A Home of One's Own

For 20 years, she yearned for her own plot of land. Then she saw a little country house and decided that a single woman really could settle down solo.

By Lisa Schwarzbaum

Home on the Range

In all those years of imagining homeownership, I couldn’t have known this: A grown woman who has lived a full, adventurous, independent, and self-supporting life can still surprise herself with a newfound sense of adulthood brought on by a 30-year fixed mortgage, town taxes, and a contract for regular oil and propane delivery. My house has rooted me — indeed, it binds me with obligations — yet I also feel more open to change than I have in years. And what that study by the National Association of Realtors couldn’t possibly quantify is how sexy it feels to be the master of one’s domain.

On the afternoon of the first day of the rest of my life as a homeowner, I drove my rental car to my home, parked in my driveway, walked around the grounds under my trees, and opened the front door to the echoing rooms I’d have all the time in the world to fill with friends and love and beauty. And antiques, and finds from Ikea and Target, and walls painted yellow or red, if that’s what I wanted. I spotted my new neighbor — an old, white-haired man — and went over to introduce myself.

"You married?" he asked.

"No."

"You’re here by yourself?"

"Yes."

I swear he said this: "So you’re an old maid?"

Hardly, Buster. Truth is, I don’t know why I’ve waited this long. I just know that however long it took, the timing was right for me. "Fulfillment leaves an empty space where your old self used to be, the self that pines and broods and reflects," Colwin observes in her short story. "You furnish a dream house in your imagination, but how startling and final when that dream house is your own address."

From that first night, I felt profoundly content, the very opposite of startled. A year later, with walls painted red and others yellow, with comfortable couches and coffee tables, with yarrow and butterfly bushes growing and hydrangeas sending out shoots, I love my house more than ever. I love having friends and family visit, and I love when they leave too. I’ve met a single woman down the road whose city-and-country schedule mirrors mine, and another who waves as she bikes by with her adopted Chinese daughter. The baker’s girlfriend is a friend of a friend of friends in Los Angeles, practically family! I’ve also met a wonderful man who lives nearby, so it’s a romantic adventure after all. But sometimes I just like to sit alone under one of my maple trees, watching the sunset over the river, listening to the birds peck as if engrossed in their own private cocktail party at the feeders I’ve hung in a — my — pear tree.

One final note: Did I mention that I’m listed as a single woman on the mortgage document? "What the heck is that about?" I barked at the time. My attorney assured me that it was merely the legal language of transaction, and were I an unmarried gentleman, I’d still be defined by my singledom. I’ve since come to appreciate the stark designation. Yes, that’s who I am. And I’m home.

Entertainment Weekly critic Lisa Schwarzbaum is the proud owner of a top-of-the-line power drill.

Originally published in MORE magazine, December 2006/January 2007.

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