort in the yard, with tunnels for the kids. we have supper outside. he makes stew, roasts the coffee beans himself. in the fading winter light, with a mouth full of turnip, he is sweaty and laughing, as happy as i have seen him in years.
this is not how we live, not really. he takes tiny steps towards self-sufficiency. i watch, appreciative but disbelieving. because tomorrow we will wake up and grind our way out the door leaving dishes for the dishwasher. we will be low on butter and catfood. the parking violation will need to be paid. these will be my jobs, and they swallow all the hope i have of a truly different life.
i complain about the STUFF, all the goddam stuff we accumulate in spite of ourselves. if we had a summer cottage, it would be more grass to mow, another fridge to clean.
late Sunday night and we watch the old Fahrenheit 451 – the one from the 60s, with Julie Christie – and the end comes and i am in tears.
not for the books, not because either world portrayed is the one i want to live in. not even because the story seems so prescient in these crazy, angry times and i wonder where our satirists are and if there is hope yet for this fractured culture that seems to have dissolved into a shouting match.
i cry because at the end of the movie the Book People – the ones who have fled – huddle in railcars on the fringes of society, and i realize i have no vision anymore of that kind of escape from the rules of property and propriety that govern us.
i cry for the waste of the little cottage, hand-built, all that wood left to rot.
we could not fix it ourselves. we would be fools, by the rules of the game as it is played. it is not a Good Investment.
but it sits there abandoned when twenty hands together could make it livable. a different kind of life. that gap between me and imagination of real difference is where the tears come from.
we live in a world where property is sacred. where dreams are bourgeois and tame. i have grown tame. i no longer know my way out of the lab rat maze that is my culture, my role as mother, daughter.
we were far more suited to be hippies together, he and i, than domesticated middle-class partners. i rail at him to shut the cupboards while he dreams of planting vegetables, building with his hands.
he might survive, in a squat in the woods, in a snowfort, in some different vision of our lives. i am the one who split from the program.
but when i sit there late at night staring into the void between my choices and my sense of what makes sense, he takes my hand.
and i am less lonely, and a little less tamed.