How My House Saved Me
By Nancy Hiller
Like most girls born circa 1960, my sister and I were raised to want two things in life: a husband and a house, in that order. So pervasive was this expectation among the members of our middle-class, third-generation-American cohort that it did not even have to be spoken. The message was everywhere -- in TV shows, in magazine ads ... not to mention in the hushed conversations of great-aunts anxious lest a beloved niece suffer the indignity of never marrying.
Throughout childhood, my future husband and house were ever-present, if only in the faintest of outlines. Oddly, the house made a stronger impression than the man. Long before I fantasized about kissing or even conversing with a man, I had pictured the house, a cottage surrounded by garden. There, I knew, I would be able to be myself, without answering to others. (That I would have associated "home" with not having to answer to others, or at least an other, is ironic, especially in retrospect; presumably this persistent quirk in my understanding of home can be implicated in the failure of my two marriages. "Don't touch anything while I'm away," the men in my life have learned to stammer as they depart on business or vacation, scarred by previous returns to the hell of a kitchen or bathroom remodel-in-progress.)
Only in my late 30s, when I found myself in a small Indiana town, exhausted after years of chasing the greener grass on the other side of a degree/marriage/relocation/[insert your own key to reinvention] and miffed at the ending of yet another relationship, did I finally begin to understand that having a home of my own could itself be a kind of relationship.
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