Koala park near Brisbane, Aus

Koala park near Brisbane, Aus
Koala's digging in

Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Finding Home Part Two

Finding Home 2
Moving In

The Boyfriend, Pete, suggested shortly after I began my housing search that we move in together. "We could share expenses and I could help with the kids. We'd have more time with each other." He had me on that last point. After all, we don't know how long we'll remain in the same place. Both of us have a complicated set of financial circumstances tethering us to our home countries. One party will likely make an extreme sacrifice if we're to stay together. So The Boyfriend and I, while leaving all doors open for a joint future, are mindful of our imperative: Savor the here and now.

If I could find a rental suitable for the four of us – Fiona, Finley, Pete and me, we'd live together. I looked at eight properties, which were either too grotty, too pricey, too small or got snapped up in a hurry by someone else. The Mount is a tight rental market. Take it now, or it's gone.

I tour Property Number Nine on a Saturday morning. I found it through the classified ads. The owner, Richie, was renting the place himself – no middle man to pay. It's a two-story townhouse, about ten years old, with two small balconies, a main bedroom, bath, open plan lounge (living room) and kitchen upstairs, and two bedrooms plus small bath downstairs. The tiny, fenced back yard has a wooden deck and spa pool.
spa pool in back

 The home looks over two empty sections (land) offered for sale at $285,000 (NZ) each. They've apparently been on the market a couple years. The villa has a view of The Mount, even from ten kilometers (six miles) away. It faces North, capturing sun (I'm still having a hard time remembering the North side as the sunny side Down Under).

Front of villa

Richie, who's about six-foot five with chin-length, gray-brown hair and a surfer's laid-back vibe, asks about my situation. When I start to tell him he says, "Oh, yeah. We have a mutual friend. You used to live next to him. I remember he said a hot chick had moved in next door he wanted to date." I laugh, smile and think, Date? I just thought he was a friendly neighbor who enjoyed sharing his fishing catch. Richie says, "I'd love to rent to you. I just don't want any fuckwits living here." I'm not exactly sure what a "fuckwit" is, but I'm guessing I don't look like one. R. tells me to feel free to bring my partner in for a look.

My Partner. Only recently have people referred to The Boyfriend as my partner. It gives me pause. In New Zealand, "partner" is used to describe two people in a serious relationship. The government will even allow you to establish residency based on being in one of these "partnerships." Legally, it's afforded the status of marriage. I roll the term around, silently, in my head. Partner. PAHT-ner (in Kiwi-speak). It does sound more grown-up than "Boyfriend." And whether I want to admit it or not, I'm acting like half of a partnership. Old habits. They die hard. At least I'm not dead. Or married. While I wouldn't rule it out (because my kids and I are the marrying kind), now is not the time. I'm preoccupied with fence-straddling. Too busy flinging darts at a bulls eye I can't see.

Pete visits the villa that afternoon. "It's definitely you," he says. I ask if it's him, too. "As long as I'm with you, it is. And I do like the place." Despite the fact five other people have toured the house the same day and all expressed interest, Richie tells us he'll give Pete and me first right of refusal. "I'd rather rent to you guys because we have a mutual friend," he says.

We take the villa. It's just 1.5 kilometers from our old place, at Amy's, and located inside a small resort community. It has a shared pool, it's gated, and the kids can ride their bikes around. It's unfurnished. Pete assures me that between buying used furniture online and his bachelor set of belongings which include a bed, two televisions, and assorted kitchen items, we'll get by.
Fi at the bedroom balcony

The day before the move, I'm throwing clothes into a large green canvas suitcase. It's the same one I've dragged around the world. The one whose zipper broke in Cleveland, Ohio, before we'd left the country. My Luxembourgish friend looped a couple plastic zip ties into holes where zippers used to attach. They're still there. Fiona runs into my room while I'm rolling clothes. She's crying. "Finley took my stuffed bear," she says, sobbing harder. I ask, "Honey, what's really wrong? You can't be this upset about a toy." Fiona says, "I don't want to leave Amy and Blythe's house. I want to stay here." I tell her once more why we have to move: "Amy's selling the house. She's moving too, back to America. We need our own place. And don't you want to live with Pete?" Fiona sniffs, "I want to live with Daddy." So that's it. Fiona adores Pete – she wraps her tiny arms around his neck and curls her head into his chest. She's told me she loves him. Yet she still carries, on her seven-year-old's spine, guilt for loving another man besides her father. I tell her I understand.

Finley, on the other hand, is full-speed-ahead into cohabiting. "Can we go now? I wanna live with Pete now!" he says. "Everyone's Finn's been outnumbered for a very long time. It's been two years since Sean left home (involuntarily, of course) for hospital. Most of our days have been spent with women – my friends, my support networks, here and abroad. I understand Finn's need for guy time. I only recently acknowledged that need myself.

The Saturday of the move, we watch Finley's last soccer game of the season. Pete has attended – cheering, clapping, back-slapping – each one of these games. Finn and his teammates receive medals engraved with their names. 

We leave the kids with my friend, Louise, who's offered to watch Fiona and Finley while Pete and I gather new furniture and pack up the old. We size up a dining room set at a second-hand shop. It's dark wood, rectangular, with six matching chairs. It's listed for $450, but Pete negotiates a price of $420. I've listened to him enough to know he's a skilled negotiator. It's one more job I don't have tackle, unless I want to.

We drive to a suburb called Ohauiti, where Pete's won at auction (Trade Me - NZ's answer to Ebay) a used washing machine for $250. An older gentleman, Graham, who helps Pete load the machine, explains he's consolidating two households because he's getting married. Graham tells us his wife of 46 years died last January in a car crash. And while he loved his late wife dearly, he's found happiness and love with a new woman. I tell G. I was widowed, too. He sizes up Pete and me and says, "Just love each other every day. That's all you can do." I want to tell the old guy, Suspend your assumptions – we're just trying this on for size. You don't believe we're in this for the long haul, do you? Do you? It's an easy assumption to make. Pete and I are simpatico – we mesh well, we think alike, we're told we look good together. It's not that simple. Life's messy. And expensive.
Still, I think about Graham's story now and then while loading clothes into his old machine.

Pete and I examine overpriced furniture at a supposed bargain shop before breaking for lunch at Fraser Cove shopping center. I get sushi and miso soup. He gets a meat and cheese pie. We're fueled for the Warehouse, a cavernous store that reminds me of Costco back home, only without the food. We spent 45 minutes and a couple hundred dollars buying household items including baking pans (which prove too big for our miniature oven); picture frames and a small white rubbish bin for the kitchen. We're comparing bin A with bin B when it hits me: I'm nesting. Not traveling, but nesting. I tell Pete, "I can't believe I'm doing this. One minute, I'm on safari in Africa - the next, I'm buying a trash can at The Warehouse in New Zealand." We laugh and hold each other in the aisle. Tenderness at the big box store.

We start shifting into the new place. The kids and I have accumulated a room's worth of flotsam and jetsam during our first half-year in New Zealand: a suitcase full of Kmart and opp shop (secondhand) clothing, two canvas prints, books, boogie boards, toiletries, toys, shoes... How did we get so much junk? Still, we're missing crucial anchors of a furnished home, namely, a place to sit. No dining table. No couch. Fortunately, Pete has a bed and the landlord has left bunk beds for the kids. Pete later retrieves a small, battered wooden dining table and 4 garage sale quality chairs, plus 3 tobacco-colored velvet chairs, circa 1964, from his old flat. These will serve as temporary resting spots, along with a giant gray bean bag that lies in the middle of the lounge like a beached whale. I can't wait to banish Moby Dick downstairs. Pete covers Moby with a fuzzy All Blacks silver fern print blanket. It doesn't fit any kind of decorating scheme, but it'll do – for now. I haul a decades-old carpet from the garage Pete bought in Turkey. He's never used it. It's pink and blue, with an Aztec-type print. It clashes with the leftover drapes, which were probably hip when purchased in 1997. They're brown, burgundy, tan and rust-colored with a graphic leaf design. They match nothing, but do an adequate job of blocking the sun and providing privacy. If we stayed here on more than an interim basis, I'd change the drapes. And paint the walls, which are a shade of apartment beige bearing scuffs and nicks. Nothing a few strategically-placed pictures can't solve.

The first item to grace our walls, however, is a black beast. It is 100 pounds of shiny plastic and glass. It is – gasp - a 50 inch flat screen TV. 
The Beast

Somehow, Pete managed to haul The Beast upstairs to the lounge without giving himself a double hernia or collapsed lung. I ask him to please, please don't do that again without assistance. Preferably, not mine. I am willing to help hoist the beast onto wall brackets. There. It's up. I look around for something to conceal The Beast. The All Blacks blanket, maybe? I've been brainwashed by my uber-stylish mom to believe a television should not be the focal point of a living room. I'm gonna let this one go.

I tromp downstairs to tackle the enormous green canvas bag containing half of Pete's linens. What Pete lacks in furniture, he has in old sheets and towels – in spades. It's the one set of items (besides electronics) he hasn't sold or given away. I sort duvet covers, towels, pillows, pillow cases, sheets – most of which smell of old wet suit and were probably created around the time Pete was born. Pete has told me, "Just take what you like and we can pitch the rest." Thank God. I'm pitching most of it. I wonder how many dust mites can dance on a square centimeter of 45-year-old-drool-stained pillow (I'm exaggerating, but only a little). Pete has taken the rest of his linens – the stuff less than 20-years-old – to the laundromat for what I can only assume is their first cleaning in a very long time. For some reason, the room at his old house always smelled like old wet suit, even though Pete doesn't surf. And while The Boyfriend, er, The Partner, er, Pete, smells of sugar and spice, Hugo Boss, soap and Rexona deodorant, there was always something not quite right about his old room. Guys don't notice this stuff. I, however, am hyper-sensitive to smells.

Which is why the downstairs closets in the new place drive me nuts. I'm certain some one's cat sprayed the alphabet in there. Every time you open the door, there it is – cat urine. You never get rid of that smell, dammit. It's one of the many reasons I'm less than fond of cats. I loathe floors and clothing coated in cat hair, and I resent the fact the world is their litter box. Show me a house without a litter box and I'll show you the neighbor's flower bed piled with cat crap (I know, I know - your cat never craps in any one else's yard but yours). I realize this is not a popular sentiment. Nearly everyone in this world has at least one cat. Nearly everyone we've stayed with since leaving Spokane has had a cat. [Disclaimer: I tried becoming a cat owner once. I gave up after my neighbors complained. I lived in an apartment, worked full-time, and Woody was lonely. Dang thing meowed - loudly - all day, and again at night while I was trying to sleep. The cat muzzle I bought for night time didn't work very well. Too "Silence of the Lambs." Worst-ever cat owner. That was me.]

I nearly hugged the landlord when he said, "No pets allowed." See, kids? Not allowed pets. Not our season for cats, dogs, guinea pigs, birds, fish or snakes (there's never a season for a pet snake in my house).

It is, however, flea season. The owner's dog left behind a crop of fleas. Finley's bum is covered in flea bites. Fiona's arms and legs have sprouted tiny red dots. Pete found a flea on his hand while sitting at the dining table last week. I'm pissed. No pets, and we're left to dispose of someone else's fleas. Pete has flea-bombed the house. Did I mention we've spied several cockroaches, too? Don't worry – we'll have the bugs worked out – literally – by the time you come to stay.

Despite bugs, bad smells and lack of furniture, we're making progress: We have a new (used) dark wood dining set with six matching chairs; wireless Internet; a home phone with 200 hours worth of calls each month to the U.S.; a budding collection of mass-produced art from the Warehouse; an uncomfortable futon couch, a brown leather lounge suite (the last two bought on Trade Me). We have rubbish and recycling bins, a potted palm, purplish-blue hydrangea (one of my favorite flowers) and a tall, heavy glass vase bought for $5 at an opp shop, filled with free shells from the beach. We have a spa pool. And several bottles of wine. An open bottle of Port.

With heaps of work on Pete's part, we're creating a home.He's the one who's arranged for power, Internet, rubbish collection, phone, plus dismantled his old flat to move into ours. He's constantly searching for deals on items we need, like chests of drawers. He does this with grace and selflessness and told me from the outset to arrange the house the way I liked. I smile while stashing his old collection of souvenir shot glasses far back in the stuff-we're-not-gonna-use cupboard. "I can tell you've lived with women before," I tell him. I assure him the garage is his domain. Pete says, "I can tell you've lived with a man before." Items he's brought from his old flat are coated in dust: TV stand, old chairs, stereo speakers. "Did you guys ever dust anything?" I ask while wiping down the TV. "Dust? What's that?" Pete asks, only half-joking.

For the first time in a year and-a-half, a man's clothing hangs in my closet. The clothes belong to a living, breathing human who will wear these jeans, t-shirts and white button-downs week after week. This is strange and normal. I go to sleep and wake up with a man. Strange and normal. I'm bombarded with repeat episodes of deja vu. I've been here before, done this before. 

The first night, Fiona and Finley tear around the villa, climbing up the stairs, sliding down on their backs and stomachs, saying, "This is OUR house. This is OUR house." The kids have graciously allowed Pete and me to live there. So we'll do that, for now. For several months. For whatever time we have. We never really know, do we? Strange. Normal.


  1. Sounds like a beautiful life! Your writings usually bring tees to my eyes. Every day is certainly special! Would love to meet Pete.

  2. Thanks, Boomie! :) You are sweet, and I expect you'll meet Pete - one of these days. I'll call you this week...