Category Archives: House

A Roof Over Your Head

The value of a roof – the literal structure above your head – is something I constantly feel. I grew up in a world where every day I saw countless people without this one basic necessity and it made me appreciate how much a home meant to a family.

A little over a year ago, my partner and I finally made our move and became homeowners for the first time, leaving behind the apartment life. With it has come the stark realization that everything to do with the home falls on our shoulders – the garbage? No, the porter won’t separate and drag it out for you any longer. The furnace sounds funny? You’d better call a heating company because you certainly don’t have any idea what to do with that block of gurgling, churning, fiery metal. The carbon-monoxodie alarm went off and we called 911? That was a fun evening.

Still, it has been a good year, all things considered. The house was well-kept and we’ve managed to keep it going with barely any work, along with a little bit of help from relatives. My nephew has been particularly helpful, building and installing railings, putting up our many wall-hangings, fixing the plumbing, and so forth. Of course, I have paid forward with the only currency I have to exchange – money.

The thing is, I’d love to take value and pleasure in home improvement work, particularly the relatively simple stuff – fixing everyday things here and there, but I don’t enjoy it at all. Everything feels like a chore. But the thing about owning a house – it comes with a sense of pride, and man that pride can push past a lot of things to make you do things.

When you see a gutter askew, you want to climb up two stories and hang from the rafters, an electric drill in one hand, correcting the angle. Walking up to bed at 1am after a night of code and there are a  couple of left-over dishes in the sink? Well, it’ll just take a minute to clean them up, won’t it? The cat spilled a bit of his food over the kitchen floor while eating? Let’s just sweep it up before we head out.

But the big stuff? I have no idea how to deal with it.

And lately, we’ve had the weight of the house on our heads. Quite literally. When we bought the house, we knew we had to fix the roof – it was accounted for in the price of the house and we were prepared, but expected to have some time before it became necessary. What we didn’t anticipate was the amazing winter we’ve had, with weeks of ice and snow packing in layers on the roof, water freezing between shingles, and the constant worry of snapping beams and collapsing wood crashing through the floors to impale my little son while he slept.

So, when the weather paused for a week in New York, we contracted and sneaked in an entire roof repair in a single day. It was quite a thing to watch, a small army of people scrambling up and down ladders, pieces of roof falling all around the house along curtains that veiled the building like a shy bride. It also made me appreciate the physical work these guys did, since it wasn’t exactly a balmy day – barely above the freezing mark, and a low but constant wind that chilled what the sun tried to warm.

At last, the work finished, the cleanup made it seem like nothing had happened, only the different colored tiles above the house hinted at any change at all.

Well, that and the hole in the living room by the skylight, but let’s ignore that for now.

The warranty says thirty years.

Thirty years.

When I got married, I knew it was a long-term commitment. My son was born and that felt pretty damned permanent. After signing up for life-insurance, the weight of years and the consequence of very long-term planning settled on my shoulders like a heavy cloak. But it wasn’t until I got a 30 year warranty for my roof that I really got a sense of what owning a house means, how it feels in one’s bones.

Because until now, everything felt transient, like it could change, I knew it would be hard, but we could still move if really necessary. We were putting down roots for over a year, but it didn’t feel like it. The house still felt like a large apartment, still as easy to move out of as a co-op, but now?

Now, I can feel the grip of stones under my feet, the moisture feeding the branches, the sun on my shoulders, the security of a sound roof for my family. And my roots are clutching back at the bedrock and digging in. Maybe it took a major construction but goddamn if it doesn’t feel like this is my own little plot of the world. It’s our home.

Time to roll up the sleeves.