Everyone loved it.
When the kids walked in the front door of the house, they both said, "Wow!" When my fiancee and I walked in, we both said, "Wow." The more we walked around, the more the wows came.
It was where we wanted to live. The location was perfect, out in the country but a few minutes from everything in the world. It had more space than anything else we'd found in our price range. It was bright and open, with all the amenities we wanted. The yard was landscaped beautifully. We even liked the color.
We talked to the agent, told her we'd sleep on it, then went back and looked a second time. We slept on it and put a contract on it the next morning. We were to close quickly and soon we'd be out of our cruddy rental house and into not only a new house but a new start on a new life for a family whose members all desperately need one.
We told everybody, of course. We started making plans for when to move, where to put stuff and all the other 10 million things that have to be done when you buy a home. The countdown to our new life had started.
Then I did a search for the street address on the Internet looking for a map of the area. What was the first thing that came up? The Georgia sex offender registry.
You never really know the meaning of the phrase "my heart sank" until you actually feel it sink out of your chest and into the pit of your stomach.
I wanted to throw up. I wanted to cry, and I'm supposed to be a manly man. Mostly, I wanted to punch the face staring back at me from my computer screen.
The man had been convicted of child molestation. He did a measly two years. Now he lives across the street from the house I'd just agreed to buy, the house where we'd planned to raise a 13-year-old and a 6-year-old. The house out in the country, it turns out, is far enough out that it's away from schools and bus stops and churches and all the other places vermin like him aren't allowed to be near. But there's apparently no rule that says he can't live across the street from children, and that's something lawmakers ought to address.
I, of course, had to deliver the bad news. The family was as disappointed as I was. The agent was stunned. Her teenage daughter had been walking around that neighborhood while we were signing all the papers, she said. When I went to see her the next day, she told me she hadn't slept, and I believed her.
The builder and the agent were truly gracious, letting me terminate the contract as if we'd never even made a deal. Now our search will continue. And who knows, we may even find a better one. I'm working on one already that might play out better.
And yes, we're glad we found out before we bought it and were stuck with it. But the disappointment I felt at that moment will linger with me for a long time and is something I will never forget.
In one moment, a stranger whom I'd never met ruined - even if only temporarily - the plans and happiness of a family. How could we possibly choose to live there with that man living that close? How could we put the children in danger? (And all you whiny so-called civil libertarians and creepy convicted sex offenders who e-mailed me the last time I wrote about this subject calling me a witch hunter and worse can save your breath. Molestation is sick, period. And tigers never change their stripes.)
The effects of this man's depraved crime continue to ripple like waves on a pond long after he "paid his debt." And like those ripples, they spread evenly, washing over everything around them without prejudice.
I do view the episode in perspective, however. At least I was able to choose not to put the kids in harm's way. And while we're disappointed with losing the house, we'll get over it.
But I doubt his victim ever will.
E-mail Nate McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Fridays.