By Cherri Ellis
I have owned two houses in my life. One I built as a soon-to-be-married 20-something while I also planned a wedding. I tell you this with love and all of the wisdom in the world: Do not do these two things at the same time. You think that you are building a home and a marriage, but you are really building a house and an event, and any one of those four things can be enough to push you over the edge. Attempt all of them simultaneously and you could end up starring on Snapped. I try to live my life without regrets, but it is possible that, in the end, my own imminent death will not be reason enough to forgive myself for that mauve kitchen wallpaper.
The house I am in now was purchased from the lobby of UAB Hospital. The world-renowned surgeon Marty Heslin had just told my husband that it appeared as if he did not need to get his affairs in order after all, even though his colon cancer had already traveled to his liver. Like a lizard’s tail, your liver can grow back, and that is more or less what his had done. Buz is somewhat of a medical marvel, having survived Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, stage 4 colon cancer, two colon resections, and the removal of two-thirds of his liver. If I need to kill my husband, I will clearly have to shoot him. The fact that I have thought about this is of no surprise to married people everywhere.
I had seen the house on my walks around the neighborhood, and I found it resplendent. It was made of stone and looked solid to me, like something a wolf could not huff and puff and blow down. It sat up on a hill in a circle, with leaded glass windows that made it look older than its 10 years. Like Jimmy Carter, I lusted in my heart for it.
Sometimes things aren’t as beautiful up close as they were from a shimmering distance, but that was not the case here. My first walk-through was like meeting an old friend, and I was stunned to discover the Cahaba River rolling through the backyard.
Now a 22-year-old structure, there are some super dated elements to it. The master bedroom has some vertical blinds that look like what you drive through in an automated carwash, and the master bathroom, with its gold fixtures and way too many showerheads, is straight out of Boogie Nights. I don’t care. I can buy new window treatments, and if I ever have to host a cocaine-blitzed porn party, I have the perfect place for people to shower.
The last improvement to the house was to the kitchen, to which we added a meticulously chosen tile backsplash. Once the project was finished, I started seeing that tile everywhere I went. One day it was nowhere, and the day after I paid to have it installed, it was everywhere I went. It was in restaurant bathrooms, coffee shops, and beach rentals. My daughter texted me from Washington D.C. to let me know that it was in the bathroom of the bar she was in. My faith in my taste somewhat shaken; I will wait a bit longer before taking on the master bath.
There is a fireplace in the master bedroom that has never been used. The people who built the house didn’t use it for the decade they lived here, and we have now not used it ourselves for 12 years. Quite the pity, as it is such a charming feature. When I saw it, I imagined myself surrounded by pillows, drinking coffee in bed, listening to the crackling embers, making holiday lists while well-behaved pets lay nearby.
That has never once happened.
There are many times in life when just surviving the day is a win. At some point, you will sleep on hospital floors or not at all because somebody you love is sick. You will slug your way through work stints with unforgiving deadlines and learning curves that make you feel like an idiot. You will experience loss so acute that when it hits you out of nowhere, breathing stops. It is the survival of life’s dark times that allows you to revel in the light of the good times. I think that this is really our job while we are here: survive when necessary and dance when possible.
And so this year on my birthday, I think I would like a morning fire in my bedroom fireplace. My birthday is exactly a week before Christmas, so the weather should be cold enough for me to do it up right. Recumbent in my nightgown* like some Revolutionary War bride, I will sip coffee and enjoy my quarters. Like a little gift from my house to me, it will be my reminder for the upcoming year to roll around in the richness of the moment.
*Yoga pants and a T-shirt