GUESTWORDS: The Tenant

By Toni Hallock-Betts

    After the divorce, I had to rent my house each summer in order to keep up with expenses and somehow get myself through college. So when it didn’t rent one year, I had to resort to renting a few rooms, which was almost as distasteful to me as renting the whole house, maybe even worse.
    When I placed the ad in the paper, I told the person on the phone that I wanted to rent only to women, to which he replied, “You can’t specify gender in the ad. You can handle that when people call you.” One more problem to deal with.
    Wouldn’t you just know that the first person to call was a guy. When I told him I was renting only to women, and added that he wouldn’t be happy living in a house with three of them, he countered with, “I have four sisters and am used to living with women.”
    “I’m really sorry but I’m only going to rent to women!” I said.
    I had one room rented to a friend, Diane, who lived in the city and would be out weekends and on her vacation. My daughter, Denise, was coming home from her own college experience, and she and I were going to share the large den as a bedroom for the summer. That left me with two rooms left to rent, my bedroom and Denise’s. I rented one of them to a friend of my sister’s.
    Then the crazies started calling: “I know you said no pets, but he’s only a little dog.” And, “Hi, I saw your ad and wondered if my two sisters and I could share a room.” My answer was always no.
    When I had just about had it, the guy called again. “Look, I know you said you wouldn’t rent to me, but would you please just let me come over and talk to you?” And to this day, I don’t know why . . . but I said, “Okay.”
    An hour later, the bell rang, and I opened the door to find a rather strange-looking man on my doorstep. Keith had a big, burly brown beard that was quite overwhelming. He came in and we talked for about an hour. And to this day, I don’t know why . . . but I rented him a room.
    Summer arrived, and Denise, who came home with an attitude to begin with, decided she shouldn’t have to be put out of her room. This was solved when Diane graciously shared the den with me.
    “I would just as soon sleep here,” she said. “It’s lovely with the sliding doors going out to the patio.”
    “Thank you, Diane, this way I won’t have to kill Denise.”
    Summer came and went. Denise continued to grate on my nerves. Diane had no patience with Denise, and my sister’s friend annoyed all of us. You guessed it: The only decent tenant was
Keith. He was pleasant, insisted on mowing the lawn for me, and as he got to know my family and friends, we became friends ourselves.
    One day, near the end of August, he approached me. “I know we’re all supposed to move out after Labor Day, but would you consider letting me stay and share the house with you for the winter?”
    I laugh now, because even though I was 38 years old, my first thought was, “What would my father think?” Well, I dismissed the thought, and to this day, I don’t know why . . . but I said, “Sure, you can stay.”
    We found that we were compatible roommates, and, after a crazy summer, we had a pleasant, peaceful winter.
    The next summer, I rented the entire house and moved in with a friend. Keith moved out for the summer but moved back in for the winter. This was the pattern for the next two or three years, and we became good friends.
    Now the time came that Denise finished college and found a place of her own, so my tenancy in the house ended, and, as agreed upon in the divorce settlement, it had to be sold so the proceeds could be divided. I was panic-stricken over where was I going to go. This had been my home for 21 years.
    One day, Keith stopped by with a big smile on his face and said, “Guess what I did.”
    “What?”
    He waved keys in the air. “I finally bought a house!”
    I knew he had been looking for the past two years. I was very happy for him.
    Then he said, “I’m looking to get someone to do a house share, and my friend John said he might be interested, but I wanted to ask you first.”
    Of course I said yes and moved in, but, ironically, now he was the landlord and I was the tenant, and I started paying him rent.
    It turned out that we really liked being together, started to travel a bit, and as if this story isn’t crazy enough, a few years later we fell in love and were married — 16 happy years in April.
    All the years that I was single, my mother used to say, “Why don’t you go out more? Do you really think some man is just going to show up on your doorstep one day?”



    Toni Hallock-Betts is a retired psychotherapist and a former adjunct professor of psychology at Suffolk Community College. She lives in Sag Harbor.