After living in small rentals all my adult life, I was able to buy a condo at age 43. Upon entering my new home for the first time after escrow had closed, I understood the meaning of “proud homeowner.” I walked into each of the two bedrooms, loft, three bathrooms, dining and living rooms, and kitchen, taking in the 1,400-plus square feet of blank canvas that I could paint any way I wanted. The townhouse-style condominium nestled in the slopes abutting Laguna Coast Wilderness Park was all mine. Not only did I paint the walls and add my own light fixtures, I had a built-in bookcase installed in the living room and transformed the guest bedroom into a ballet studio. I finally had my forever home.
But life doesn’t always play out the way we expect.
A decade after I moved in, I got laid off from my highly specialized paralegal job after 16 years of service. I explored other types of career opportunities while working as a freelance consultant. Meanwhile, property taxes and homeowner assessments increased along with credit card debt. In the midst of frustration over another dead-end job interview, a client offered me an in-house position. Going back to work for a title insurance company, to the same career I had in my 20s and 30s, was humbling. But it was what I needed to pull myself out of a financial quagmire.
After several months on the job, regaining financial stability was still an unrelenting challenge as I had overwhelming debt and a depleted savings account. One sleepless night as I pondered ways to replenish my bank account and pay off debt, the words of a lender came to mind—my home had equity, and it was a seller’s market. The solution was contained within the walls in which I lived. I grappled with the idea of selling. The idea hurt my heart. It would mean letting go of my past, present, and future all at once, the place I created and nurtured for 11 years, the place in which I was to grow old. But somehow, I would have to let go. Selling my home was the only viable solution.
My father, a longtime real estate broker who lived outside Orange County, referred me to an agent he’d worked with. He thought we’d be a great fit, and he was right. Cherie was a go-getter, and we had an instant connection. My condo landed in escrow after only nine days on the market and a bidding war. Sooner than I expected, it was time for the big move. I wasn’t emotionally prepared; it seemed so surreal, but I plodded along, packing and purging.
One night as I was boxing up kitchen wares, I came across a glass serving platter that I made with my ex-boyfriend, who lived with me in the condo for more than a year. My mind ventured back to that day in the workshop making the Valentine- themed platter with him—we’d had so much fun. My thoughts trailed off to the time we lived together. We loved each other deeply, but for various reasons, our relationship ended. Visions of those painful last days before he moved out flooded my mind … then tears flooded my face. Damn, I thought I was over him. Then it hit me: How could I be over him and the excruciating breakup when I had daily reminders in every room of this place?
Sitting in the middle of packing materials, I recounted other painful events that occurred under this roof such as the premature losses of two cats—Bella to lung cancer and Topper to lymphoma. They both passed peacefully in my arms when it was their time. I realized it wasn’t just financial strain and letting go of my home that was breaking my spirit; it was a culmination of all these events. Grief overwhelmed me at the awareness of these emotional burdens that were lingering below the surface. The sadness was suffocating. Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to move.
As the sale progressed, I had to get serious about finding a rental. If I stayed in Laguna Beach, I’d have to live in a place the size of a dollhouse to keep within my budget. Could I go back to living in a small place after so many years? The city held many things near and dear to me: the canyon where I hiked, the cat sanctuary where I volunteered, and the camaraderie of local friends. I had become an established part of the community. Although I would need to do some major downsizing, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
Cherie wanted to help me find a rental. She told me about her clients with a rental in North Laguna whose tenants were moving out. She described the 700-square-foot one-bedroom cottage built in 1922 and its features—which met my wish list and then some. It was only two blocks from the beach and a short walk into town. But there was a catch: The landlords intended to tear down the cottage and rebuild.
Despite this unbelievably perfect opportunity, I told Cherie I didn’t want to move into a place only to move out within a couple of years. I needed stability. She suggested that I live in the now and trust in what the universe seemed to offer me. It did seem like a godsend, and what better place to start a new chapter than in a cottage by the sea? Within two weeks of that chat, I checked out the cottage, signed a lease, and scheduled my moving day.
At the end of the grueling move, the owner of the moving company unloaded the last and most precious of my belongings—Bobcat and Lexington. He placed the cat carriers down on the dark hardwood floor in what little space was left among the maze of boxes in the tiny living room. I thanked him and said goodbye.
It was over. After 45 days in escrow, endless hours of packing, purging, and shedding many tears, I had moved on. I looked around the simple, quaint cottage. Through the French windows, between distant trees I could see the ocean against the twilight sky. I was struck by how I felt so at home. My life as a homeowner of that cherished condo already seemed far behind me. I opened the carriers, and my cats cautiously stepped into their new world.
I sank into the sofa, exhausted but at peace and excited about this new chapter.