My son and daughter-in-law had been after me for years to move from upstate New York to North Carolina. "It's so cold up there," they said. "Things are hopping down here," they said. "You'd find a job in no time, and you'd love the winters."
"I'd hate the summers, though," I said.
"Everything's air conditioned," my son said. I laughed.
"That's like saying everything's heated up here in the winter," I told him. You still have to go outside sometime! My job is here, my family is here, my house is here, my life is here, my friends are here. No way do I want to move 12 hours away to sweltering summers where I'd be just as closed in as I am here during the winter. Forget about it!
But things change. Life changes, even when things have been the same for so long you don't think they ever will change. Friends and marriages can die. Jobs can change and become threatened. Other friends can move away or become involved in things that take them away from you. And your daughter can up and move almost as far away as that son, so that all your children and grandchildren are down South, and the son has a son who I will not be able to watch grow up if I don't move down there. Damn it.
Oh, well, 66 isn't too old to start a new life, is it? Of course not. Sixty is the new 40 or something. I fixed the house up, as much as I could afford to and put it on the market. I started looking on Zillow for houses down in my son's neighborhood and quickly learned I'd be living a few miles away from him—certainly not next door, which was good. We'd both need our privacy. I started getting mildly excited about starting a new life in a state twelve hours away from next door to Canada. No more spending six months a year with feet of snow on the ground. That would be a nice change. Maybe after a few months of warmth, my feet would thaw out. There were several colleges in the area I was moving to, and all I was looking for was part-time teaching work, so with a master's degree and thirty-four years of experience, I shouldn't have any trouble finding work. So my mortgage payment would be bigger than it had been for the last twenty-three years. It's cheaper living in the South, right? No snow tires. No paying someone to plow my driveway. No huge heating bills all winter. And people were looking at the house.
And they looked. And more people looked. But there were no offers. I lowered the price. There was one offer that was seriously a joke. I lowered it again, and finally, a year and three months after putting it on the market, I finally sold it for about $20,000 less than I was hoping to get for it. Things are not good in upstate New York these days, I heard. Really?
They're sure good in North Carolina. I had two days over Christmas vacation to find a house. My daughter, daughter-in-law, and oldest grandson went on the hunt with the real estate agent and me to see three houses she'd picked out. We all agreed to reject the one with the vertical driveway, hole in the ceiling, and swamp in the backyard, but the second one was the winner. Cul-de-sac and huge backyard for the four dogs. Fireplace and high ceilings for me. Forty minutes away from my son, his wife, and my youngest grandson, and sort of within my budget. It was perfect. I was ready to start my new life. I load the dogs and cats in a rented RV and drive the 12 hours to my new, empty house.
The first problem is the movers. Three days later than promised, the lovely man with the moving truck arrives to tell me I owe him $1,500 more than the amount that had been agreed upon and that I have a cashiers check for. "I can write you a check," I tell him.
"Cashiers check or money order," he says. I don't have a bank here yet, and I have a $300 a day limit on my debt card from my bank up north, so I can't buy a money order for that much. He drives away with everything I own—everything. Furniture, dishes, my bed, my kids' baby pictures, my clothes. I will not see them again for three months. And, yes, I will have to pay the extra $1,500, plus another $500 for a lawyer to act as intermediary for me.
I do discover some kind, generous people at this point who help. Friends of my son and daughter-in-law and friends of mine from back home chip in dishes and clothes and silverware and gift cards. The surly garage mechanic who criticized my bumper stickers and my car (a Scion iQ, which I love) overheard me telling my tale of woe to his office manager and slipped me two $100 bills as I was leaving to "go buy yourself some clothes." He said he is part Cherokee and hates to hear about people being robbed. I will never forget him.
A couple of weeks later, on the way home from a trip to see the lawyer, I turn left on a green arrow and am suddenly confronted by a car that ran the red light that enabled me to turn. I realize I can't stop in time, close my eyes and wait for the crash. It was impressive. I walk away with a couple of small bruises. My beautiful Scion iQ sacrificed his life for me. It is my first ever accident in 45 years of driving. I am able to replace the car with the same make, model, and year, but now I have a car payment, since the insurance didn't cover quite the full cost of the "new" car.
Money is now getting low. I have applied for part-time jobs at a few area colleges, but classes won't start for several months. I have used up all the money I got from the sale of my house on the move and replacing the things I had to replace just to live and not walk around naked or in the same few winter things I came down in. I am forced to borrow money from my brother, but I know I will be able to pay him back as soon as I start working in the fall. He knows I'm good for it.
The following month my oldest dog, who is 11 and has outlived her prognosis with cancer, finally has to go. This does not improve my state of mind.
At last, three months after I moved into my house, my belongings are released from the hostage situation. My son and his brother-in-law bring everything in, and I start unpacking boxes. It's like Christmas in July; I find things I'd forgotten I had, but the real joy is when I find my summer clothes. I knew I'd lost weight during my time in my new home, but without a scale or my old clothes, I had no way of knowing how much. When a pair of shorts that had been snug last summer literally fell off when I tried them on, I knew I'd lost quite a bit. When I found the scale, it turned out the stress had lost me seven pounds. I don't recommend it as a weight loss plan, but at least something positive had come from my run of bad luck, which now was over, I hoped.
As July ended and I unpacked the last box, I realized I hadn't heard anything from any of the colleges I'd applied to, and classes were going to start soon. The unthinkable occurred to me: was I not going to get a job? As the days passed with no word, it hit me. The worst had happened. All the bad things—the moving scam, the car accident, the loss of my dog—all of that became minor in the face of no job. I have retirement and social security, but they are just a little too short to cover my monthly expenses. And there is that $3,000 I owe my brother. I hit rock bottom.
And it's not just the money, although that is certainly a big concern. It's fall, and I'm not in a classroom for the first time in 35 years. I went to visit one of the campuses I've applied to one day, just to show my face and look around, and the sight that took my breath away were—students. I realized how much I missed them. Oh, I have had some doozies through the years—one young man who told me "Nobody teaches this stuff anymore," and another returning student who asked me if I ever updated my reading list (you know, Shakespeare and Browning being so old fashioned, in other words, classics). I have had students give me looks that if looks could kill, I would have been dead years ago. But I have also had students who I looked forward to seeing each class, students who lit up my semester, students who made me laugh (with them, not at them—never at them). I missed having a classroom to walk into and students to talk to and teach. I don't just teach. I am a teacher, and a teacher with no students, no school, who is empty. And broke.
I'd like to say this story has a happy ending, but it doesn't, yet. I'm not sorry I moved. I love it down here: I love being close to my son and his family. I love the weather, especially now that it's fall and cooler, and I'm not afraid of what's coming. I can enjoy fall for the first time in my life without dreading six months of winter following it. I love my new house, although having mowed that big yard that is so wonderful for the dogs many times this summer in the heat, I wonder, what was I thinking? They are small dogs; they could have lived well with a much smaller yard that wouldn't have taken me days to mow. I just need to get back to work, back into the classrooms that I miss, back to the paychecks I need. Life will never be perfect; I don't expect it to be. But somewhere between perfect and where I am now, there is a place I would like to be. Hopefully some day soon I will be there.