I have worked in the same office space for twenty years. It’s in a small house, built in 1949, and faces a park with paths and trees. I’m a therapist. Clients come to tell me their deepest hurts, how they’ve been broken by life and how they want to heal.
A year ago, the house that held my office was sold to investors. I began to pay rent to a property manager. The primary investors are dentists, and the property manager has the whitest, most even teeth. She tells me she likes plants and dogs, but people not so much.
Now the house holds business people: the property manager, an accountant, a young and perky marketing agent. To myself, I call them the teeth people. Still, I love my office and its comfort. I call out “good morning” as I come in for the day and turn on the electronic noisemaker for the privacy of my clients.
One month after the whole city was asked to shelter in place because of COVID-19, the property manager called to say she has something important to share. She went on to say the investors are exercising a small clause in my contract. The clause says I have to vacate in forty-five days. I cry as I try to understand. I’ve been here for twenty years. She says that if they allow me to stay it will bankrupt the investors. It’s an exaggeration, a lie—I can hear it in her voice. Then she says, “Who knew your clients used so much toilet paper?”
The following Monday evening I go to my office to bring my plants home. No one is there. I move through the enclosed back porch that served as the waiting room for my clients. As I try to get the tall pencil cactus in the back seat of my car without damaging its disorderly green branches, it all becomes clear to me.
She doesn’t want brokenhearted strangers, my clients, coming into the house, possibly carrying the virus along with their sadness and grief. Only safe teeth people are welcome. We’d all been wearing masks for weeks now. I realized she’d worn a mask for a year, I just couldn’t see it.
The small clause said I had forty-five days to clear out twenty years of my work, my life. I moved out in fourteen days.