During these past few months following our decision to sell our house, you'd think I'd be dragging myself out of bed and crawling into work but quite the opposite is true. There are no words to describe how I felt when my neighbors and friends heeded the Call of Duty -- The Forestall Foreclosure Call of Duty -- to help us fix up our house for our heart-breaking resale. Like one in five Americans, my husband lost his job over 18 months ago and our financial squeeze has cruelly subjugated us to choose: either our house or college for our three teenagers. We have a son newly graduated and twins who are going to be seniors and they remind me of a trifecta of teen-age shaped planes in a holding pattern over a busy airport landing strip, waiting for clearance from traffic control to land -- 1,2,3 -- in college.
Bank of America was putting us in the financially equivalent predicament of a hospital asking an otherwise healthy patient, "Would you like a heart attack or a massive stroke?"
So of course, we chose the heart attack -- or the house attack in our situation -- since they gave us no other choices. Everyone knows that although coronaries are sometimes fatal, if you are strong enough to begin with, people often survive and are better for the lesson learned.
Stroke victims are a different case altogether. A massive stroke damages the mind and often victims never fully recover. I was afraid that if we kept the house and couldn't help provide for our kids, that it would be a massive stroke to their first taste of adulthood, or at the very least, that it would limit their future. If we let them down at this doorway to their adulthood, I'd never forgive myself. Having raised them all the way up to six feet tall from diapers and not being able to see them through to college would be like the classic chase scene in the James Bond thriller Diamonds Are Forever. Only imagine Sean Connery, after that entire chase scene, steering Jill St John's car on two-wheels down a narrow alleyway, then stepping out of the car, hands up, surrendering instead of finally making his escape. Ridiculous.
So we chose the heart attack -- selling our home. We felt that this gave us the best chance for recovery considering our limited options. And moving out of this treasured neighborhood after thriving here for almost two decades struck me in the heart, like a heart attack -- wrenching and blinding and confusing. Our cache of memories in the house is as bigger as the number of dollars we owe on our mortgage -- and that is a lot. And each memory has it's accompanying memento; a trophy, a seashell, a snow globe and each deserves a heartfelt goodbye. Only that would take the length of time it would take us to pay off our debt. If we could. So this is where the dumpster got involved. Two of them, full to overflowing. Because nobody wants somebody else's trophy, do they.
The idea of moving out of this house was like asking me to do what James Franco did when he finally cut off his arm in the movie 127 Hours. This house is where our babies slept the first night home from the hospital and most every night since. Don't tell the Health Department but our first dog, Oggie, is buried under his favorite shade tree in the back yard. A blink of a decade later, and we found ourselves being forced to paint over the kitchen doorjamb; the inch-by-inch growth chart of pencil marks indicating growth spurts of our not-so-short-anymore babies.
My friends really couldn't help me avoid all this heart break but what they did do was help me through it. Twenty paint-brush-yielding friends marched in my front door; not because I called them but because they have crisis radar. I was saying "No thanks, I'm okay." but they could not hear my words because my situation deafened them to my objections. I was almost drowning in the house-resale water. It was up to my lower lip and I was praying no one would make any waves. They recognized that I needed the kind of renovation help that they could provide. My friends pulled me to shore and rescued me in ways I didn't even know I needed.
Dozens of Greenwich moms made-over our house in eight back-breaking days of hard labor -- and it was love labor. The manicure salons around town had to shut down for the week due to lack of business.
For a few days after they renovated my home, I'd be out driving and I'd think that perhaps I'd imagined the whole process. Then I'd get home and open the door and cry. Not the I'm-selling-my-house tears but the I'm-home tears. It is the best gift anyone has ever or will ever give to me.
As more friends have heard about my home make-over, I've been at the receiving end of so many loving words and acts of appreciation: cards in the mail, notes on my desk at work, a flower at my doorstep, a package of Twizzlers in my mailbox and hugs -- six second hugs -- all around.
These heartfelt expressions -- most folks never experience them because they never saw the heart attack or stroke coming and didn't survive it. Or worse, they saw it coming but kept it a secret.
If I have learned anything in this difficult year it is this: Don't deprive those who love you of the privilege of helping you. Say yes. And if you can't get the words out, just nod. As backwards as it seems, it is a gift to them to allow them to help you. If you were strong before, then trust that you will make a full recovery. The heart is a miraculous muscle.
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