International Writers Magazine:Living
Her name was Anne and
she a was a research scientist originally from Scotland. Although she
had lived in London for years and had studied in New York, she had not
lost that lovely, lilting Scottish accent. I couldnt wait to introduce
her to my friend Maria, from Glasgow. After almost fifty years in San
Francisco, Maria, too, had the same lilt in her voice.
in House Sharing
her for lunch at a pub near St Bartholomews Hospital in London
and I liked her immediately. She reminded me of most of the other
women I had rented rooms to, smart no nonsense types in their forties,
partial to blue jeans and oblivious to make-up.
And I, I am a retired woman in my sixties. My worldly assets consist of
three grown children, four grandchildren, a two bedroom, two bath condo
in the Haight Ashbury and a small pension. Like several of my friends,
I occasionally supplement my income by renting out a room and bath.
I was clear on the type of roomers that I wanted. They would be busy,
professional women in their forties, looking for short term accommodations.
Since I lived in walking distance from the University of California Med
Center, there was no shortage of possibilities. Lots of visiting scientists
come there for short term assignments.
The Med Center used to have an electronic bulletin board and this was
where I had found Annes ad. We corresponded and made a deal. She
would arrive in San Francisco in early September, the timing was perfect.
I mentioned that I would be in London doing a house trade for the month
of August and would return to San Francisco a few days before her arrival.
This was when she informed me that she actually worked in London and suggested
that we meet. Over that first lunch she told me that she was married and
that she and her husband, another research scientist, would both like
to work permanently in the Bay Area. He had resumes out and, if all went
well, he would get a job offer, come to San Francisco, and they would
find a place of their own. In the meantime, he would be coming out at
Christmas and she asked if he could stay at my place for a holiday visit.
I said that would be fine.
Anne called me a few days later and asked me if I would like to come to
her house for lunch and to meet her husband. I thought that would be lovely,
and followed her directions to a suburb on the northerly side of London.
I cant remember her husbands name but I remember that he was
a very nice man from India, that he was vegetarian and that they served
a wonderful vegetarian meal.
After lunch, we walked in the woods near their home and discussed the
logistics of Annes arrival in San Francisco. I brought her keys
to my condo and directions. Anne was concerned about the rent. She wanted
to pay me in advance, but I assured her that she could pay me when she
And so we parted, everything seemed quite organized.
I arrived back in San Francisco the day after a very close friend died.
All of Dougs friends and family were in shock. His sister and a
few of his closest friends began planning a large memorial service.
Anne arrived a few days later. All seemed well; she immediately gave me
eight one-hundred dollar bills, which I tucked away in my bedroom. I remember
that I was still tired from jet lag; in retrospect perhaps I should have
been more hospitable. I simply showed her around, said make yourself at
home, and help yourself to anything in the refrigerator, and went about
For the next few days our paths crossed but we both were busy. She was
in and out a lot buying groceries and supplies, finding neighborhood services.
One of my luxuries provided by the room rent was having a cleaning crew
in every other Saturday. My cleaning crew consisted of Jeannette and her
two teen age daughters. On Friday evening, I mentioned to Anne that the
cleaning ladies would be there on Saturday in the morning and that I was
having a group of friends in during the afternoon.
The friends were coming to discuss details of the memorial service for
Doug, but I doubt that I mentioned that. Anne met Jeannette and the girls
in the morning. Jeannette is young and lively and I heard her chatting
a bit with Anne before Anne took off. When Anne returned in the afternoon,
I was in the living room with Dougs friends. I introduced Anne;
she was pleasant but soon excused herself. Saturday evening was uneventful.
Sunday was a beautiful Indian summer day. Anne went out several times
that day for short walks and trips to the store. Monday, she was to start
work at the lab and she seemed prepared.
When she came out to prepare her dinner in the evening, I decided to make
myself a salad so that we could eat together. Again, we seemed to have
a nice visit during the meal preparations and while dining.
After dinner, I sat down at the computer in the living room and Anne went
to her room. Pretty soon she called to me and asked the whereabouts of
a package of toilet paper which she had bought. I walked down the hall
to her bathroom and she told me that on Saturday she had bought a four
roll package, put one roll on the roller and set the rest of the package
on the bathroom floor. I wondered why, since there was toilet paper in
the bathroom cupboard for her use.
I assured her that the cleaning ladies must have moved it. I opened the
bathroom cupboard, fully expecting to see the missing toilet paper. There
was other toilet paper there but the package that she had purchased was
not. Anne said that the toilet paper was in the bathroom after Jeannette
and the girls had gone, then she abruptly said that it didnt matter
and went off to her room. I took her at her word. It really didnt
matter, as far as I could see. It was somewhere in the house, it would
But a few minutes later, down the hall came Anne, heading for the washer
and dryer closet. As she opened the doors to the closet, she commented
that maybe someone had put the toilet paper in there. In retrospect, I
realize that she seemed a little frantic. I walked over to join her, expecting
to see the missing package. I commented, jokingly I thought, that finding
the package would be a relief, "because it would mean that my guests
hadnt stolen it." A joke that fell very flat, I must add.
She turned to me and screamed "Guests, you said they were cleaning
ladies!" I am not often at a loss for words, but I was too taken
back to answer immediately. Before I could point out that we had been
visited by both cleaning ladies and guests, she continued with "I
dont like this, Margaret!"
Thinking that she was now referring to things getting misplaced, and trying
to get on the same page as she was, I chimed in with "I dont
But she was now screaming "I dont like it. Youre playing
games with me!" This diatribe went on with her yelling at me that
I was nosy, (and here I had been worried about neglecting her), that she
wasnt happy here, that she had felt unwelcome since her arrival,
that she didnt want to stay with me and maybe didnt want to
stay in the United States.
Dumbfounded, I answered none of this. She finished, and abruptly went
to her room, slamming the door.
I was truly frightened of this volatile, unpredictable woman. I sat back
down at the computer and weighed my options. I decided that I would write
a letter asking her to make new living arrangements. I would leave the
letter on the kitchen counter for her to find in the morning when she
got up to go to work. Second, I would lock my bedroom door and barricade
it when I went to bed. Not a great plan, but the best that I could come
But, Anne was not to be calmed that night. Soon she stormed down the hall
dressed in sweats and her backpack. Since she had said that she no longer
wanted to stay here and since she was stalking to the front door, I asked
her if she planned to return. She rambled on about not being welcome and
that she was going out to call her husband. I cant even remember
what else she said but I became more and more concerned. Finally I said
"Anne, I want you out of here tonight."
Now she was dumbfounded. She raved some more and demanded to know why
in the world I would want her to leave.
I said, honestly and simply, "Because, I am afraid of you."
This also seemed to startle her.
I had no way of knowing whether physical violence was ever a part of her
tirades. What I did know, with certainty, was that I had no desire to
deal with this anger and paranoia even if I was not in jeopardy.
She ranted a bit more and then inquired, in a challenging way, if the
real reason that I wanted her out was because she was "married to
a black man." What understanding I gained from this strange question
of hers, was the lengths that people will go to deflect blame from themselves.
I was firm in repeating that I needed her to leave. She demanded to know
where she could go at that hour. I answered calmly, "You can call
a taxi and have the driver take you to a hotel or hostel. Ill give
you back the rent money as soon as you give me the house keys."
She seemed bewildered, but also belligerent. She said that she was new
to the country and didnt know how to do these things. I replied
that I would look up the phone numbers for taxi companies and for hotels
I knew that she had lived for several years in New York City, so she was
hardly a stranger in a strange land. If you can negotiate London and New
York City, San Francisco is a piece of cake. I also knew that she had
another safety net, a sister who had immigrated to the U.S. years ago
and who lived in a nearby suburb.
In retrospect, I realize that I did seem to have a lot of information
about her. Small wonder that a paranoid such as she would find a person
with my penchant for asking questions to be nosy.
She stormed back to her room and, the noises that were forthcoming told
me that she was probably packing. I got the yellow pages out and marked
the sections for taxis and hotels. Soon she yelled down the hall asking
when the taxi would be there. I asked how soon she wanted it and she yelled
back "As soon as possible."
While I was dialing the taxicab company, she ranted some more saying that
I could keep her food and the rent money. She immediately regretted saying
that and yelled that if I did keep her rent money, bad Karma would follow
I had no intentions of keeping anything of hers. I told her that I would
give her the rent money as soon as she gave me the keys to the house and
that the taxi would be here in 5 to 15 minutes. I was still in the kitchen
when I heard the clunking sound of something being thrown down the hall.
I retrieved the keys and went to get her money.
I fanned the money out so that it could be counted at a glance. I went
to the bedroom door and said "Anne, I am going to step in just to
lay this money on the bed", which I did. She seemed somewhat rational
for a moment and said "You should keep some for the time that I was
here." I just said "No," and went back to the kitchen.
By then, the phone was ringing and the cab had arrived. I told her that
the cab was downstairs and that I would go inform the driver that she
would be down in a few minutes. The cab driver looked like a nice man
who could suggest a place for her to stay that night.
By the time I got back upstairs she was in the lobby by the elevator with
her suitcases and her bed comforter. As she was loading things into the
elevator she tried to take the high road for a moment. She started by
saying "Well, goodbye Margaret, I wish you luck." And then she
fell into some more ranting about how she had been persecuted. I closed
my door without saying anything and gratefully turned the deadbolt.
It is a sad image that I will carry, that picture of her holding her comforter
and lugging those two big suitcases. But this woman was carrying a lot
more baggage than that. Whether she was capable of violence, I will never
know. I do know that her behavior was erratic and frightening.
And so, "Farewell Anne, with the lilting Scottish accent, I wish
you well. I am saddened by how our short relationship ended, but I have
no regrets about asking you to leave."
Final note on the toilet paper. After Anne left, I found the missing toilet
paper in the cupboard in my bathroom. Also, I found that Anne had left
some of the rent money that I had returned to her. We will never meet
again, but she obviously wanted to pay what she felt that she owed me.
I find this touching and honorable.
I called Jeannette the next evening. Jeannette checked with her daughters
and it seems one of them had put the toilet paper in my bathroom cupboard.
I packed up all of Annes food and kept it for a for a few days in
case she came back for it. When she did not, I took it to a nearby shelter.
I decided, however, to keep the toilet paper.
© Margaret ODay October 2007
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