Some people join the Foreign Service right out of grad school. For them, living abroad is the norm, and they don’t have a permanent house in America. My situation is a bit different, though. For me, the State Department is a second (or fourth, depending on how you count) career. Which means that I already had a family, a home, roots in my community, etc. Because I had a house in America, home leave and vacations were easy. I had a place to stay when I was in the U.S. For some of my colleagues, it isn’t as easy. Because they don’t have a permanent house in America, they have to stay in hotels or with family when they’re in the States. For my friends with big families, home leave is a big hassle. They have to find someplace to stay for a month while they are between assignments.
While my kids were still in school and staying in my house, it was a good situation. As long as someone was still in my house, I could maintain a residence in America, and have somewhere to stay when I returned for vacations and visits. I didn’t want to leave the house unoccupied. Houses shouldn’t be left empty, for maintenance and security concerns.
However, change happened, as it always does. My son moved out, leaving no one to take care of the house. It doesn’t make sense to try to keep up an empty house, so the logical choice was to sell the house.
I lived in Asia long enough to have absorbed the idea that everyone needs a house. One of my Taiwanese roommates once told me that he didn’t feel like a grownup while he was still renting a house. He felt that it wasn’t responsible to get married and start a family until he had a house of his own. To some extent, I share that feeling. Everyone should have a roof over their heads. So this process spurred a big battle inside my tiny head. The logical half of my peanut brain pushed the rational reasons to sell, but the emotional side screamed that we need a place to store our stuff, goddammit.
The logical side won the battle. We sold the house. The emotional side, while licking its wounds, maintains that we will eventually win the war.
My wonderful wife, who is a better person than I am, was in America, and did all the legwork and handled the in-person work of selling. As it turns out, selling a house is at least as complicated as buying a house. She did everything, while I was still working overseas at post.
We closed on Friday. So now I don’t have a permanent address. For the time being, my “home leave address” will be my parents’ house. I am still declared as a Michigan resident, which means that I will continue to pay Michigan income tax. But I don’t have a property tax bill any more.
The plan for now is to buy another place after we retire. Maybe somewhere near the kids. Maybe somewhere by a lake (my dream). For now, we’ll use hotels, Air B&B, and the graciousness of family when we visit America.
This is for the best, the logical half of my brain reminds me. But my fireplace! My books! My stuff!, sobs the emotional side.