To the man buying my house
In September of 2000, I was 26 years old and had been married only three months. Scoop, a 13-pound dog that bit people for sport, was 18 months old and could jump from a sitting position high enough to grab a treat out of my mouth. I had no children. I earned $27,500 per year as a television news reporter and thought I was lucky to have it. Buying this house was the single most responsible thing I’d done in my life to that point, and I didn’t think more than a few minutes about the family that had lived here before me. I expect you will feel much the same way. I don’t fault you for that, but I don’t think I can lock up this place without making sure you know a few things that weren’t in the seller’s disclosure.
The back doorknob sometimes has to be jiggled if you want to open the door.
There is a small creak in the floor in front of the coat closet.
On the morning of September 11, 2001 I overslept in the room where you will now go to bed. At 27 years old, I woke up to my mom’s voice on the phone. What she told me changed me forever.
My children built their first snowmen in the front yard.
There’s a woodpecker. He loves the house. He cannot be trapped. He cannot be killed. Learn to love him.
The scar on my chin is the product of orthostatic hypotension and the landing at the top of the stairs. My wife found me face down in my own blood and dragged me into what you will probably call the guest room. That’s what we called it at the time, too. The hardwoods in your new master bedroom were being installed and we were sleeping on a futon in that guest room. That room has since become my older son’s bedroom. I’ve slept in his bed with him. I’ve slept on his floor next to his bed. I read “The Night Before Christmas” to him in the same room. My entire family slept there for warmth during the great ice storm of December 2005. A few months ago, around Halloween, we built a fort and ate Three Musketeers bars on the carpet. In January, I yelled at my boy for mishandling the puppy, only to learn later that the trainer had taught him to do exactly what I had scolded him for. Through tears, my son said, “You weren’t here, Daddy. You were on a trip.” I became a different person that night–a better one I hope.
There used to be a stain on the carpet about three feet from the creak in the floor. My friend Chris was dog-sitting for us and knocked a plant off a table. The potting soil stained the floor – something you at home can remedy with homemade carpet stain removers. He worked for three days to get it clean. He only stopped when he’d done all he could. Chris died five years ago next month. Our dog died last summer. The carpet is new, but I still remember the stain, how hard Chris worked to clean it up, and how well he took care of a dog few people liked, but I loved with all my heart.
The wall in the kitchen is a little warped. It used to look a lot worse. Several years ago, a guest got drunk on tequila, fell into the bottom half of the sheetrock, and pretended to birth a child. We were all younger then. Between 2000 and 2005, this place hosted more parties than just about any house I know. They were raucous, irresponsible, epic affairs. People climbed trees like monkeys, threw up in the front yard, and had wrestling matches in the back. On any given weekend night, the street would be lined with cars and people. In 2005, we hosted Bradoween V. It was an orgy of food, drink, and insanity that ended with the realization that the partying days on Mt. Willis had run their course. Five years later, I’m still finding evidence of those parties around the house. I suspect you will, too. I’m sorry, and you’re welcome.
The back yard might seem a tad small to you, but you should know it was big enough to teach my boy to throw a perfect spiral. That basketball hoop in the driveway is where he learned to shoot a fadeaway. The living room is a gridiron, and the front and back doors are the end zones for Sunday in-house football games. Use them appropriately. And narrate your own play-by-play if you want to do it right.
The fireplaces in the living room and master bedroom have both been inspected by a professional. We used the one in the living room as late as last Christmas eve. We drank hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows. It was probably the happiest day of my life and it happened in your new living room. Oddly enough, we never burned a fire in the master bedroom fireplace. I’m not bragging, but it’s fair to say we never needed one.
There is small spot I had to patch in the upstairs bathroom tub. Both of my boys have been taking baths in there for some time now. I sometimes put the lid down on the toilet, sit, and watch them play in the water together. It was on that toilet I found my older boy a few years ago after he’d chugged nearly an entire bottle of children’s Tylenol. I don’t remember how much the hospital bill cost, but I can still see the boy sitting on the toilet. He was holding the two-tablespoon-sized cup like a shot glass, and his mouth was covered in pink liquid. It was one of the top-five most scared moments of my life.
The deck off the back of the house is two years old and is the most expensive improvement we made the to the house. A week after it was finished, my wife gave birth to our second son. His first picture at his new house was taken on that deck. He’s since used it as a pirate ship, baseball field, and construction site. As far as he knows, every child has a deck that is so awesome.
As you walk around the house, you might not realize that all four of us have laughed, cried, bled, and healed inside these walls. My wife and I moved in here as carefree, childless idealists. We leave as careful, pride-filled parents of two amazing boys who we’re teaching to be as carefree as they can be. We’re moving because we want more room for them to play and grow. Though it might have increased the value of the home, we could not leave the memories behind.
I can only leave advice.
The sweetgum tree in the front yard will be beautiful in the fall. Roll in the leaves with someone you love.
The deck at 8pm on a summer night is a great place to read a book.
Ask Ms. Merry for a sip from her good bottle around Christmastime.
Chat with Ms. Delores when she walks by the fence-line at dusk with her two dogs. She is from Mississippi and moved here after Hurricane Katrina.
Yes, the lady who lives behind you has a Christmas tree on her sun porch. It’s been there–lights and all–for ten years.
The guy who lives across the street is a Jayhawks fan. Don’t hold it against him.
There is a boy who lives up on the hill named Christopher. I’ve watched him grow from a child into a teenager. He’ll wave back if you wave first.
When you’re married, sit up with your wife late at night, share a six pack in the back yard, and make a plan to conquer the world.
You’re young and don’t have a great many responsibilities yet. I wish you the best of luck in the place we called Mt. Willis. This house is not my life, but it has been home base for nearly every important moment since the year 2000,
Good luck. May your time in this house offer you as much love, happiness, luck, and prosperity as it did us.