The Shattered Man

I want that day back again, the day my friend leaped off his balcony. If I had been there, he wouldn’t have gone over.  I would have saved him.

 

It was two years ago one morning we met just by chance.  We agreed to meet for brunch that Friday.  We met every Friday after that for brunch at an old cafe in lower Manhattan. I liked walking in and seeing him sitting in our booth in one of his perfectly ironed plaid shirts, he had already ordered coffee for us.  A once handsome man, he still possessed the strong, tall body and upright carriage of a younger person. Tho his gait was slowing, his mind was agile and he longed to share the story of his long, difficult journey with depression.  His partner of 28 years had just died a few months earlier. He was sad, not that she was gone, he said, but that he had failed. He promised her, but he couldn’t keep her alive, despite all his research and good intention.  Our weekly meetings were mostly me listening.  He had Post Traumatic Stress and Major Depressive Disorder. He was on an anti-depressant that at one time, he said, made him suicidal. Now his dosage was more balanced, but he was forever in a state of high anxiety. The Fight or Flight reflex was in overdrive and he could only operate in Fight.  Every Friday he would show me some new research he’d done about the body and hormones and effects of this drug, how blood works, how this organ connects to that one, how maybe this thing was the reason his anxious mind was full of anger and sadness. How the doctors sometimes didn’t listen. How one doctor took him off his medication too fast, and he would have killed himself but a friend found him in time and took him to the hospital.

His facade was brusque, but he was kind and friendly and extremely giving. Everyone knew him. He could make your day better, always with a good word for a stranger. But inside he was screaming. His heart was shredded. Every day was a struggle.  Making me happy was one thing that made him happy. He enjoyed helping me with my projects; making frames for my paintings, shopping for stuff, giving me $20 here and there.  For a few hours, the darkness inside faded.

We had a lovely friendship and I started seeing him often. We would sit on his balcony under the green canvas awnings, and look out at the Brooklyn Bridge, watching the barges float by, and have a beer. We loved it out there.  “My desire for you is that you find someone to love,” he said one day. He started crying. “That’s all I want for you,” he told me. “You so deserve it.”

 

I’d been thinking of him so much that day. Our contact had dwindled over the last several weeks. He didn’t answer my emails, or return phone calls. Earlier that week, I called a friend in his building and asked if he was ok.  Yes, she assured me. He’s ok.  But this day I kept thinking how much I missed seeing him. I missed walking around his neighborhood. I want to go over and see if he will talk to me, I thought. I need to see if he’s alright. But the day was hot. It was just too hot.  I decided to stay home.

The next afternoon, I got an email from a mutual acquaintance. ‘How very sad you must be,’  she said, ‘I just heard of his death yesterday. Such a tragic way to go,’ she wrote.  NO! LIAR!!  He’d never do that, I thought. I pictured in one kaleidoscope moment all the things we did together over the past two years.  How could he plummet from a building?! Why now when I thought he was getting better?  I pictured him, his broken spirit, sitting in his big leather chair and at that moment it all became too much for him. Did he have a thought when he stepped up to the ledge? Was he crying? I wondered.  ‘Please accept my condolences,’ she wrote. ‘Is there anything I can do for you now?’  she offered.   Yes. Tell him my heart is broken. That I’m sorry. That I wish I’d saved him.

R.I.P most treasured friend. I’ll remember you always.

You never know..

Lunch

I met a friend for lunch the other day. Well not really a friend, I had only met her once before. So when I arrived at the restaurant I wasn’t sure if she was the one at a table in the far corner.  Reading the menu, her face was down. The hostess smiled at me as I perused the place.  Just then the woman at the table in the corner looked up and waved.  It was her. I smiled and waved as if, of course I recognized her and had just that minute walked in, arranging my scarf from the outside breeze.

We had met the week before at an art gallery; she and her husband were looking at a 19th century landscape and the husband started speaking about the provenance and how much it fetched at auction last year. He owned one by this artist but wasn’t sure of it’s authenticity, tho nonetheless, he liked his painting. We continued talking about the show and the art scene in New York in general  They used to own a gallery and had much of their inventory hanging on the walls of their apartment, they said. Come over for drinks, they said.

I love checking out [judging] people’s apartments so I said I’d love to. The next week on an unusually warm evening, I headed uptown to their apartment, a large and unassuming white brick high-rise. I arrived a tad after 6:30 (arriving on time, apparently, is something only old people do.)  The doorman announced my arrival and sent me up to the apartment in the elevator.  The door opened and they welcomed me into their small living space/art gallery, every wall covered with beautifully framed masterpieces.  We hugged (obligatory these days.)  The apartment was illuminated by a row of windows with early evening views of the city. I had to just stand there and take it all in. Save for the hundreds of thousands of dollars of art on the walls and a New York skyline view, it was quite modest. Aside from the unseen bedroom and bath, the place could be taken in with one glance.  Paintings were everywhere, displayed in rows, one piece on top of another, all with little gold plaques indicating title and artist.  We talked a bit and the husband poured us all a glass of Italian wine (the vineyard which they had visited, of course), and we noshed on cheeses and crackers and other interesting snacks from beautifully arranged plates. The man was excited for me to savor each piece in their collection, as we visited each one and he revealed the cost and current price and how they were acquired.  We all picked our favorites. It was a lovely New York evening and she and I agreed to meet for lunch soon. 

The next week at lunch, splitting a turkey club sandwich, she and I talked as if we’d been friends forever. She and her husband had a solid marriage and enjoyed each other. I envied her status: upper east side apartment, lots of money, traveling all over to buy and sell art, investing in beautiful objects, collecting fine wines. How happy and satisfied she must be, I thought. She has it all.  Over the next hour, tho, I learned her life was far more complicated, far less perfect. It really threw me and I realized I totally (mis)judged her life by her fabulous possessions.  She had tears in her eyes and thanked me for being there and listening. I told her I’d be here if she needed to talk.

I think we all mistakenly think everyone is more successful, has more, makes more.  We walk among the crowds of people, good looking, well dressed, smiling, ..they must be happy, right?  For many, their reality is dark, and sadly, only they live in this darkness. It’s such a harsh world, a lot of hate out there lately. Time to be kind, ask people how they’re feeling and listen fully. That cranky bodega guy may have a lot on his mind, and people rush in and out of his shop without a word.  A few kind words and a smile can’t really change lives but it’s a start. 

Sleeping Around

The noise machine plays static, what they call “Rain” tho it sounds more like a dripping faucet. I used it last night but I don’t really need it much anymore. It’s quiet here, very quiet until the early morning when the neighborhood starts to wake and an occasional car zooms past. Three years ago, I lived in an apartment that had no windows in the bedroom. There was a giant sliding barn door closing it off from the light of the oversized windows in the next room. I’d never seen a bedroom with no windows. But as I got used to the total darkness I really liked it. It was the silence that was foreign to me. The loft was on a cul de sac and even though it was completely urban there were no sounds. It was so quiet I needed a noise machine just to cut through that strange silence. From that silent haven I moved to a lovely neighborhood in Brooklyn, where my bedroom windows were just a short distance from honking and horn blasting and semi downshifting on the expressway. Despite the noise, I liked my little apartment, except for the occasional giant water bug that would come from nowhere and suddenly be at my feet.

I’m in a new place now, with no bugs. The neighborhood is quieter, there is a different kind of of culture. Things are cheaper, I don’t spend $4.00 on an avocado. There are some hipsters here, and people who look like me, but mostly the neighborhood has held onto its identity and it is still eastern European. There are bakeries who’s names have lots of consonants, markets with wooden fruit bins outside, and, like many New York neighborhoods, a non-homogeneous population. I like it. I am a minority here, a native English speaker. I live on a lovely block of 3-story brick Renaissance Revival row houses with bay windows. It is a designated historic district so I guess no one can build some crazy structure on the outside of their home or brick up the windows or anything. They all look pretty similar and sometimes walking back from the train, I can’t tell which one is mine right away.

Across the back patio there is a 6-story apartment building about 50 yards beyond, mushroom color painted over the brick. The fire escapes have some peeling paint and little trails of rust stains on the bricks make it look a little seedy. At night some of the windows have a warm, yellow glow. There are no window coverings at this time of the evening, twilight. That will come later. But for now we all enjoy a furtive glimpse of one another, yet there is no voyeurism. We feel connected, safe in our own space yet present to the daily rituals of our neighbors. There is the woman and her husband on the floor above mine, every night cooking dinner and having animated conversation. Her blonde hair reminds me of one of those cigarette ads in the old Life magazines. I imagine she is wearing pedal pushers. Her waist is tiny and she always wears a little belt. She frequently looks out the window at me, with a cocktail in her hand. I’m having a cocktail too, and glance up briefly. Above their apartment, there is harsh light from an old, round florescent ceiling fixture and the windows have sheer polka dot curtains. A kitty lives here and likes to sit on the sill in the sunshine. In the early evenings, the building has the look of an Edward Hopper painting. His dark underpainting and flat colors illuminate the stark beauty and highlight urban loneliness. Someone once said about Hopper’s work that ‘even a buzzing city doesn’t remedy isolation, but heightens it.’

We moved to this house only a month ago. There will soon be a grandchild here. I’m curious about the sex, but the parents don’t seem concerned. So we will just have to wait. Never dreaming of being a grandmother, I’ve arrived at this place with unexpected delight. I’ve already checked out the toddler activities at the library 2 blocks away. There will be challenges for the parents, raising a child in New York. Carrying a stroller down the subway stairs, for one thing. E.B. White wrote in his book Here is New York, “the city is uncomfortable and inconvenient; but New Yorkers temperamentally do not crave comfort and convenience – if they did they would live elsewhere.” A New York childhood –less grass, the constant chaos of traffic. but growing up in one of the most diverse cities on earth, she will learn to be inclusive and tenacious. She will learn to live closely with others who come from very different backgrounds. I’m looking forward to all the good things. And I won’t wake when the baby cries in the middle of the night. I will be two floors away with my noise machine.

friends across the way

 

Just Off Madison

A Sotheby's Auction

I came across these two well-dressed gentlemen several times during an evening of gallery hopping called “Just off Madison” (billed as an Open House of American Art at Private Art Dealers) on the Upper East Side.