It was a 1920 Craftsman on a hill on Buena Vista Terrace in East LA, surrounded by bougainvillea so ridiculously hot pink that on a bright day, if you looked too long, they’d make your eyes hurt. The cedar deck wrapped around the side and back, and begged for parties. Stone pillars gave the outside a sturdy, rugged demeanor. But inside, vaulted ceilings with exposed beams made it airy and light.
The moment I stepped inside and saw the way the sunlight streamed into every room, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life making a home there. My boyfriend Eric and I did the math, signed a thousand documents we barely understood and talked endlessly about how each of our artist friends would collaborate to make it our own. Jaime would paint. Tony would choose one of his collages to hang above the sofa. Gabe would be the house DJ.
The night we closed, Eric plucked a bougainvillea flower from the biggest bush — the one our dog Lou loved to dig a hole next to, to lie his belly in — and tucked it behind my ear and I cried. We crawled through a window out onto the roof with a carafe of caipirinha and drank and smoked and lay on our backs staring up at the stars.
When I started to fall asleep, he nudged me awake with a kiss on my head and led me to our bed, where we made love for the first time in our home — what I thought would be the first of a million times. “Welcome home, baby," he whispered in the dark.
Six months later, I was laid off. Three months after that, we short sold.
Losing my dream house hit me harder than I could have ever imagined. We were still sorting things out with the bank when Eric had to leave town for a three-month film shoot in Prague. To save money, we decided I’d live with my parents in Dallas while he was away. It's not much fun moving back home – times about a million when you're in your mid-forties.
I was a moody, hot mess. I cried a lot. Drank a lot. Bitched at my parents a lot. By the time Eric came home that fall, I’d torn through all the stages of grief, except one: acceptance. We drove back to LA to look for a rental. I begged Eric to handle the apartment hunt without me. I just didn’t have the stomach for it. When he took a place down the street from our dream-turned-nightmare house, I went ballistic. “Are you trying to torture me?!” I screamed.
We’d lowered our overhead by sharing a car, so most mornings I had to drive Eric to work. I doubled the distance by taking a circuitous route just to avoid driving past Buena Vista. He complained once, but I shot him a glare so withering, he never mentioned it again.
One afternoon when I was walking Lou, he caught a glimpse of a neighborhood cat — the one he had a long-standing beef with. Lou jerked the leash out of my hand and took off like a shot straight toward the cat, toward Buena Vista. I ran after him and by the time I caught up with him, I was a block away from the house. I sat down on the corner with Lou’s head on my lap and cried. We didn’t move from that spot until my cell phone went off. It was Eric, wondering where I was. I should have picked him up a half hour ago. I didn’t tell him where I was or why I lost track of time. I texted, “Sorry. Be right there.”
That night, after Eric went to bed, I slipped out without telling him. I drove to Buena Vista and parked. Tears streaming down my face, I looked up at our house for the first time since I saw it in the rearview of my U-Haul nearly a year before. It was after midnight and the lights were out. I crept through the yard until I found what I was looking for: the tiniest bougainvillea bush. I dug it out, put it in a pot I’d brought and took it home.
The next morning I had to drive Eric to work. He stepped outside and saw the hot pink flower I’d planted beside the front door. Neither of us said a word. He took my hand and kissed me on the head.
This is the latest in a series of stories this month about how we cope with various types of tragedy and loss.