|The king in his castle, complete with lumpy yard and far-away neighbors.|
The mice infestation was the last straw. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t an infestation, in the scientific sense, but what would you call a family of mice crawling through your house, scratching inside walls, kicking poop out of the ceiling vents and on to your bed? Or hiding in your dog food, so that when you scoop out a big cup full to put in your dog’s bowl, a few mice get caught up in the process, something you only discover when you dump the food into the bowl, and mice scamper away?
If that’s not some kind of infestation, I don’t ever, ever want to experience real mice-pestilence.
So that was the last straw, the moment when my distaste for our house turned to full-blown disgust. My husband and I had lived in the house for three years, and he had enjoyed the house as a bachelor pad for about 18 months before I moved in. I might have enjoyed the house for a few months, tops: you know, because I was in love and everything. But after that: Blech.
To him, the place out on Kings Grade was a little slice of heaven, nestled on a hillside about 400 feet above sea level. The house’s big picture windows (loose and rattle-y in wintertime storms) looked out over the costal range, and he’d built a porch along the front of the house, where we could linger in the summer, watching the sun set over the mountains. The house also included a few acres and no nearby neighbors, a boon for someone like Ron who likes people well enough, but also wants his space and solitude.
When we first married, I liked the house, too. You know how it is: nearly everything seems wonderful in the light of new and intense love. I liked the idea of living on land, getting to practice the skills I’d learned as a landscape laborer during my graduate school summers. I liked the idea of remodeling the place together, making it space that could truly be ours. I liked the idea of having a house, period, after so many years living in small apartments.
But then, our remodeling projects didn’t seem to put a dent in the home’s fundamental problems; as the saying goes, you can’t put lipstick on a pig. There were too many projects, and with both of us working, too little time. The projects took more know-how than either of us had, too: I could paint a wall (and did paint the entire home’s exterior), but couldn’t fix the sloping floor or the propane heater that spewed gas fumes into our hallway each night.
No matter how many ways I whacked at the yard, cutting blackberry vines, mowing down the lumpy backyard, planting flowers, nothing seemed to change: without a huge effort, our land would look a little too wild for my tastes. Ron was okay with the wilding, in part because he actually didn’t like yard work that much, and thought the two stupid sheep he’d bought would take care of the weeds.
They didn’t, really, and then we had to take care of the sheep, too.
When my parents came to visit, the house was too small to enfold them and us, so we borrowed a camper and slept outside. When Ron traveled, I slept with my dog under one arm, hoping she might catch any intruders come to attack me in the boonies. Even when Ron was home, I felt isolated and alone, with not even a neighbor nearby to say hello.
Then came the mice.
So we moved, at Ron’s initiation and with his blessing. He could see I wasn’t happy living in his slice of heaven, and that not much—except possibly bulldozing the house, starting over, and hiring not only a professional lawn care service but also some neighbors—would have filled me.
Moving was a huge sacrifice for Ron: his slice of heaven gone, his solitude broken by the many neighbors on our cul-de-sac. I suppose some folks might claim I was selfish for wanting something else so intensely, and that if I were a true Christian woman, I would have sucked it up, bought some more mouse traps, and continued to make my husband happy.
I am grateful, though, to have a marriage where my voice counts as much as his, and to have a husband who recognizes my needs (and even my wants) matter as much as his do. A complementarian might say I should have tried harder to make my husband’s home truly his castle, by cleaning a little more, or filling the home with fragrance to hide the propane smell, or even planting more flowers, when the others refused to grow. But a marriage built with equity as its principle says something else: that both our lives—our needs, our dreams, our desires—matter equally, and that sometimes abandoning our own slice of heaven will be the best decision, even if that abandonment costs more for one person than for the other.
Kendra, I know, went through this same process when she and Brian moved from Oregon to Texas several years ago. Brian couldn’t find employment in his field in Oregon, and was called to a job in Texas. Kendra went with him, leaving behind hard-fought-for (and won!) tenure, a close circle of friends, and an enriching career. While the decision was hard for them, they worked toward it together, even though leaving Oregon cost more for Kendra than it did for Brian. She writes quite eloquently about this experience here.
Our best relationships—marital or otherwise—are like that, sacrificial in the truest sense of the word: full of grace and love, a willingness to honestly lay one’s life down for someone else. I imagine Ron might use his sacrifice as a bludgeon, letting me know often how much he misses Kings Grade and the solitude. But he has never made me feel bad for the choice he made, and there is certain freedom in that—for both of us.
My husband and I moved from our crap house (my characterization, of course) twelve years ago this week, into a wonderful home we both enjoy. It has space for guests, as well as for the boys we didn’t anticipate having when we moved. It has great neighbors who I talk to more than does Ron. It has a peaceful back yard, and a small view of the Cascades.
During the fall five years ago, it also had mice—a whole family, who moved in when a field nearby was clear cut and prepped for new houses. I didn’t freak out quite as much, though. My husband set traps, catching all the mice in a few days’ time. I could say he was my knight in shining armor, saving me from the scary beasts. Because he honors me as his equal in our marriage, though, he also saved me from so much more.