I bought a house; in fact, I bought my house. It belongs to no one but the bank and me. The life of the mortgage will almost surely outlast my own. In that sense, buying a house is, like planting a tree, a life-affirming action.
What makes it mine outside of the debt I carry for it, it that it represents an ideal that I had held most of my life but never fully articulated until I started looking here, where I am replanted, in Pittsburgh. It is, as a friend has named it, a “Pittsburgh house.” It was a type that I had grown up around, but surely not inside of. It was a style I had always admired as providing a solidity and expansiveness that was outside the experience of my own childhood home.
Every house comes with a history. As a child, I was told that two families at one point lived in our tiny then century-old house, evidenced by the china cabinet in the basement. Apocryphal or not I grew up believing that our furnace room was the site of a suicide by cyanide, which seemed reasonable in the context of the grimness of the surroundings. Certainly the fifty-year tenure of the Malloys produced its own tales.
But this is what I know about my house. I purchased it from an Latin American immigrant who was raised in Pittsburgh and married his high school sweetheart from Langley High School. After their graduation, they were married; then undocumented he was detained and deported. The awful details of this part of his life were made into a play produced locally. He and his wife prevailed and he returned to do the nicest rehab on a distressed property (real estate speak for foreclosure) in my price range. I love this part of the story of my house — the hardworking immigrant making good on the “American Dream” by working and dreaming.
The other side of this history is that foreclosure. It is, by definition, nearly always a tragedy. And so the woman who had been foreclosed on has her history. I know a few things about her. She is in her fifties and grew up in an adjacent neighborhood that I will not characterize. When she was in her twenties she was arrested for having sex in a Pittsburgh public pool in the early morning hours with the mascot for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was reported at the time that he lost his position. When she next appeared in my search she had been arrested a few years ago for breaking and entering into a place of business where she had formerly worked. The accompanied photo looked as if it could be used as the face of white opioid addiction in Western PA.
This is my take on all that: I, the oldest Pittsburgh Boomerang, will be living in a house tragically lost by a white person whose life was likely undone by the declining circumstances of the working class economy in the Steel City. That house was brought to new life by a once-undocumented immigrant. Over the next several weeks, as I wash the windows and floors I might burn some sage to expunge the tragic part of this story. What I am bringing is a new chapter preceded by my own high and low points. I think my house and I are well-matched.