No one tells you that homeownership is pulling headless dead cats out of your crawlspace.
After we moved in to our new house I was pleased to find that there was a large roaming cat
population in our new neighborhood. Having always preferred cats, I’ve spent the last three
years of my life trying to convince my partner that taking a daily allergy pill would be worth it
so we can adopt a kitten. He does not agree. But here, as I walk our dog in the mornings,
curious eyes peer at me from the roots of trees where their fur matches the tones on the bark,
and from behind tall grass in the numerous empty lots. Afraid or unaccustomed to cats in his
daily life, Rye’s hair stands up and he crouches low, daring one of them to approach. The cats
remain motionless, just two bright lights watching as I pull him down the alley.
As we walk around our new neighborhood, I take note of the houses that have made attempts
at landscaping. There is a surprising number of neglected rosebushes in the yards of my
neighbors and I wonder what the initial attraction to the flower was. A perennial that promises
to return year after year. A flower associated with romance or friendship depending on the
color. Some kind of imagined idealism that roses belong in the gardens of the elite and
planting them in our .01 acre lots raises our neighborhood appeal. The block I live on is a mix
of identical, newly fabricated homes, and hundred-year old houses in various stages of repair.
At the end of the block a newly constructed two-story home sits up against a condemned
single story. Its roof is covered in fallen walnut shells and the privacy hedge in the front yard
no longer produces leaves. On the porch, trash and mail have built up, discarded sheets of
drywall stacked with orange buckets and old paint brushes. A previous tenant left behind a
black statue of a lion in the yard, its head turned toward the street as it crawls across the grass.
Before realizing it was inanimate, my dog barked at it while pulling me closer to the street to
increase our distance from the sculpture.
While walking, I think about my own gardening plans that I intend to conquer come spring and
wonder why I want to inflict more responsibility on myself. Before moving into our first
purchased home, I could barely make time to water my house plants. But there is something
about big life changes, like buying a house, where you think you might suddenly get your life
The first few days in the new house, Rye wouldn’t step off the carpet in the hall and onto the
linoleum. He would cry and whimper as we made food in the kitchen, occasionally taking
tentative steps before retreating back to the safe fibers of the hall. I tried luring him out with
chicken and then cheese, but he just sobbed and laid down. I tried to ignore him as I organized
dishes in cabinets and searched for missing glassware, but his cries place an additional layer of
tension into the air. I didn’t want to take his sobbing, his dislike of the new home as a sign that
we had made a horrible mistake. A few more days after moving in, we discover that the
bathtub in the master bathroom leaks from the drain into the crawlspace. As I watch the water
poor out, a stage three leak as my partner calls it, I ask what the point of hiring a home
On Saturday morning, I walk through our backyard trash bag in hand and stop when I see the
slightest movement out of the corner of my eye. Hiding under my neighbor’s wilting tomato
plants, an all-black cat stares at me with yellow eyes. I yell out a cheerful hello, and the cat
responds by peering at me with greater interest. I step outside the gate to take out the trash,
and when I return the cat has moved on. His interest in me dwindled in a few lazy steps. Seeing
as it is early October, I spend the rest of my day decorating our porch for the upcoming holiday.
This work seems more important than trying to organize the mess that is inside. I hang witch
hats from the ceiling of our porch and place ghost lights across the front window. As I shove
the post in the ground that collects sunlight to operate the lights, it slips and I bang my head
on the porch. Inside my partner is hanging shelves and when he comes out to join me, I show
him my new bruise. My first home improvement battle scar. Over the next few weeks, my
pumpkin and mum collection will grow with every trip to the grocery store, but I quickly find
that I am the only house in a three-block radius that has opted to decorate for Halloween.
Two weeks after moving in, I tell myself it’s okay that there are still unpacked boxes. That my
collected artworks and framed photographs that rest propped against walls instead of hung
will eventually find a wall space to call their own. The house doesn’t feel like a home. Not when
the bathroom lacks towel hooks and we are using a blanket as a curtain in the living room to
hide our meager belongings from the prying eyes of passersby. I obsessively peruse the
internet for design inspiration saving images in a folder on my computer. Organized by room,
interior and exterior. The list of projects I want to undertake will keep us busy long after we
have moved out.
On a Tuesday morning as I struggle to get ready for work and out the door, I find that one of
the neighborhood cats has found the courage to come over and greet its newest neighbors. On
the porch he chirps sounding more like a bird then a cat. I walk outside and pet his orange
head, taking note of the tattered ear and crust around his mouth and wonder how homeless he
is. I leave the door open so Rye and this new feline can stare at each other through our glass
security door. Neither make a sound and I wonder, if given the morning who would be the first
to move. Impatient I push an attentive Rye out of the doorway and close the door on their
budding friendship. The orange tabby chirps at me and I pet his orange back as he rubs against
my pumpkins. A few weeks later I’ll see my neighbor, singing in Arabic to the orange tabby on
his own porch. I’ve never seen him happier than he is with the cat.
One Friday night, after my partner has started working nightshift I stay up late placing
artworks around the house. Since he has been gone, I no longer sleep at night. Each tiny creak
and gust of air has me convinced someone is trying to break in. So, I opt to work instead. A
world map goes above a console table in the hall. I place a painted portrait of an old friend
above the bed in the guest room. In the entrance way I slowly piece together a gallery wall
hanging a work by Stephen Irwin and one by Drew Nikonowitz. I piece them together with
personal photos, and the logo from a gallery that no longer exists. The Nikonowitz print is the
first piece of art I ever purchased. A black and white photograph of a heavy stone bench rests in
front of an all-black wall covered in white dust. In the image, the bench looks like it is sitting
in front of a window to a galaxy. My partner doesn’t understand why I was willing to pay 700
dollars, the equivalent of one month’s mortgage payment, for this 16 by 20-inch print. But
when I first saw the image, I was immediately drawn to how expansive it was, and I cannot
explain what series of books or events or classes merged inside of myself to develop the taste
that I have. I spent a month thinking about it before I contacted the artist to purchase it.
Unknowingly, I bought a cheap frame and now the white border of the photo paper has aged
and turned a pale yellow. There was a time when I was in graduate school that I thought that
all art work must mean something to have any relevance. That if it doesn’t in some way engage
with current societal issues it is worthless. There was also a time in graduate school where I no
longer liked art. I didn’t want to look at it, or think about it, or read about it. And I guess this is
why I ended up paring with someone who is not engaged with the art world. Since I am not that
person any more, I have grown to love art again. But now I accept that I can love art that is
conceptually powerful and art that just is.
When Halloween arrives, I leave work early so I can pick up bags of candy at the grocery store. I
leave the door open as we wait for trick-or-treaters, and we watch the wind blow the witch
hats with such force, I have to congratulate myself on my knot tying skills. After my partner
leaves for work, I sit down in the kitchen and gut a pumpkin, separating the seeds from the
rest of the innards. I carve out a basic pumpkin face and placing a candle inside, I rest the
pumpkin on the front porch. According to Halloween lore, ancient Celtic cultures carved
turnips on Hallows Eve to ward off evil spirits, a tradition they brought with them when they
immigrated to the United States, and eventually substituted pumpkins. I am not really
superstitious but just in case, I think it is best to keep the ghosts out.
Forty days after we have moved in, my partner and I have finally purchased the tools necessary
to fix the master bathtub. As I work on my computer he dutifully descends into the cellar so he
can access the crawl space under the tub. Unfortunately for me, he cannot fit through the
opening from our cellar into the crawlspace under the tub. To access the tub drain, you have to
lay on your stomach and drag yourself under a metal vent. I change my clothes and place a
shower cap over my head because I am convinced spiders and other crawly insects will make a
nest in my hair. Then I pull on gloves and put the flashlight in my mouth and scoot through,
occasionally waving the light around so I can check for spider crickets. Satisfied that the coast
is clear I continue slowly crawling to the drain when I see a small mound of dirt I had missed
before. I instinctively go to pat it down when I notice some matted hair on the opposite side.
Pulling my flashlight from my mouth I shine the light directly at it to find the large decaying
body of a cat. As the light moves across the body, I find that the animal is missing its head and
I am surprised that my reaction is to say “oh” and not to scream.
With instructions from my partner, I disassemble the plumbing under the tub applying
plumbers puddy to the joints to stop the leak. After, he hands me a trashbag and I close my
eyes and attempt to wrap it around the cat’s body without actually having to touch it. But to
get it out, I have to place the bag between my feet and drag it behind me as I craw back under
the vent and into the cellar.
After I drag the cat out, I do a perimeter check around our house and wonder where the poor
thing crawled in. As I examine my yard I think again about the landscaping I plan to do. The
fence we will build, the raised garden beds. I want to plant my own perennials in the front yard.
I wonder if I will get tired and neglect to water them.
Later we install the new blind we bought for the window at the front of the house. Our dog
watches us work from his favorite spot on the couch. He has long since conquered his dislike of
the linoleum floors. After it is hung, we agree that it would look great except we purchased the
wrong length and it is six inches too short. We take it down and the blanket goes back up.