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The International Writers Magazine:Living Arrangements

Adventure in House Sharing
• Margaret O'Day

I met her for lunch at a pub near St Bartholomew’s 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.
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 couldn’t 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.
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 Anne’s 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 can’t remember her husband’s 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 Anne’s 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 arrived.
And so we parted, everything seemed quite organized.

I arrived back in San Francisco the day after a very close friend died. All of Doug’s 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 my business.

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 Doug’s 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 didn’t matter and went off to her room. I took her at her word. It really didn’t matter, as far as I could see. It was somewhere in the house, it would turn up.

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 hadn’t 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 don’t 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 don’t either."

But she was now screaming "I don’t like it. You’re 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 wasn’t happy here, that she had felt unwelcome since her arrival, that she didn’t want to stay with me and maybe didn’t 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 up with.

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 can’t 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. I’ll 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 didn’t know how to do these things. I replied that I would look up the phone numbers for taxi companies and for hotels for her.
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 me.
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 Anne’s 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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