We stared, and stared and stared some more.
We walked away, speaking in stilted words about everything inconsequential. And then, when we were sure it had to have been five minutes, we darted back to the bathroom. There it was, a line so faint it was nearly indistinguishable, but nonetheless there.
The next few months are largely a blur to me now. Quickly, it seemed, we readjusted our plans to allow for another child and I moved into another round of non-morning morning sickness. Sure that whether we ultimately decided to move locally to a larger house or to an island in the Carolinas like we dreamed of, we knew we wanted to move, and this time listed our house with a new agent we had carefully screened. After some anxious time where two offers fell through when the two potential buyers each brought family members through our house who expressed concern about one facet of our “older” home, we finally made a change to the property that the experts assured us was entirely unnecessary but looked better to the uneducated buyer, and we immediately received another offer and sold our house in early June of 2004.
Once the house was officially sold, we knew this was essentially our window of opportunity to try living someplace new for a while. LCB had virtually no attachments to a particular location with his work now, and I had signed on to teach summer school that summer during my third trimester, which would immediately be followed by a one-year maternity leave for my second child. This gave us a year to explore island living before I was scheduled to return to teaching the following August.
After putting over half of our things in storage, we moved into a small nearby apartment for the summer while I taught and we waited for the birth of our second child. Our plan, once we made it to the Carolinas, was to rent a place for a few months, so we could decide if this was something we truly wanted to commit to long-term. We knew there was a strong chance that after staying awhile, we might decide that island living was not, after all, ultimately for us.
So, when I wasn’t busy teaching summer school, I was busy scouring the internet looking for vacation rentals also available for long-term monthly rental in the off-season. Armed with years of gathering information, we easily settled on an island we thought we’d love, and searched available properties there. This was 2004, so most rental units did include some pictures on the internet, but I don’t recall any virtual tours, and most of the places I looked at included maybe two or three pictures, with the rest left to one’s imagination. In the end, we narrowed our choice down to two places. One was an oceanfront condo several stories up with stunning views, and the other was the lower level of an oceanfront duplex. The duplex made me a little nervous, because the site only included two small, blurry pictures depicting rather dated furniture being used by a group of jovial-looking retirees. But with a newborn and a two-year-old, the condo seemed less practical, although much more attractively furnished inside. In the end, we decided a duplex with more privacy (the top level would be mostly empty over the winter) and less steps made more sense for us.
I finished teaching summer school, and our second son was born shortly thereafter. We brought him home to our little apartment and soon began the task of sorting through which things we would be taking with us to Carolina to our furnished duplex, and which things would have to be stored in our storage unit. On a Monday, then, two days before we were ready to leave, we were stunned to receive a message from our would-be landlord. Apparently, he was having second thoughts about whether his duplex was really ready for long-term tenants.
See, I would have thought that this would be the type of thing one would assess before committing one’s home to tenants who are, after all, not making dinner plans, but living plans.
Scheduled for my six-week post-birth check-up that Monday morning, I mentioned our plans during the appointment. The doctor’s face lit up when I spoke.
“Oh, the crowds are gone and the water is still so, so warm this time of year,” she said, with far more emotion than I’d ever seen it her, even during my son’s delivery. She explained that for many years she had owned a house on an island about 30 minutes from our new island, and had regretfully relinquished it only because of a divorce. Then I mentioned the housing upset, and she looked at me warily.
“You’re headed out on Wednesday and you don’t even know where you are going to live?” she asked. I nodded, and she looked frankly horrified. We were both quiet for a moment.
“Well, you do have a crib and things for the baby to take with you, don’t you?” she ventured dubiously.
I assured her that, while we were moving to a furnished place, we did have those details secured, and explained that, if needed, our would-be landlord had offered to let us stay in a condo he had down the road from the duplex (if we paid him rent for it, naturally).
She relaxed then, and went on to give me a list of all the things she loved about the area.
We had planned to leave first thing Wednesday morning; so naturally, we left at nine that night. We packed everything we needed to get us from October to May in our first, newly-purchased minivan and a Taurus. It was a mental exercise unlike anything I’d ever done before. Here we were, with a new baby, moving to a new region of the country, trying to narrow down the essentials to what would fit in two vehicles and a brand-new car top carrier that drove us both to fits of laughter every time we looked at it. While it was quite stressful at the time, in many ways, it was a great exercise in that it forced us to examine, in a very tangible way, what really mattered in our lives.
We drove for three hours that first night, and stopped in Indiana to sleep. The next night, we made it into the western part of North Carolina, and stopped again for the night. We were exhausted physically and emotionally, and weary from the slow-going nature of a trip with a six-week-old. However, when we hit the road late that Friday morning, now in the final part of our journey, things changed. We suddenly found ourselves with a new level of energy that only increased as we left the mountains, passed through the Piedmont, and found ourselves getting closer and closer to the beach, the temperatures and our excitement rising as we headed further and further east.
It was nightfall when we arrived on the outskirts of the island, inhaling that sweet Carolina air with hints of salt air as we approached the bridge to the island. We crossed over the bridge, LCB in the lead with the Taurus, and truly, I’ve experienced few sweeter moments in life than that moment of crossing over that bridge to the island, knowing I was no longer crossing over as a tourist, that I might even be there to stay.
Not having the time to begin a new home search during our final 48 hours in Chicago, we decided to go first to the condo we had been offered and then to find a more suitable arrangement after our arrival. We wove through the little streets with sea-themed names until we found the small condo building where we would be temporarily staying.
While we weren’t pleased with the details behind the condo situation, we were, nevertheless, thrilled to have actually made it to the place we had spent a decade trying to find. And the condo was directly on the ocean, so when we stood out on the deck that first night, watching for a long time the white crests of the waves crashing amid the darkness of sky and sea, for the moment, not much beyond our latitude and our proximity to the Atlantic mattered.