I am obsessed with real estate. As a pastime, I scan Zillow for houses in the way that some people pick out wardrobes and party ideas on Pinterest. I know every house on the market in my zip code (and probably yours). I  pick out the prettiest houses in every city, searching hundreds of Victorians, Craftsman, and Spanish Revivals. Or maybe I’ll go look for the quintessential rustic vintage mountain cabin. I like to think about what it’s like to live there, in those homes, in those cities or countrysides. I go for the colorful and eclectic ones. Pretty homes are my escapist fantasy. They are my Harlequin romance novels.

It doesn’t take a degree in Psychology to understand why I am interested in finding the ideal home. There is no better analogy for family life. Growing up, I lived in a big, empty, lifeless house. It was a mass of standard grade tract home white walls and sensible dirt brown carpet. My parents were weird about money in the way that they were weird about love and compassion. My dad constantly bought things he couldn’t afford, and my mom constantly grumbled to us kids about it. As a young child, I was well aware that they couldn’t afford the house we were living in, yet they continued to acquire an RV, and a ski boat, and eventually a houseboat, along with all the accessories that had to go along with the lifestyle of a man-child with hobbies.

Our house was large, which, to them, was an important status symbol. But it was also cold and ugly. It was void of personality, heart, and charm. It was tidy because the kids were punished if it wasn’t. The tall ceilings and lack of life inside created a cavernous echo. It lacked all the things a proper house should have, along with warm, caring people to go in it. To me, the house I grew up in was a metaphor for my parents’ souls. Devoid. Their financial choices caught up to them. They sold the house and filed for bankruptcy just after I left for college. I was so glad to never return to that place.

Sometimes I have nightmares about that house. For some awful reason, I have reacquired it as an adult and I am rattling around the rooms like a ghost. It always needs a lot of work, yet there is no fixing that house. It overwhelms me, and I struggle through the hallways on a loop until I wake up, panting.

It’s no surprise that the homes I’ve chosen to live in as an adult are intentionally the opposite of the house I grew up in. They are smaller, more messy, and way more colorful. Life is everywhere in my own house. Creative projects lie about. Plenty of evidence in every room reveal kids live here. My house is a place where we actually live, not just pretend to live.  It’s not perfect, like my fantasy houses, but it is warm, casual, and welcoming to the kind of people who care about who we are, not what we have. Still, a part of me longs for an ideal home. It feels like a void. I am searching for it in the same way I search for my ideal parents. I suppose I will always want the things I cannot have.

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