Juliet Casares Kinkade-Black

For Sale


Juliet Casares Kinkade-Black is a Mexican-American writer and marriage and family therapist, and received both her MFA in Creative Writing and her MA in Counseling from Saint Mary's College of California. Her writing is published or forthcoming in Mary Literary Journal and Tipping the Scales. She lives in Albuquerque, NM with her wife, Becca, and their cattle dog, Sydney Bristow.

Had I not been awake, I would have missed it—the unmistakable sounds of moving. Voices thin with exhaustion rise in pitch, and snap. Truck beds and van doors creak open, slam shut. Cardboard boxes shuffle across concrete. I rise and look out the window. 

Next door, the neighbors are moving out. They are the most recent family to be displaced in the neighborhood race to buy and sell. Children and adults form a sort of conveyor line, transferring boxes and furniture from the garage, down the driveway to the row of trucks and vans, items passing from one set of hands to the next. Between passes, one or another of them wipes sweat from their brow or their neck, pulls their long, black hair out of their face and back over their shoulder.

I will not miss their fleet of sometimes-working vehicles that they park on the street, too close to our driveway, leaving no room for our trash bins on Fridays. I will be glad to be relieved of the wild children who ride BMX bikes through our own drought-resistant landscaping. But it does not escape my attention that they are the only other indigenous family on our street. Without them, we, alone, will remain.

The next morning, the doorbell rings as I am preparing to walk our dog. The neighbor boys from next door stand on the other side of our security screen door. The oldest of the three towers behind his brothers, his hands shoved into the pockets of his shorts. The youngest, and wildest, stands closest to the door, fingers wrapped in the metal curlicues, long hair tangled in front of his face. The middle brother presses his fingertips together, clears his throat. He is preparing to make a speech.

“Excuse me,” he says, “but we were playing football in our yard, and—” he gestures behind him at the tall brother. “My brother is really getting good at throwing the ball, he may go out for the football team next year, if we are allowed to return to in person school. And my other brother—” gesturing at the tangle of energy in front of him— “is small still, and he accidentally did not catch the ball.”

My wife and I take turns fetching their footballs, frisbees, and ball caps from our side yard whenever they come asking. Of course, we know how these artifacts wind up in our yard, have seen the fights and games of keep-away that precede the boys’ visits to our doorstep.

It is always the middle brother who does the speaking. My wife calls him “El Presidente.” He is the brother who keeps his hair cut short; he speaks to adults with deference and poise. He forgets we live next door, and have daily access to the way he goads his brothers into delinquent activities, his creative use of curse words. My wife is sure that as an adult, he will move into tribal politics.

We fetch their football, and I leave for my walk with the dog.

On our street, people are putting For Sale signs in their front yards. Large, boxy, with the emblems of local realty companies emblazoned across them, they flash in the New Mexico sunshine and bid passersby to slow down and look. Smaller plaques hang beneath, with agents’ names in red lettering. They wave like flags in the breeze.

We have lived on the westside of Albuquerque in the Tres Volcanes neighborhood for five years, renters of the fifth house on the right, neighbors to the Petroglyphs National Park. The Park is there to protect what is left of the images the original inhabitants of this land left on rocks and mountains, symbols depicting the seasons, the animals, their relationship to the land and one another. Our neighborhood is named for a trio of dormant micro-volcanoes situated behind the Park, on the mesa. When we first moved in, Tres Volcanes was a quiet loop of long-term rental properties. It has grown into prime real estate, as Amazon and Netflix prepare to open large campuses two miles away. Workers and their young families need homes, schools, Wal-Mart Markets.

When our landlord told us she was selling, we panicked at the idea of searching for a new place to live, packing up five years of our life, starting over. It wasn't that we loved this house and neighborhood, though it was a nice, new construction house in a safe neighborhood. A pandemic is no time to move, plus our house became a safe place for my in-laws to stay when in town for medical appointments. And so, after seventeen years together, my wife and I made inquiries about home loans for the first time, and started the odyssey of buying our house. And once we had defeated the other home-buyers and passed the never-ceasing income verifications and credit checks, I wanted a"Sold" announcement over a For Sale sign in our yard.

Out here near the mesa, the signs matter. They draw our attention to the land--once uncarved, wind-swept, filled with sagebrush and juniper and coyotes. The signs tell us a story about who has claimed ownership of this land. Who belongs. Who has been defeated.

Closer to downtown, near the University, we would not need to prove ourselves in the same way. Everyone there has brown skin and pink hair and lesbian-themed tattoos like staplers and mixing bowls on their forearms and calf muscles. The rounded shoulders of their stucco homes slump beneath Buddhist prayer flags, their juniper bushes spill into the sidewalk, and the residents call to each other through open windows across narrow streets. But out here on the western frontier, the final cut of Albuquerque land to be built upon and developed, there is no such rooted community. The afternoon winds blow dust in off the mesa. No one keeps their windows open. Our house was built with windows that do not open. They are large panes of glass sealed in place with no mechanism for movement.

The house next door has put up their For Sale sign. People are drawn to the sign, and the front yard. They swelter in the heat, estimating the house's square footage and theorizing about cooling systems. Some For Sale signs have flier racks attached, so curious onlookers can read all about the home for sale.  Phrases like "half bath," "his and her vanities," "walk-in closet" are particularly vivid, literary exercises in privilege.

I have come to recognize the indicators that a For Sale sign is imminent. The yard is always first. A team of two or three pulls up to the house in a work truck. They are rough-skinned, wear floppy-brimmed hats. They yank up the weeds, gripping each offending leaf at the base, dragging out intricate root systems and throwing the plants in black garbage bags. They rake up all the gravel, pile it in the driveway, and cover the yard with black plastic to prevent future weeds from encroaching. Then come the plants-- drought-resistant, sun-loving, native to the southwest. These plants will spread juniper and chamisa pollen, driving residents indoors for the best seasons. These plants have lived on the mesa for centuries. Now the neighbors pay to have them plucked from the desert and planted five feet apart from each other in the front yards.

Because we posted no For Sale sign, and no Sold sign either, our neighbors do not stop in our driveway and speculate about our house. I mention to my wife that we have robbed them of the opportunity to read about our 1,783 square feet, our "hers and hers" vanities in two full baths, our centralized air. 

"Those gentrifiers?" she says. "They'd probably contact the owner and outbid us if they knew."

The absence of our For Sale sign is significant. For the past five years, we have walked these sidewalks every morning with our dog. We have picked up our mail from the community mailbox, waved to the recycling collectors, grumbled about our HOA managers. With the neighbor on our left, an energetic senior whom my wife has befriended despite the former’s suspiciously-right-leaning politics, we have participated in neighborhood clean-up days and garage sales. On the day after we signed the purchase agreement and transferred our few thousand dollars from our retirement savings to the grabby title company, we did all those same things. Our neighbors saw the same cattle dog with the bad attitude, and the same round, brown-faced women they had for the past five years. There was no indication that a change had occurred, that we were no longer the renters of the fifth house on the right, but the owners. And because there was no evidence--no For Sale sign--there was no confirmation that our identity has changed so completely.

In the United States, there are three acts that signal to our families that we have successfully crossed into adulthood: getting married, having children, and buying a house. Each one of those acts requires a significant amount of privilege, and resources to sustain them. But the narrative we continue telling in this country is that anyone can do any of these things. And until we do, we are suspended in a perennial adolescence, condemned to eat our birthday cake off of cartoon-printed dessert plates on our parents' patio. Owning a home is a symbolic act, much like getting married. We are the same people both before the act and after. Somehow, though, we become legitimate, worthy of recognition and inclusion, the moment we sign the paperwork--the marriage license or the purchase agreement.

That symbolism is more powerful, and more important, to those of us for whom the act has been denied. In 2013, one month after Prop 8 was nullified and same-sex marriage resumed in California, my partner and I married. By that time, we had been in a committed relationship for nine years. It would be two more years before our marriage was recognized in the rest of the United States.

We planned the entire wedding in less than a month. We tried on dresses together. We bought flowers at the farmer’s market. We ate custom-made ice cream sandwiches in lieu of wedding cake. Other than her two sisters, we had no family in attendance. Our friends and colleagues in the Bay Area bore witness as we exchanged vows beneath ancient redwood trees. Each of these symbolic acts of rebellion added up to create a day that was important not only because it made tangible what was previously only in our hearts, but also because of the symbolism that helped others understand our relationship. The rings on our left hands are the most tangible representation of that. Nothing has changed between us. My wife is still my best friend. We still argue over my inability to rinse a dish when I’m done using it. In some ways, though, everything has changed, because there is an acknowledgement from society, from our family and friends, and even from our right-winged neighbor, that we are a couple. Married.

In the same way, the For Sale signs really do matter, here. Because what is up for grabs is not the house--not the three bedrooms plus an office, the grass lawn or the malicious chamisa bushes, the 1,783 square feet or the central air conditioning. What is for sale is the acknowledgement from the neighbors, from our friends, society, and especially from our family, that we have made it. We have passed over the threshold from two single girls sharing a space together to a married couple--a family--starting our first home together. And while the absence of a For Sale sign has no impact on the transfer of ownership from one married couple to another, and the power of this momentous step in our shared lives remains, I wonder if our homeownership is like our sealed-shut windows: an illusion that allows us to feel a sense of ownership over something that belongs to someone else.




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