In June 2011, I was a blushing new bride living with in DC and acting very much the part of a Washingtonian. My husband and I were renting a 700 sq ft apartment in Dupont Circle – the very heart of downtown, cosmopolitan life – home to numerous friends, restaurants, night-life, and some of the city’s best people watching, particularly at outlandish events like the annual Drag Queen High Heel Race. We’d paid our dues in jobs that epitomize DC and the company-town it can be; the hubs stuck it out on K Street/lobbyistville while I was recovering from a public service/Federal government hangover. But that was the summer that everything began to change.
By October, we’d gone to 4 weddings in 6 weeks – in 3 of those one of us was a member of bridal party. Friends began to buy houses, or more accurately for DC, apartments, and talk about babies. I even attended a “bon voyage” party of sorts for a couple about to start trying to have a child during which we gorged ourselves on sushi, soft cheeses, and, obviously, liquor. So maybe the need for something permanent – that urge to put down roots - was contagious. Or, maybe I was just sick of nearly half a lifetime of apartment living and trying to cram all my earthly belongings into tiny little spaces optimistically called closets. Either way, the hubs and I began to shop for a new city in which to settle down – to buy a house and raise a family. Easy enough, right? So we made our wish list, and our criteria were not insignificant. We wanted a town with a rich cultural life, a sense of community and opportunities for community involvement, a surrounding landscape that was accessible and enjoyable for hikes or long drives, close to major airports and job centers, old enough to have charming neighborhoods and homes (with visions of HGTV dancing in my head), small enough that you could know your neighbor, but large enough that you could, when desired, feel anonymous – and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Not surprisingly, finding such a utopia turned out to be a fairly difficult task. We auditioned plenty of cities: Asheville, NC - great beer, but too far from, well, everything; Richmond, VA - the public schools were terrifying and neither of us wanted to live in the suburban tract housing of the good school districts; Charlottesville, VA was visited several times – not once did we see a house we’d want to buy and maybe there were too many students. By summer 2012, we were getting frustrated with the process, although, to be fair, our knowledge of the back roads and historical sites of rural Virginia had increased exponentially. Finally a coworker suggested Frederick, where she’d grown up, and so we scheduled a day trip, neither of us really thinking much would come of it.
That first drive around Frederick and I just knew that this was “the one.” I knew it would last – that we were meant for each other – with that same gut instinct type of certainty that people have when they meet spouses or discover their vocation or, in my case, realize that I was destined to be a pop star married to NKOTB’s Jordan, forever rocking acid wash jeans and big hair (OK, maybe I was wrong about that last one). When my parents came to visit DC, we introduced them to Frederick, nervously extolling its benefits and carefully gauging their reaction (Would they see what we saw? Would they approve?). Eventually, we pulled the trigger – gave notice on our apartment, found jobs closer to our new home, and scheduled a move for December – there was no turning back now, no matter how scared we were.
Conveniently, our moving date was a Saturday, which in December meant that there was a “First Saturday” every week. Filled with excitement and nervous energy, we unloaded the van as quickly as possible, put together what we could of a bed, leaving the box spring in the dining room since it wouldn’t fit up the stairs of our 1870 row house, and set off to explore our city. We devoured a ridiculously delicious and filling meal at Black Hog and practically squealed like the little piggies we’d just eaten when we got the check (reverse sticker shock). We walked up Market for our free s’mores and hot chocolate and it was like stepping into a Norman Rockwell painting—children danced to Christmas music, complete strangers said hello to us on the street, shop owners invited us in for free samples and talked with pride about their businesses. As we strolled home arm-in-arm, giddy at our good fortune in having picked the exact right town, I half expected that I’d look down and discover my jeans and boots had magically morphed into a petticoats and pumps – instead of mittens and scarf, I’d have on kid gloves and pearls - Donna Reed incarnate. We were charmed, spellbound, and inexplicably pleased with ourselves – ready to gloat to all those friends from DC who’d doubted our decision.
Like all the best spells, ours could be broken, and in this case the magic potion was our new rental home. We entered the house to discover that the radiator we’d turned on for the very first time right before leaving for dinner was making a cacophony of sounds – it was emulating a work zone in the kitchen, an aviary in the bathroom, and a tea kettle in bedroom, complete with steam billowing into the room. Yet, it was not what one might call “warm” by any stretch of the imagination. Deciding to take a page from Scarlet’s playbook and deal with it tomorrow, we layered up and gingerly crawled under the icy sheets and blankets spread over our mattress. Despite my exhaustion from a day of moving, sleep wasn’t immediate. I lay there that first night, glued to my one warmed up area of the “bed” (just a mattress on the floor really) surrounded by leaning towers of unpacked boxes, and contemplated our new home – the various noises of the house, the voices on the downtown street drifting up quite clearly into the room through our single-paned windows, the endless hours of unpacking in my future, the realization that we didn’t know a single other soul in this town – and slowly but surely, a thought began to creep into my subconscious as I drifted off to sleep: “My god, what have we gotten ourselves into?”
I guess we’ll find out…