There’s a row of houses in Rockridge that makes me fall in love with the idea of growing up. Nestled under a sliver of shade cast by State Route 24 — as though it were a great cement tree branch looming overhead — each building resembles less of a modern home and more of a medieval cottage.
There’s something wholly anachronistic about these quaint little houses, with their turrets and gables and half-timbered exteriors, as if they got lost on their way to the English countryside and decided to settle down for a quick rest in California’s urban sprawl.
It must have been some housing developer’s passion project; I’ve never seen anything like it. Every time I pass by, I can’t help but feel as though I am glimpsing into a strange yet familiar world, as picture-perfect as the storybooks say it should be.
I discovered these cottages the old-fashioned way: house hunting, or house browsing, I should say. It’s become a new obsession of mine in quarantine, brought about by my dual desires to get out of the house and to get to know the neighborhood I have just moved into.
By now, I’ve mapped out nearly all of Claremont, grown bored of Elmwood and walked Hillegass and Benvenue as far south as they’ll take me. I don’t often have the time to make it all the way out to the cottage street, but luckily there’s no shortage of grand houses in these areas to keep me occupied. Each new find sparks a different fantasy in me: I see a bay window and dream of reading all day in the sun or romanticize lounging on a wooden porch with lifelong friends.
Once I’ve had my fill, I turn around and walk back to my shared two-bedroom, with its perpetually musty smell and shower water that occasionally runs brown. It’s not quite home, not when I’ve only been renting for a few months and have no legal ownership over it, but it’s nice to pretend it is.
To be fair, it’s come a long way in those past few months, my little apartment-home. I’ve put a lot of time into it, from assembling furniture to scouring the internet for free items to moving bookshelves at 2 a.m. because the layout felt slightly off. It’s become my passion project, though I’m no housing developer. It just feels good to invest myself through my physical surroundings, watching as they slowly become more beautiful, more perfect, more in line with that far-off fantasy I have in my head of wrought iron gates and climbing ivy.
It feels good to want to build a home. It feels like a grown-up thing to want, and grown-up-ness is becoming increasingly vital for my own personal development. I’m a 20-year-old woman coming into my own in a society that’s all but collapsing in on itself. Maybe I can’t travel or meet people or gather more so-called “life experiences,” but at the very least, I can work on what’s right in front of me.
Stability is in short supply right now, but domesticity is in abundance. And yet, when I walk down a wide, tree-lined street and catch a glimpse of a wooden double door, I imagine what it would be like to have both collide, transforming into something like prosperity.
It’s a dangerous thought. Dreams are supposed to be lofty, sure; there’s nothing wrong with wanting more, especially if you have less. But the dirtiest trick of capitalism is to assure its followers that even the most luxurious dreams are achievable, that everything is supposedly achievable if one can climb the ladder fast enough without stopping to consider why it’s there in the first place.
I do my best not to buy into it, but it’s hard when the product being peddled looks so beautiful. Every perfect yard and towering balcony seems so far away from my own living situation, yet they all seem deliriously attainable if only I fixed up the shower or bought some chic floor pillows or read a thousand books on interior design. If only I worked a little harder.
I’ve never looked up how much one of those quaint cottage houses are. I think I’d cry if I did. Sure, I could tell myself that I’ll get there one day, but I’ve, one, seen the movie “Parasite,” and two, recently come to the conclusion that I’m not a “journey over destination” kind of person.
I want to get to whatever destination and settle in, as quickly as possible if you please, and the thought of forever chasing after some aesthetically pleasing dream is terrifying. I want the stability, the domesticity for myself. I don’t think I’m content to just look at it from the sidewalk.
And no number of long walks through wealthy neighborhoods is going to change that. No matter how much I enjoy the journey, I’m always happier to reach my final destination — because that place is home, my own nook of stability. Not a million-dollar dream home that I’ll never see the inside of, but a musty, dingy little apartment-home.