Wednesday, November 6, 2013

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Student Loans vs. Home Ownership: (How I became a home owner through the help of my wife) Part II



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If you have not read Student Loans vs. Home Ownership: (How I became a home owner through the help of my wife) Part I, you can do so by clicking here.

I cannot say I didn’t see this coming. And I told Mel that I didn’t see how we could get into a house. I wanted Jason to be honest with me, but once I was face-to-face with it, I didn’t know what to do.
I went home and looked at my shitty, third floor, 900 square foot apartment. I looked out on the small deck that was used to store all the crap we couldn’t fit inside. I thought about the closets that were stuffed full of boxes we didn’t have room to unpack. I thought about how my landlord got angry when my kids used sidewalk chalk, and that there was nowhere for my kids to play besides a very small patch of grass beside the clubhouse. I thought about how I could hear my next door neighbor having disgustingly loud sex with his tattooed girlfriend through our shared living room wall, and how, when I came up the stairs, I could smell pot smoke drifting beneath his door. I didn’t want my kids to be exposed to that. I felt shut in. Claustrophobic. I started having trouble breathing.

Criminal Activity
That night Mel and I talked about the problem. She was in the bathroom, getting ready for bed, her back to me. And I was in the bedroom, sitting on the lip of our bed. I told her what Jason told me, at least what I could recall about it. I used words and phrases like, “hopeless”, “Why try”, and “there’s no way”, and ended with an apology: “I’m sorry. I’ve failed you and the kids.”
When I think back on this moment, I wonder why I put so much pressure squarely myself. I was not in this alone. I was in it with Mel. We’d been through a lot together in the eight years since our marriage: deaths in the family, illness, two complicated child births, college, moving half way across the United States twice, and so on…  We’d supported each other. We’d always been in a partnership. Yet, when it came to buying a house, I felt like I had to do it on my own. I felt like I had to design the master plan and make all the money. And I don’t fully understand why.

Perhaps it had to do with what society asked of me. Or more specifically, what my society asked of me. Was it something I’d learned growing up Mormon, in Provo, Utah, where all my neighbors were Mormon republicans? Back home, men went to work and women cared for the kids. And the fact that my mother was single when I grew up made me feel like an outcast because we didn’t fit the traditional equation. I didn’t want that for my kids. I wanted them to have what I always wanted as a child, a traditional nuclear family. And even now, as I write, I don’t fully understand why that is so important to me. Perhaps it’s because I saw how much my mother struggled to make ends meet, and I often compared the strained relationship I had with her to the relationships my friends shared with their stay-at-home moms, and was straight up envious.
I was starting to ramble until Mel walked into the bedroom, sat next to me, and said, “Holy crap, Clint. Shut up for a moment. You are freaking me out.”
I stopped talking.
“Will you still love me if we are stuck in this apartment forever?” I asked.
Mel rolled her eyes because I often ask if she will still love me when things never change: if I never lose the weight I put on in graduate school, if I never get taller, if we have to drive the same shitty cars for the rest of our lives, if I never stop talking about being a failure as a writer, if I never stop drinking four of five cans of diet soda per day, and so on. It was a cheap way for me to get attention and confirmation, and Mel always fell into the trap. 


“Yes…” she said. “I will still love you. But I really want to get into a house. And I don’t think it is hopeless. And you saying that it’s hopeless is freaking me out, so stop it.”
Her fists were clenched at her sides.
I didn’t really know how to stop, so I just stopped talking.
Earlier in the day I’d already called a couple family members to see if they would co-sign on a house. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but I didn’t feel like I had an option. It didn’t go as well as I would have liked. One didn’t feel comfortable doing it, and the other said their house was upside down. I told Mel about that. We chatted for a while.
“Maybe I should quit school and go back to work. Then we could save up a down payment.”
And once again my pride kicked in. I didn’t want her to go back to work if she didn’t have to. The ironic thing about all this was that the plan was for her to go back to work once she finished her degree. Mel wanted to work, but there was a part of me that felt like a failure as a provider if she had to go back to work. I wanted Mel to follow her passions. I wanted to support her just like she’d supported me over the years. But at the same time, I had mixed feeling about her working. It seemed like a failure on my part.
“No. No.” I said, “ You don’t need to do that. And what would we do with the kids while you were at work? Perhaps I can pick up more teaching work.”
Mel didn’t really like that idea. “You’re already working full time and teaching two classes. I’d like to see you once in a while.”
We went back and forth, and eventfully Mel said, “Look. I think all you found out today was that we can’t get into a house right now.”


 We came up with a plan. It was November. We would wait until next October, when my loans recertified and I’d have a year of projected payments. During that time, we would save as much as we could. Mel got out her computer and we laid it out in a spreadsheet. (I first suggested that we use paper. Mel laughed.) And as she did, I realized how much I needed her. I felt better about all of it knowing that we were working on this as a team.

Student Loans vs. Home Ownership: (How I became a home owner through the help of my wife) Part III





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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University. 

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