I remember so vividly my earliest associations with The Compound, though it wasn’t called The Compound then. My friend Jeff liked to drive around on weekends and look at houses for sale. This was before everyone had cell phones, and he had a phone in his car, which I found so sophisticated. He wasn’t looking to buy another house, although he was always interested in bargains on properties, and if he’d done all he planned to do and hadn’t died too young, he’d have been an extremely wealthy man today, because he correctly predicted the Midtown real estate boom.
Jeff wanted Tom and me to buy a house in Montrose, and though we knew it was the neighborhood we wanted to be in, we weren’t quite ready to make that financial plunge. Jeff liked to lure me into looking at houses to try to change my mind. Whenever a house appealed to me, he’d pick up the car phone, call the listing agent, and get details. Those rides usually ended with my saying too much house or too much money. We actually did see the red brick bungalow, with its sign indicating “quarters” behind it, and again, it was out of our price range.
A year later, when I actually went inside the house after Tom had seen it first with our realtor, I’d forgotten all about seeing it from the outside with Jeff. The price had gone down then (an impossibility in today’s market!), plus my mother had decided to chip in on the down payment because she wanted to make those “quarters” her apartment. We negotiated it down even further, and even then, our neighbor Ray later told my mother we could have gotten the owner to come down more (I’ll bet the seller’s kicking herself today for selling at all!). The problem was, from the minute I stepped inside the front door, I knew the house was mine. I couldn’t risk losing it by haggling over the price.
We were in the process of closing on the house when Jeff died, and he never knew we were moving into Montrose because by then he’d banished all but a couple of friends from his life, including me. The house had a lot of similarities to his own Montrose home. In fact, the light switch for his bathroom was in the hall outside the bathroom door, and it took me years before I stopped turning on my hall light thinking it was the bathroom switch.
All of that made me feel like I knew the house before I really did. When it was emptied of its former tenants and their possessions and cleaned, I went over one day to space clear it. (This is my own method that I developed over years and once did for other people’s homes and businesses, combining Native American and Balinese customs with some elements of feng shui.) I remember looking around and knowing that the house wasn’t really empty. A gentle spirit dwelt there, I thought I knew whose–not Jeff’s!–and I promised that Tom and I would be good caretakers of the house, and it would be a home. As I finished that day, I sat in the middle of the living room, just breathing it all in, and noticed the azaleas outside the windows were trembling. A gentle rain had begun to fall, the sun still shone, and I took it all as a good omen.
In time, I began to think of the house as my little jewel box, and that became its name: The Jewel Box. It was my shelter, my refuge from a world that was breaking my heart, as my friends died of their AIDS-related illnesses, and I was laid off from the job I loved. I needed it to be both anchor and port, and it was. Then when my mother moved (as she was wont to do often), Tom and I turned the apartment into a guest house and my business space (by then I was self-employed and starting to work more seriously on developing a writing career). We bought a couple of display cases to put in the apartment, so I could take my Barbies out of storage, and that’s how the apartment became The Doll House.
When I met “the boys” online–the men who would eventually be my most trusted friends and writing partners–and I would talk about the house and the apartment, they are the ones who began calling it The Compound. I don’t know which of them said, “You’re like the Kennedys at Hyannis Port,” which I thought was hilarious, and the name stuck. We began writing and then publishing books, and Tim moved to Houston and took over The Doll House. Sometimes readers would do a little online stalking of him, or of the mysterious “Timothy James Beck,” and so we encouraged the myth that we lived on this massive and well-secured property. It was always done with humor, but some people actually believed it and added to The Compound myth. That’s why, as a joke, whenever new friends would come to Houston to visit, we’d take pictures of them wearing blindfolds as they came onto the property–so they couldn’t reveal its true location. But we did seriously ask them not to post identifying photos of the house, because sometimes people can get a little wacky, and we ran into a few who couldn’t respect the boundaries we set.
We lived there nineteen years and six months–longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere in my life–and there was never a day when I didn’t love it and know it was home. But that Midtown boom Jeff knew was coming changed the area around us so much and in ways that were spoiling the feelings that Tom, Tim, and I had for our neighborhood. Sometimes I wished we could pick up the house and put it somewhere else. All the improvements we wanted to continue making to the house and apartment became impossible when the skyrocketing property taxes ate into our budget. I think that was what finally decided me. The promise I’d made to that gentle spirit–to be a good caretaker–was one that I ultimately realized would be better fulfilled by someone else.
So we decided it was time for goodbye, and this wonderful home that had been our shelter, hosted so many friends and family, held a million beautiful and bittersweet memories–made us one last gift by helping us purchase our new home.
I will always love it, will always hold it deep in my heart, and hope that anyone who’s lucky enough to live there will embrace all the sweetness and welcome it has to offer.