After leaving my first husband and moving back to my home state of Missouri, I had plenty of time on my hands. The year was 1993 and I was just 23 years old. I had found a job, enrolled in college, and a dream began to form as I stayed with my mother in her house in the north part of Kansas City.
It had seemed so impossible in California, but here? Here owning a house was possible. I wrote to the father of my young child and asked him to consider sending her to me. “I want a yard where she can play with her bestest friend and go to the school down the street. I want toys in every corner.”
I poured out my heart and soul, and apparently wanting those simple things made him angry. He wrote back, “Give up your pie in the sky dreams and send me the support I deserve in dollars.”
A month later, he filed for divorce, sole custody, child support and alimony – my hopes for an amicable end to our marriage were crushed and my dreams of a home of my own were put on hold. I returned to California less than six months later, determined to get custody and return to Missouri, a place with a far better standard of living than anything she would have in California.
I returned to San Jose in December of 1993 and I would spend the next three and a half years there, living first in a homeless shelter for three months, until I had a steady job and enough to cover rent in a shabby, one-bedroom apartment in an old, barely maintained 8-plex.
The owners were slum lords. There was no air conditioning, in the winter, the heat was supplied by radiators that began to warm at 8 a.m. in the morning (after I had left for work), were turned off during the day, and then turned on again at 8 p.m., just in time for me to go to bed (yes, even then I was usually an early-to-bed kind of gal).
There were no screens on the windows and there was a serious infestation of beetles from trees outside on the street. A bare lightbulb dangled from the ceiling in the living room, my bathtub dribbled a steady stream of boiling hot water, the wall above the bathtub had collapsed and anytime I took a shower, water ran down inside of the walls. Each winter, the stairs in the basement would swell, cutting off my telephone line. I went through four phones and multiple trips to the pay phone three blocks away trying to fix it, and the landlords tried to refuse to pay for it when the phone company finally did come in and fix it (I took it out of my rent and cited a property code that mandated one working phone line be present in each apartment). I dealt with an onslaught of cockroaches, ants, and even fleas and began to hate my landlords with a passion.
Each day, as I first rode the public transit to work (later I was able to afford a VW Bug that was one year younger than me and broke down at least once per month), and later as I drove to work, I would stare at the tiny bungalows that lined the far side of the street. Formerly homes, but now used mainly as small businesses, I dreamed of one that would have two bedrooms, that I could rent and have fun gardening and fixing up. I dreamed it day and night what I would do if I had that chance. How could I bring value, produce something that was beautiful, welcoming…something that I could call home.
Twenty plus years later, I can say my mind. My first husband was a complete horse’s ass. And I am profoundly grateful that I stopped listening to the idiot, focused on my dreams and when the right opportunities came along, I jumped at them.
It hasn’t been easy. But then again, what good and worthwhile thing is? Dreams take work. They take struggle, sacrifice, sweat and even tears.
I haven’t been standing around waiting for my dreams to come true, I’ve been working hard to make them happen. And with a combination of luck (right place, right time), foresight (seeing a deal and moving on it at just the right time), and tenacity, I see those pie in the sky dreams coming true.
It doesn’t mean I get to sit back and rest on my laurels quite yet. There are still a couple of years (at least) left of sweat, hard work, and out of the box thinking ahead of me – but I see the realization of those dreams every day.
A few weeks ago, exhausted from pulling weeds, moving bricks and fence supplies – I sat down, drank some water and watched my husband work on our front fence. I looked up at the profile of our home, this beautiful brick Victorian that I love so much, and I felt overwhelmed with gratitude. My dreams weren’t pie in the sky, they weren’t irrelevant or unrealistic, they were good, honest dreams.
I examined my relationships and realized that the ones I hold close, who I see each day and interact with, they are true, honest ones. They are people I can depend on, who love me as much as I love them, and the others, the fakes, the manipulators, and the disingenuous – they are all gone.
I find myself wanting to say the words “luck” or “blessed” but both seem insufficient. They don’t fully entail the reality – that this has taken thousands of hours of thought, planning, and execution. It has meant aches in places I never knew could ache, slashing our food budget in half, and recognizing that buying used clothes isn’t something I needed to stop doing, but instead continue ad finitum. It isn’t blind luck, it’s hard fucking work. My eldest used to refer to me as being made of Teflon, but the reality is, I made a decision to be Teflon. I refuse to let failure define me. I learn from the mistakes and move on, it is a mind set, not a series of fortunate turns.
I’ve been in the right place at the right time to buy Cottage West, Cottage East, and heck, even the house I live in. But in all of those, it took persistence, no small amount of craftiness, compromise, and skillful (and plenty of not-so-skillful) negotiations.
We make our own luck. To leave it up to anything or anyone else is foolishness.
As I consider yet another opportunity, a lead on someone in the market to offload some commercial real estate, it is partly terrifying, mostly thrilling. I’m not going to say anything more on it, because it in all likelihood might not happen. I have a price in mind, and if the price exceeds that, if the owner is not open to the terms, then I will walk away, recognizing that I have enough right now that I don’t need to take anything else on if the price is not right.
Here’s what I do know. It is absolutely essential that you dream those pie in the sky dreams. And even more importantly, that you act on them.
Get rid of people who try to make you feel insufficient or lacking. Move away from those who treat you with less than love and respect. Go out the door, grab ahold of those dreams and do not let go. Fight for them. Make them happen. Sacrifice, penny pinch, negotiate, and think creatively. Make the “no’s” turn into “yes” and make your pie in the sky dreams come true.
I’m worth it.
And so are you.