I sat on the edge of my bed, did the math. I’d been on Family and Medical Leave from my teaching position for the past four months, my third leave in six years. My body could not promise me another year of health required for teaching. I realized I could not sign the contract laid out in front of me. I knew I had to retire at 62, years before I’d planned.
My salary covered my house payment each month. If my income were to be cut by a third, I could not make those payments. The money I needed to continue living in Northern Virginia was not there. I had to make a drastic change, move somewhere more affordable. But where?
I’d met Nancy Solomon two weeks before at a Passover seder at the synagogue in nearby Sedona. I’d been vacationing there. I pulled out her business card. Nancy was peddling vitamins. She said her special formula might improve my health, gave me her card. Now I wondered, Could living in or near Sedona restore my health, maintain my budget?
I dialed her number. Her voice sounded warm, restorative. I explained my situation. I needed a place to retire to within about three months. Did she have connections to help me if I moved to Arizona?
“Oh!” she exclaimed. “I was looking at my own budget. In order to make my house payments I need a roommate. Interested?”
I’d met Nancy once. I couldn’t picture her face. I only remembered how tall she seemed.
“I live in this gated community on a golf course fifteen miles from Sedona. Everyone here is over 55. I have two bedrooms. The second is on the other side of my house. You’d have privacy. Bring your furniture. We’ll figure out how your possessions fit in with mine. There’s plenty of room. Oh, and you have a dog? We’ll work him in, too.”
How did she know I had a dog? I knew I hadn’t mentioned him at the seder.
I had no other viable options. The rent Nancy wanted was 1/6th of the money I was paying for my Falls Church house. How bad could it be to live in the desert year-round?
“Oh. The summers? It doesn’t get above 100 very often. And we have these storms called monsoons. Whenever it gets hot, they cool everything off. You’ll be fine here.”
“I’ll get back to you.”
A few days later I called Nancy again. She had a delightful sense of humor. We both both loved wordplay. “I read two or three books a week. No television. I like it quiet.”
We started talking several times a week. She understood my health issues. “I work as a caregiver for the elderly. I know you aren’t elderly, but I have the skills to care for you, like bathing and shopping. And that’d be worked into your rent. No extra charge.”
I put my Falls Church house on the market. It would have to be a short sale. I staged my belongings.
“Take pictures of all your furniture. Then I can figure out how all your pieces fit with mine. You have a red velvet couch? It’ll go perfectly with my white leather lazy boy recliner. You have antique dolls? They’ll fit beautifully into my sun room. You own African artifacts? They’ll be right at home with my Egyptian gicles.” Not that I had ever heard of a gicle.
Nancy and I began to talk late into the evening. I shared my fears with her. Could I be happy miles from my family? Would I find health again? “Oh, I pray all the time,” she assured me. “Everything works out for me that way. My prayers will help you, too.”
What to do with Dubi, my 12 year old red tick hound? Would he fit in Northern Arizona? He loved the open space along the Potomac River. My friends took him there to run, off leash, three times a week. Nancy lived on a golf course. Would he find running space there?
“Don’t worry. I’ll advertise for someone to walk him. He’ll have to be on leash. Coyotes sometimes can be dangerous, you know. I’m praying. It’ll work out.”
Within a few weeks Nancy became a trusted confidante. Guarded, shy, I rarely shared my thoughts with family and friends. Here was a woman I’d met once, and she seemed to understand my fears even before I voiced them. I discussed plans with her. She murmured in agreement, assuring me frequently she prayed.
These plans moved along. My son made frequent trips to Falls Church, helped me pack. A friend’s son came over, showed me how to set up my computer, saved all my documents on discs. As a writer, I’d needed to get my files in order.
“You’ll be here in October,” Nancy announced during a phone call in July. How did she know? She and I’d been planning around a September 1 moving date. The night before I realized I still had too many loose ends to knit together in six weeks. The last time we talked we repeated to one another, “See you in September.” I hadn’t made this decision to move in October for myself, yet. And she seemed so sure. “I pray,” was her response.
One major issue remained, Dubi. He was elderly, and big, over 100 pounds. How could I move him? “It’ll work,” Nancy assured, “I pray.”
A week later, as I pet him, I felt a lump between his ribs. I took him to the vet, following one of his Potomac runs. The vet felt his growth. “That’s probably a cancerous tumor. I’ll do a simple biopsy.”
The vet was right. Within a couple of days Dubi’s health deteriorated rapidly. “He needs to be put down,” the vet said sadly. One less loose end.
“Oh, I know you’ll want a new dog. We’ll find one when you move here, name her Dodi. You like the name.” Nancy’s uncanny conversations continued. I’d never considered that name, hadn’t considered getting a female dog next.
I packed my final belongings, hugged my son good-bye. A moving van came. Everything I owned, even my car, moved onto the truck. I had my plane reservations. I’d arrive in Phoenix on a Tuesday evening. “Take the shuttle to Cottonwood. Stay at Best Western. I’ll pick you up Thursday. You won’t want to sleep in my recliner for too many days before your furniture comes.”
I didn’t hear from Nancy when I arrived in Cottonwood. She never answered her phone. She’d said, “See you Thursday,” so I waited. Thursday afternoon she walked into the motel office. “Hi Ann. Come on. We’ll go food shopping, then get dinner and go home.”
The warmth we shared on the phone did not translate as I expected. She stooped and gave me a formal, perfunctory hug. I noted her height, well over six feet, her stick-straight long brown hair drooping down to the center of her back, her severe bangs cut straight across her forehead.
“Oh, and this is our new little dog, ‘Dodi.’” She pushed a small stuffed dog with long red ears in my direction.
The grocery store we went to seemed small, dingy. I was used to large chains, not small health food stores like this. “I don’t allow food filled with chemicals in my house,” Nancy announced. “Find what you’ll eat here.”
Over the next few days Nancy laid out more and more rules for living in her house. “All garbage goes in the freezer until it goes out Thursdays. I don’t like that smell. I conserve energy. No overhead spotlights unless absolutely necessary. Prepare food with over-the-counter lights only. The others burn too much power. Oh, and I got bathroom granite counters for the kitchen. Water drops show up readily. Avoid them. I observe the Sabbath. No lights on after sunset Fridays, no phone calls.”
Friday morning Nancy took me to the library, the synagogue and the coffee shop where she had a muffin each morning. “Now you can find these places on your own. I work, and cannot be carting you around.”
My furniture and possessions arrived. They were too big, too chunky to fit into her home. I pored through my boxes to find my essentials, but noted I made no attempt to move my belongings into her house.
I spent days sitting on the side of my bed, fiddling with poems on my computer. Using Nancy’s phone was out. Her minutes were severely limited. I had no celI phone of my own. I couldn’t call my Falls Church friends.
Within a few weeks I surreptitiously began to look at ads for nearby rental homes. I was afraid to tell Nancy I didn’t feel comfortable in her house. When she returned home from work ten days later I scrambled to hide the house-rental flyers I’d been poring through “I think you’ll find your own rental house in another neighborhood on this golf course. You’ll move out next month. And that Dodi-dog we’ve talked about. She’s in Tucson. I’ll drive you down to retrieve her as soon as you move.”
I found my own house, where I lived for five years, a half-mile from Nancy, on her golf course. My belongings fit perfectly. I scanned the internet day after day, looking at shih-tzus, King Charles spaniels, and eventually doxies. I located a sweet looking mini dachshund with long red ears at a kennel in Tucson. The day after I moved in, Nancy picked me up and we drove to retrieve the little dog I’d named Dodi. She looked eerily like the stuffed dog Nancy had given me when I first arrived in Arizona, six weeks before.
I didn’t see Nancy again for over two years. I created my own life during that time, made new friends. One day I saw her at the health food store. Nancy towered over the carrots. I walked over, greeted her.
“Hello, Ann. I know you’ve done well here,” she remarked without looking up, “Remember. I pray.”
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"