I never bonded with the house.
We took possession in June, after months of upheaval and general (mostly) self-induced homelessness. I say “took possession” rather than “moved in” because…well…this house never felt like a place where we lived. More like a place where we set up temporary residence. Not unlike a house-sit, come to think of it.
Except it wasn’t.
We rented the house in quasi-desperation and still in a funk over having to leave our previous thought-it-was-going-to-be-our-longterm-home house. But even so, we did our due diligence. While I didn’t immediately get the warm fuzzies when I walked in the door for the first time (in hindsight, that should have told me something), the house appeared functional and had adequate space for our work-at-home lives. The kitchen was satisfactory for our joint culinary adventures and the backyard yurt was the perfect girl-cave. Mostly we liked the abundance of outdoor living space. Patios, terraces and gardens galore.
We came over at all hours of the day and night to test the noise level of the neighborhood. Not bad. Pretty quiet, except for the occasional barking dog. The landlady assured us that the neighborhood was tranquil.
The negotiations over the lease terms were contentious. Okay, Red Flag #2. We dug our heels in on a couple of things, capitulated on some others and ultimately signed the one year lease. We took possession.
I noticed that I wasn’t my usual gung-ho self in hanging my mementos and art work. I attributed it to stress and fatigue from life’s upheaval. A confirmed homebody, I wasn’t nesting. Or settling in.
First off came the smell. In Jeremy’s first floor office (which we’d planned to use as a hanging-out room due to its large size and the presence of a gas fireplace) there emanated a smell that seemingly only I could detect.
I couldn’t stay in the room for more than 15 minutes at a time. My eyes watered. My throat burned.
“What does it smell like?” Jeremy asked. He’s learned to never doubt my supersonic sniffer.
“Like a nursing home,” I replied. “No…that’s not quite it. It smells like disinfectant cleaner over raw sewage.”
We had the seals replaced (at our expense–as landlady could not detect smell and therefore deemed that there was “nothing wrong”) on the toilet and bidet in the room. We thought that fixed the problem. But the next day, the smell returned.
For weeks, we sniffed. We scrubbed every surface in the room. We took all the furniture outside to see if something there was the source. We opened the windows; we closed the windows. The ultimate culmination was the two of us on the floor looking like we were facing Mecca as we sniffed the floor in a futile attempt to see if something was funky under the house.
Meanwhile, Jeremy–unfazed by the smell–kept working in the room. I worried about his health. There’s a reason the miners send the canary down into the mine first.
In the midst of our olfactory investigation, the neighborhood dogs began to bark. And bark. And bark. It went on forever. The ringleader was (is) the dog who “lives” (and I use that term loosely) directly across the street from us. We tried talking to the neighbor. We discovered that the dog was chained by an 18″ tether under a stairwell. No light, no exercise, sitting close to his own excrement. The dog was a filthy, lonely mess who howled all day for lack of anything else to do.
The neighbor turned deaf ears to our plea. “The dog does not bark,” we were told.
Not only does the dog bark, but he sets off the other dogs on the street –morning, noon and night.
We offered to walk the filthy beast to give it some exercise. No dice.
We tried to convince ourselves that we could learn to live with it. We stopped using our sought-after outdoor living space because we couldn’t stand the constant barking. We shut our windows. We told ourselves that sleep was overrated.
The assault on our noses and ears continued. Until…
One day in Jeremy’s office/bathroom,. I opened the medicine chest to look for some sunscreen. I was nearly bowled over by the smell. “Oh my God, this reeks!”
We’d found the disinfectant smell in the room. Three days of scouring later, the smell remained, so Jeremy took down the medicine chest, placed it outside and coated it with enamel.
Yet the sewage-stink remained. Okay, we’ve nailed half of what I was smelling. Now, where’s the rest coming from?
We gave up and tried to live with it.
One afternoon, about two months after we moved in, I was working in my yurt and got an unmistakeable whiff of sewage. “Okay, this is getting ridiculous,” thought I. I am not imagining the fact that I smell shit every day in this house (any more than I am imagining the barking hound)!
I exited the yurt determined to move heaven and earth to find the source of the problem. But I didn’t have to, for the earth was already moving. Under my feet, the ground oozed. Mud sprung in patches from the otherwise dry ground.
And it stunk. It really, really stunk.
“Honey!!!” I bellowed.
“I know,” came the response. Okay–good. Even Jeremy could smell it now. They could probably smell it in Mexico City!
Short story is that tree roots had grown into the pipes below the yard. A plumbing investigation also indicated that the sewage pipes hadn’t been put together properly. Three days of digging later, the problem was solved.
At least, that problem was.
But the dogs continued to bark. Relations with the landlady continued to be unpleasant. And other weird stuff started happening.
Jeremy’s back began to hurt for no apparent reason. We tried a different mattress. He popped Motrin. He pepped up his yoga routine to no avail.
And my thriving business began to take a nose dive. Bookings dropped in half. Many of the clients that we did book were whiny and demanding.
What happened to my fun and joyful couples, I wondered?
Weird smells continued in the house at odd intervals. Perfume in one place on a given day (I don’t wear perfume) and sewage in another. Then they’d be gone. The downstairs toilet filled with black goo and then it disappeared of its own accord (the goo–not the toilet). This happened twice.
We looked at each other, sighed and determined to make the best of it. We were NOT going to move again.
I tried to bond. I finally hung my art work. I cooked. I baked. I gave myself pep talks on feeling settled in. I knew it wasn’t working. But I was determined.
“The energy in this house is clogged,” I mused to Jeremy. “I can’t explain it. But it’s clogged. Maybe it’s haunted. Maybe it’s got icky feng shui. But I get the sense that something really, really bad happened in this house.”
I do know that in six years, we were the third people to live in the house. The first owners had to go back to the States when the husband took ill. The second couple to live here got a divorce.
While Jeremy’s and my relationship remained solid, the business continued to tank. Bookings dropped to three-years-ago levels. I despaired. I researched. I wracked my brain for what I was doing differently.
And I came up empty.
Okay, this was getting personal. I only have a few things in life that I will fight to the death for. Like mothers, wives and grandmothers everywhere, my family comes under that umbrella.
And so does my business. Okay, Universe. I would have thought you already knew that. Apparently, I have to spell it out for ya. Under no circumstances should you fuck with my family or my business. None, nunca, nada, no way. Don’t go there.
The Universe remained undeterred. Even my use of the F-word did not scare it off.
I kept plugging away, determine to wrestle the negative energy of this house under submission.
And then the dog across the street got loose and ran away. For two whole days. Two days of bliss. Of silence.
It was heaven.
But then he came back. And the barking started up again. It was a Tuesday evening. The dog barked. And I cried. And Jeremy gritted his teeth.
We looked at each other and in the unspoken words of a couple who knows the inner dialogue of the other faced the inevitable conclusion.
We were going to have to move. Again.