Finally, after nearly four years on the market, my Cardiff house is under offer – funnily enough, to the couple who saw it the very first week but have had the same problems selling theirs. I always felt it was their house. They loved it – quite rightly, it’s beautiful – and I have resented all the nit-picking, critical people who have walked through the door since. Yes, I am selling for a lot less than I paid for it, and I have taken another hit on the asking price, but this feels right.
It hasn’t been the easiest decision and I have been through many moments when I thought that maybe I should hang on to it. But for what? I spend so much time in the States; I want to travel more; I don’t have anyone to leave anything to, and, as I have written (and talked about – thank you all for listening), the financial stress after losing a lucrative job in 2008 has been intolerable. When I was hospitalised before Christmas with stress-induced hypertension, resulting in a 36 hour nosebleed, I knew that life had to change. I’m not ready for the final wooden house just yet (or cardboard, depending on my finances).
Yesterday was nevertheless very emotional. I had a struggle to get the words “acceptance” and “offer” out there. I was born in Cardiff, went to university there, it is where my closest, dearest friends are . . . and it’s where my stuff is. Yes, my stuff.
In the garage sits the wooden desk my parents had handmade for me when I was about seven. It still has JEFF in purple nail varnish on the top – he was my schoolgirl crush who ended up dating my best friend and it broke my heart. My shelves are full of books I haven’t touched since I was at university – every Shakespeare textbook you can imagine – and books that date further back are all meticulously catalogued and priced.
How did I decide upon 12/6d for Maurice Speed’s Film Review – my first introduction to the movies and passed on from my parents? Why is The Monkees album 10/6d? My entire house is in alphabetical order, from the books right down to the spices. Now, disorder threatens it all with the biggest move I am ever likely to make.
The worry of where it’s all going to go is a new stress. The job lot of pine I bought when in a relationship with someone I thought I would be living with forever is all going. It has followed me around for nearly 30 years, and I took it with me to each new city that marked a new man in my life. In fact, the pine forest is my longest relationship ever.
But I want to wake in the morning not worrying about money. I want to get off a plane and think, at the airport, when seeing the Departures board, “Ooh, that looks nice” – and get straight back on another flight for a new adventure. I don’t want to have to go another week with not even enough money to buy toilet paper (yes, I’m afraid the toilet paper famine hit me twice last year). I don’t want to have to walk three miles because I have no cash for any other means of transport. I want to be able to enjoy a glass of wine without thinking what I will have to go without in order to finance it (okay, you guessed it: the wine won out over the toilet paper).
I cried yesterday because I felt like a failure: the house that I had worked so hard for was going. What did I have to show for so many years of hard work and stress?
I’ve written about this before and know that what I have to show for it is a life well lived and, for the most part, hugely enjoyed with wonderful family and friends, who are loyal, trustworthy and the centre of my world. But we attach ourselves to things, mortgages, as if they define us. We know, in reality, that they don’t, but they give us a sense of everlasting life: we may not live forever, but in passing our stuff on, we have the illusion that we live on, too.
I have never regretted not having children, although I adore my friends’ children and am very close to so many of them. I like being the cool, eccentric “auntie” who disappears to far corners of the world at a moment’s notice. I like being the woman they love who hasn’t told them to eat their vegetables and do their homework. I like being the naughty, grown-up child they think they want to be.
My house has been my security. Irrespective of how often I went back, knowing that it was there has always felt like a solid foundation, literal and metaphorical, when so much around me was crumbling.
But although, yesterday, I cried, thanks to the support of my friends who have gathered on Facebook and privately, it’s time to find a new security. Financial stress has been a ghastly inhibitor for so long, I can’t remember what it is like to live without it. How will I feel when I hand over the keys? Sadness, yes. But, most of all, relief. And what will I do that night? Check into the Marriott in Cardiff City Centre. Or go to Heathrow and get on a flight to Florence. Or go to my dear friends Leisha or Mary (you’ve got my room ready, right, guys?). I have no idea.
But this I know: my new security is freedom.