The First House

An illustration shows a couple in cutaway of a two-story house, the man holding up the first floor from below, the woman holding up the roof.

Illustration by Raúl Soria

My husband broke into our first house—that’s how we moved in. We’d bought it, closed on it, shipped all of our savings to the bank or lender or title company (whoever gets the down payment—honestly, I still don’t know), but the selling agent wouldn’t release the keys. She needed one last confirmation from escrow. She had been, unequivocally, a pain.

The new house was empty, and we didn’t want to waste money on overlapping rental and mortgage payments, so all our belongings were in the front yard. Our own real estate agent texted us: “A little bird told me there are keys in the mailbox. Never met a mailbox lock I couldn’t pick.”

Fourteen hours later, we stopped unpacking. (The plumber who came two days later asked “how many years” we’d lived there, God bless him.) It was the middle of the night, and Jared grabbed a towel and flicked on the shower. The shower head shot off the wall, and the unleashed water sprayed the vanity bulbs, which all exploded.

In the following days, the pipe connecting the toilet in the studio to the main sewer broke, we found dead rats in the attic, and the lights in the second bathroom stopped working. Homeownership! I didn’t know if I should text my dad questions because he would know the answers and be flattered, or if I shouldn’t because I was still mad at him for half the things in my childhood, not the least of which was teaching my brother how to deal with these home repairs and not me. Jon can patch a hole where squirrels have chewed through the drywall. The new wall will be both reinforced and seamless. Jon can build cabinets and install flooring. Once, when the bank threatened to withdraw a construction loan because the renovations were taking too long, my dad put Jon, then 11 years old, on our garage roof with a space heater and an extension cord to melt the ice so that he could then finish laying shingles by the bank’s deadline. So I guess Jon can singlehandedly defrost a building and roof it, too.

I don’t care if you’re having babies and running a company in your 20s; you have enough left to learn that there’s a chaos roaring in your chest. You are more aspiration than disappointment, more daring than fear. You’re still figuring out what, exactly, friendship is, and how to make it last. In your 40s, you’ve seen enough people die. You’ve helped someone through divorce. You may not have wisdom, but you have grace. I don’t know this for sure, because I’m 37. But my slightly older friends seem too self-possessed to fight the wrong fights.

The 30s are the in-between decade. The world expects you to know things at the moment you realize you are physically incapable of reading all the books you want to read in your lifetime. You revert to being a teenager around your parents, and then suddenly you’re sitting with them as they are diagnosed with cancer. You buy a house, and you have to know how to take care of an entire structure.

I approached the home repairs with Chava, a handyman who was willing to teach me. Together, we assessed the drainage issues outside the storage room and closed the hole in the attic. He told me to get on the roof and sweep off the wet leaves, then trim back the tree. He only speaks Spanish. In order to tackle bigger projects, I had to enroll in a Spanish class. A few vocabulary lists later, I found antique interior doors and Bennington knobs at the architectural salvage. Together, for a solid week, Chava and I stripped the doors of old paint. They didn’t fit the doorframes, so he sent me to buy a planer. When the doors were installed, I texted a photo to my dad. “Impressive,” he texted back. I wanted to reply with something snarky, but thanks to not learning all this in my youth, I now also have reached proficiency in a second language. Maybe it all worked out in the end. Plus, I had mullions to paint.

My husband and I always hire Wellesley alums to cat sit when we go out of town. The cat sitters stay at the house because our cats are needy and my husband is protective. “Abby needs love, or she forgets what love is,” he says. The cat sitters are in their 20s and rent apartments with roommates, so I like to think staying at our house is fun—an assumption which irritated me to no end when I was a cat sitter in my 20s, renting an apartment with roommates. Sometimes there are issues, and the cat sitters make weird decisions—like using packing tape to close the ant holes between the floorboards. It’s better than when, at the age of 20, I overwatered a fig tree, unknowingly soaking the 10-by-12-foot custom carpet it sat on, ruining the hardwood floor beneath.

I’ve started to think of our house as a place where we’ll all figure a few things out. Something will be ruined, eventually. At some point, I’ll stop calling Chava. One day, when we have everything right, exactly when we feel settled and whole, we’ll move. Someone else will come in and make more mistakes, on top of all our beautiful work. We’ll drive by slowly, spying through the windows, and lament. Houses are heartbreakers like that, as is growing up.

Kate Erickson ’05 is a TV writer based in Los Angeles, where she has written for several shows including Mr. Robot (USA) and Fear the Walking Dead (AMC). She can be found on Twitter at @katefromky.

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