The landlord gave me thirty days.
The letter came out of the blue. In the mail. An official letter with a return receipt attached that I had to sign so the mailman could tell the sender that I’d gotten the letter, held it in my hands. My eviction notice was delivered to me. I was dumbfounded, paralyzed.
The landlord’s daughter lived downstairs. My daughter and I lived in the upper flat and she and her husband lived downstairs. Once a month I drove six blocks and put my rent in her father’s mailbox. He lived in a house with a porch sagging on to the front lawn. I never knocked on the door or rang the bell. I just put the rent in the box and fled. I didn’t ever want to see my landlord. I just wanted to be on time with the rent.
And I was on time. Every month. I had lived in my upper flat for five years, since 1977, and in those five years I’d gotten divorced from the man whose name was on the lease, I sent my daughter to the grade school a block away, put together her bicycle by myself on Christmas Eve, took all of her friends ice skating for her birthday and came back to our flat for tuna casserole and cake that I made from a box. I drove a yellow Volkswagen. We had a cat named Raindrop.
What had I done wrong? Oh, the landlord said, there’s nothing wrong. My other daughter needs a place to live, he said, that’s all.
And so she would take our place. And we were to have no place. Everything would have to change.
I was frantic. In the years since my divorce, I had tread water. I’d asked my husband to get me set up in a new place before we split up, asked him to put his name on the lease. I kept his last name and lived a long time as if my husband was just away rather than gone. Even though I was the one who wanted a divorce, I lived life as pending. It made no sense.
I wanted him to come back and find us a new home. I wanted him to make sure we were safe and then leave again.
I found an apartment several blocks away and gave the new landlord the security deposit and first month’s rent. And then I found another place that would let us keep Raindrop and I asked the first place for my money back and the guy said no. So then I asked my father for money, something I had never done in my life, and he sent me a thousand dollars telling me it was unwise to loan money to relatives so it was a gift. I never told him about the cat.
Two men from work helped us move. They argued outside in the rain about how to load our furniture in a station wagon, each one wanting to be more expert at moving than the other. I yearned for my ex-husband or my father to come take control.
As it got later that last night when the landlord said I had to be gone, we piled more and more into boxes, balancing things that were precious to me, taking chances that things would break but being more concerned about complying to the letter of the letter.
I had been evicted. I had to leave and take my broken things with me.
And learn how to fix them on my own.