Friday, July 10, 2015

Hard Call

A few years ago, on a visit back to New Orleans, I had a truly fantastic dinner with CS Harris, CharlesGramlich and Sphinx Ink. (And Candy's husband Steve, but he doesn't have a blog to link to) That night, Candy said something deeply alarming...

I knew she'd lived in Australia. I didn't know she'd been there for over fifteen years, or that she'd been heartbroken to return to the US.

I remember feeling a chill. I'd only lived in New Zealand twelve or thirteen years at that point. Suddenly, those years didn't seem long enough.

Why, I asked, would she ever leave a place she loved? Her answer:


What a relief. I was about as alone, and as lonely as a body could get. My parents were used to having me on the other side of the world. Family, that single, treacherous, weighted word, had no hold on me.

I was safe.

But things change. Things always change.

Now I have a daughter. And lost a father. Either would be a pretty major event, and I got both less than six months apart. No surprise that my perspective has shifted. My world is different now, and every time my girls smile at me, I'm reminded that my decisions don't just affect me anymore.

We're leaving New Zealand.

It's been a hard decision, but in the end it comes down to carrots and sticks.

On the one hand, we could raise our daughter here. I make a decent living, enough to support us all. But the cost of living is high-- high enough that we get by, and not much else. Since the earthquake destroyed our housing stock, rents have gone insane. Our house is warm and dry, and over $2000 a month. The average price to buy-- the average, now-- is $485,000, and banks don't want to talk to you without a 20% deposit. For me, like a lot of people here, home ownership is out of the question.
And I want a house. It never bothered me before-- most artist are so far below the poverty line that just paying the bills is a triumph-- but now that's just not enough. I want equity. Permanence. Something to pass on to Charlotte when I go. In the US, the average house is $136,000, and there are a lot more options for finance. Like, a lot. As dreams go, that one's in easy reach.

And then there's family. My wee girl already lost one grandparent. I want her to see as much as possible of the ones she has left. Moving, I can put her family in England and her family in Atlanta within a few hours of her. And afford to make those trips too.

I'm going to miss Christchurch. I really am.

But this city is broken. The city I loved, with its relaxed and easygoing people, its heritage buildings and Edwardian feel, its art galleries and opera house and vibrant public life, that city is gone. It died one afternoon in 2011. The place we live now is road cones and single lane traffic, the country's largest consumers of alcohol and antidepressants, fields of rubble and clattering jackhammers. Government types in ill-fitting suits are using my city as a testing ground for conservative social engineering. No matter how badly an idea has been repudiated in the past, they're determined to try it again.

The social engineering aside, our Mayor and City Council swear that all the other inconveniences are temporary. Just stick with us, they say, and this place will be even better than it was before!

In twenty or thirty years.

I love this place. These people. I'll never be able to fully leave-- especially because my daughter is a triple-citizen, and I want her to be a part of her New Zealand heritage. So I'll come back. To visit.

Meantime, I've got a life to build.  


Angie said...

Empathy on the housing problem. My own heart is in the Bay Area -- I grew up in San Jose, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, the heart of Silicon Valley, from back before it'd ever been called that, back when the valley was still covered in orchards -- and that's where I'd live if I could choose anyplace. But the housing prices there are insane. It's been one of the most expensive places to live for decades.

I remember taking the bus to work in the mornings, back in the late '80s, there was a condo development in Sunnyvale with a big sign facing the street my bus passed. It said, "Studios, 1- and 2-Bedroom!" and "From the low 300,000s!" So you know the studios were over $300,000. Which is insane. I doubt they've gotten much cheaper in the last 25 years.

Seattle's not cheap either, if you want a decent place that doesn't need a lot of expensive work (most of the housing stock is old, and what's not old is mostly either townhouses, or WAY out of town, where people who don't drive really can't live), but we can afford one of those townhouses. And at that we got lucky -- we bought in Long Beach when housing prices were still on the way up, and actually made some profit when we sold -- but we still ended up in a townhouse in Seattle.

But we do own it, we have equity, and we don't have to worry about a landlord jacking up the rent, or selling it out from under us.

If you can buy a house for your immediate family, and be close enough to your extended family that your daughter can grow up knowing them, that's very cool. And it'll be nice sharing a continent with you. [grin/hugz]


Charles Gramlich said...

Luck with everything, man.

cs harris said...

Oh, I'm so sorry to hear this. I tried to leave a comment on the post about your dad while I was in London, but couldn't get it to work from my phone. So, first off, let me tell you what a lovely, moving tribute you wrote; you were so lucky to have such an amazing man for a father, and I'm so sorry about your loss.

As for leaving New Zealand.... I cried all the way from Adelaide to Sydney. That is not an exaggeration. Pictures and memories still tug painfully at my heart. On top of which, moving back to the States after being gone so long was disconcerting and disorienting. I didn't feel as if I belonged any more; I used funny words and was clueless about so many political or pop culture things I'd missed, and my attitudes and ways were so different. I fit in better now, although sometimes I still use expressions that make my friends laugh, and my attitudes will forever be colored by looking at the States from a distance.

I lost my mother five years ago now. It's a bit bemusing to realize I moved here to be with her, and now she's gone, and I'm still here, tied by a new husband and cats and daughters who think of this as home. I have sorrow but no regrets. I will always be so thankful we were here to share the last years of my mother's life and to take care of her when she needed us.

As for the house, I understand totally. This is the first house I ever owned. It was really important to me. Sometimes I still wake up in the morning, think, "I own this house!" and smile.

New Zealand will always be a part of you and your girls. And next time you're in New Orleans, do let us know. We'd love to catch up.

RK Sterling said...

Good luck to you and your family, Steve. Am so sorry to hear about the passing of your father.