About 14 years ago I was sent on a house hunting trip to Annapolis Royal to find a house for the family. Annapolis Royal is a tiny spot – population 500 or so – in a corner of the paradise called the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. When I arrived, I couldn’t believe the houses that were for sale – or the costs of them – they were so cheap! I had a choice of several homes in our price range, from glorious Colonials to ancient and gently rotting Victorians to tiny modern spaces. The choice came down to two – one a central hall home with a flat lawn that rolled out perfectly for lawn bowling and a fabulous greenhouse – and the other a 2.5 storey Edwardian house with original stained glass and a ravine behind it that led to the salt marsh, perennial gardens and a front verandah that begged to be sat upon. When I was trying to decide, our very sweet realtor mentioned that the Edwardian was a “more complicated” house. It also suited out family better, having lots of compartments to hide kid mess, so that’s the one we took.
More complicated was right. The ravine was truly wild and the kids loved playing back there, but I tried to grow raspberries and had to harvest them by covering myself with DEET and racing out for five minutes, pulling as many off as possible, then racing back to replenish fluids. Salt marsh means watery puddles means mosquitoes means more mosquitoes. The verandah remained un sat upon and the most time I ever spent there was when I was painting the gingerbreading, beating away the millions of spiders as I did so. The spiders were so thick I had to clear a path with a broom before leaving in the morning. There were generations of bats nesting in one wall. Spider eating wasps hung out, too, creeping in through the third floor windows, making the footed tub on the third floor positively uninspiring, despite it’s lovely sloping ceiling and cozy proportions. I worked full-time to maintain the place. The perennials were under inspection by the population and I received comments about my care of them. A beautiful lily outside the kitchen window blossomed heavily – and I was allergic to it. Every time I did the dishes I would stream. And let’s not get into the pipes that burst or the rat poison filled margarine lids that went sailing when they did. Or the moats around the basement walls.
But it was glorious, too. Beautifully sized rooms, huge windows, doors between living room and dining room, hardwood floors. Stained glass that changed colours with the time of day, shifting from orange to red to magenta. A green circle window in the bathroom off the master bedroom that you could blame for any morning gruesomeness. A winterized porch where tuberculosis patients used to sit to get their sun that had a slope that preserved pencils on my desk and a view out over the wildness. Stairs that were the perfect height to run up and down all day without fatigue, even for me and my short legs. A back hallway the kids could climb up by pushing legs and arms against each side and straddling. A playroom upstairs with a perfect reading nook, with bookshelves just the right height for little arms. A bedroom and a bathroom for everyone (it had been a bed and breakfast). An office for my ex. Biking and walking distance from the downtown of the metropolis. A cozy parlour with a fireplace where we’d curl up all winter. And a climbing rose bush over the basement door that outdid itself every summer, throwing flowers up to the second floor like some thorny Romeo. Of all of our houses, it was my favourite – and I think my kids would agree.
Friendships can be like that house. Initially charming, then scary in terms of commitments and expectations, sometimes filling you with the urge to flee rather than face that new challenge, sometimes seeming like just too much work for the benefits. Love affairs can be even more like it – because, like the house, you inhabit them. You take them on, you touch up their paint, you breathe in their air, you wrap them around you and shiver in the cold whistling in through unexpected gaps. They can consume you, take all that you have and then demand more. They require commitment and effort that you may be feeling too exhausted to provide.
Or so it seems.
But then the house or the friend gives back. The sun will shine through that stained glass just right, or you’ll share a moment of warmth, or you’ll find the spiders have eaten the mosquitoes and the bats have eaten the spiders. And then it all rebalances and you realize that there is give and take and that you really want to be where you are, in that house or with that person, however complicated it all is.