Montauk

“The walrus and the carpenter were walking hand in hand, if only this were swept away, it would be grand”.

There is a special calm that descends when I take those steps down the sandy path to the beach. Early morning is the best, with gulls and sandpipers for company. The constant rhythm of the waves and the smell of salt walk with me. I walk for a while, feet sinking into the cold grains of sand, the Atlantic chill hits my ankles.

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P.T.S.D.

I have seen and evaluated many individuals with PTSD. It is a stubborn entity that does not relinquish its hold easily. A woman I have seen on a number of occasions was at work during a robbery and the assailant made her lie down on the floor and held a gun to her head while he emptied the safe. Her husband came to pick her up and take her home. Ellie, as I will call her, went home and did not leave the house for several months with the exception of quick trips to CVS with her husband or a doctors appointment. She kept the shades drawn and would not even tend her much loved garden. She remained awake most night and slept fitfully when dawn broke. When I saw her she shook uncontrollably. Her eyes filled with tears that dripped down her cheeks with a life of their own. She could only say that her life was no longer her own. She felt she was now living on borrowed time and could not plan for or think about a future past the moment she was in now.

A man I will call Neill was involved in a near fatal MVA, his car was struck and spun around in a circle, he lost consciousness and awoke in the ambulance. Since this happened he has been unable to drive more than five minutes from home, to work as an artist or make love to his wife of many years. He has repetitive dreams of burning explosions and of flying through a dark sky. He tells me that the worst part is feeling a total lack of control over his present day life. He cannot work because his work is an extension of himself and he no longer really feels that he exists. He finds himself unable to pre-order a book on Amazon because he has no expectation that he will see that future date. He lives from day to day and  cannot envision that date when he would be able to download the book and begin to read.

Judy has been a special education teacher for almost thirty years. Last month an autistic student assaulted her in the hallway where she stood talking to anther teacher. She struck her head against the concrete wall and saw stars. Fully expecting to return to work within a week or two, she still finds herself unable to even drive by her former school. When she tried to do so, she had to pull over to the side of the road due to a full-fledged panic attack. She found herself unable to breathe and became lightheaded and dizzy. She expresses feeling angry that her life has been short-changed. She is afraid to go the gym and cannot read or enjoy knitting. She no longer experiences joy. Her new grandson elicits no pleasure from her when she holds him in her arms.

Neill expresses best what everyone else tries to articulate. There is no life anymore; he feels dead inside, as though in some essential way, his life came to an end on that day, in his totaled Subaru facing the wrong direction. Anything that happens now and going forward is merely a sugar flower on the cake and of no real substance. That flower cannot really keep him alive or provide sustenance whether it be psychic or nutritive. Who is he now that he is no longer alive inside?

I wonder about this inner deadness. There is no real expectation of change. Neill, Judy and Ellie remain in psychic limbo and even the most talented clinician is only witness to their frozen pain.

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60

This summer I became 60. It’s the oldest I have ever been and some days I feel that is old.

My roots suddenly seemed to turn grey, had Botox on my forehead and around my eyes for the first time. That pain in my neck is there every morning. But I get on that SoulCycle bike and feel a sense of power and strength. I feel full of possibilities, energy and stamina (most of the time).

I sense an eventual ending, an awareness that was never there before. The realization that this life is finite and I really do have to make something of it, no matter how seemingly small. It’s time to give and give back, not simply to get and to take.

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Biscayne Bay

The bay from our apartment on West Ave. one early morning . This view fills me with peace and a sense of well-being, no matter the time of day. Just after sunrise is as calm as sunset can be as exuberant.

The night sky line has its own particular allure.

When I stand on my walkway or sit outside my front door, I breathe deeply and feel a sense of completeness.

Although this view is somewhat new to me I feel that I have been waiting for it to arrive. From the first trip with Zoe to stay at the bay view hotel two blocks away, to now, from my own apartment that I dreamed of being in and calling Home.

This place in a less than perfect world speaks to me, it has a history that includes my family, it has this time now and it has a sense of future possibilities, depending on what I can and will create.

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Watering Can

girls and me

I have been absent for the past several months. I wrote and wrote so many pages, I don’t know where it all came from, somewhere inside me. Then it felt as if I had emptied a large container of water onto a thirsty plant that drank and drank until the water spilled over the edges. I soaked the geranium and it blossomed. There was no more water in the watering can and I didn’t know where to go to fill it up so I simply stopped. The thoughts, feelings and memories dried up. The urge to write evaporated as if a drought had set in.

Perhaps all of this rain has loosened something within me and I can resume this activity that produced in me such satisfaction. I have been involved in the outside world and less so with the internal world. But, a balance is needed in order to survive and to thrive.

My daughters feel like those geraniums that I soak with the water of my love, attention, nurturing and worry. While one is already living and working in the wider world with success, the other is grasping at the final holds of college and clawing her way out, to what, she knows not. I focus on their needs and aspirations, sometimes forgetting that I too must strive and thrive or I will develop the crunchy brown leaves of neglect. I can divert my gaze, they will be fine.

A day spent in the jurors room and courtroom 415 at The Bronx County Courthouse. I am being vetted for a case and assume by tomorrow that I will be excused. The overwhelming majority of the jurors bear the marks of a hard life. I am a noticeable minority in a number of ways. I sit, in my Burberry raincoat, neat black pants, diamond stud earrings and feel the unwelcoming and curious gaze of several woman. I feel a bit like Alice Through The Looking Glass. Nothing is as it seems. I know as little of these other woman as they know of me, yet we share the time, waiting to decide the fate of one we know little of as well.

 

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Another Mother

photophoto

My best friend’s mother was another mother to me. Sue showed me how to tweeze my eyebrows and how to shake hands with someone and look at them directly in the eye. She taught me how to dress in simple colors with a few well chosen pieces. Sue was a petite woman with slim hips and a curvy busom. She had large blue eyes with a startling clarity and a puff of brown and then blond hair depending on the year. Sue looked people straight in the eye and stood a bit too close for my comfort. Her gaze was steady and unwavering. To be on the receiving end felt a bit like she was climbing inside my skin with me. 

Sue wore Halston cashmere sweaters and slim fitting pants with narrow Italian leather boots. She carried a well worn Louis Vuitton tote and wore a small silver Elsa Peretti “Bean” around her neck and diamond studs. Sue believed in nutritionists and massage before I had heard of either. She told me where go to in the East 40’s for electrolysis to remove faint upper lip hair. “You must go to “Marie Gedris””, she said. Marie and her sister Anne were Eastern Europenan athestheticians whose salon was a small dark office suite divided into partitioned areas where they performed facials and hair removal. I went for twenty minutes once a week for several months. Longer than twenty minutes was too painful to endure. 

Sue loved art and dance. In later years she became a talented painter but in these years, she spent most of her time taking Jazz dance classes at “Luigi”, decorating the family apartment and a house in the South of Spain. She shopped at Bendel’s and Bergdorf’s. She wrote a bit,and lavished attention on her small white Maltese named Prudence.

<p The family home on East 69th street consisted of two apartments that had been converted into one large one. Everything was white, with some bursts of color in the form of woven Turkish wall hangings, large plants and a few pieces of carved antique furniture. The terraces became an indoor solarium. The living room was quiet and serene. The floor was covered in taupe Berber carpet. The kitchen had stainless appliances, and a center island. The floor was terra-cotta tile. The walk in pantry was a miracle of organization, so different from my mother's jumble of soups, crackers and dusty jello boxes. In the freezer were neatly arranged pints of Hagen-Daaz ice cream that wouldn't have  lasted a day in my house. Clarice, a part African American, part Native American woman with a gruff manner and a kind heart stood watch over the family comings and goings at her kitchen post. 

I became a part of the background of family life thanks to Sue. The many days I stayed for dinner at the long banquette table and then spent the night, formed the backdrop of my high school years. My best friend Mindy’s room was tucked away next to her brother’s room, and had originally been part of the second apartment. A built-in door opened silently onto a tan carpeted hallway. In her room everything was built-in and out of sight. No left over dolls, stuffed animals, books, clothes were ever seen. Her bed was white, and made up with high thread count Porthault linens. So different from my room with its overflowing bookshelves and brightly colored bedspread. 

 

Sue and her husband Dave’s room was artfully tucked away behind another built-in door and a short hallway that provided privacy and silence. Her closet was a large room and when standing in the middle I could turn to all sides and see neatly folded stacks of neutral colored cashmere sweaters, silk shirts on padded satin hangars and multiple pairs of black and brown leather boots and shoes. There were Hermes and Louis Vuitton handbags and a small chest for jewelry. 

 

Sue taught me many things, among them how to carry myself so that I felt pretty and how to read a recipe. She taught me how to pack a suitcase and how to converse with people older than I.
One Christmas vacation I went with the family to Spain. We went to Madrid and Barcelona. I missed my grandmother’s Christmas Day brunch. We went to the Prado and had tapas at midnight. We ate pieces of chocolate tucked into small rolls. We went to the Picasso Museum. That following summer, I went with Sue, Dave and Mindy to Agua Amarga, a small fishing village in the south of Spain. Dave, an architect, had bought property he hoped to develop. He had also purchased a whitewashed house in the small town overlooking the Mediterranean. Sue decorated the house with simple wooden furniture, antique religious artifacts and cast iron lighting fixtures, giving the angular home a feel of the middle ages. Mindy and I shared a small bedroom with a window that looked out onto the sea. There were two small beds and an antique dresser. We spent the mornings on the beach slathered in orange Bain de Soleil. When the sun climbed to it’s midday position, it grew too hot for us and we retreated indoors for lunch and a siesta. By afternoon, we watched the fisherman drag in their nets from the narrow beach. In the evening we often ate in the one restaurant in the village. There was tomato salad with pungent olive oil and platters of lightly fried calamari fresh off the fishing boats. The adults drank Spanish wine long into the night.

That summer I became close to Mindy’s younger brother Jeff. Jeff was eleven months her junior. They had been raised practically as twins. He was thin, quiet and neat in everything he did. The polar opposite of my brother at home. Jeff was my “other brother”. That summer we bonded and formed a quasi romance. I think it was propelled by our vaguely outsider status to the intense triangle that consisted of Mindy, her father and her mother. They were a powerful triad. Mindy and her father often were engaged in a battle of wills. Mindy and her mother were extremely close and vied for Dave’s undivided attentions. Dave spent a great deal of time, attempting to inculcate values, beliefs and certain aesthetic sensibilities in both his wife and daughter.

It was often a bit strange to be an outsider to this heavily charged group. Thus, Jeff and I banded together. We ate, went to the beach and I think spent one afternoon kissing, but I don’t quite remember.

Eventually, my thoughts began to drift towards home and I longed for the familiar, albeit off center family dynamics of my parents and brother. Sue recognized my discomfort and made arrangements for me to fly home a week or two before the rest of her family. I was glad to be back in my air-conditioned room high above the humid, deserted streets of the upper east side.

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1125

late '13 051

These four numbers are the sum of the world where I grew up. My house number; 1125 Park avenue. I lived there from 1960 to 1978. I don’t remember anyplace before and when my mother moved to a smaller rental apartment on York avenue, my “room” was a converted dining alcove.

In the early years there was an Irish doorman named Paul. His long coat had epaulets and he wore a stiff hat with a brim. When he hailed a cab it was with a mighty silver whistle. A uniformed elevator man took me up to the fifteenth floor and down again to the lobby or to the second floor where my best friend Laura lived. He knew all of us by name and the names of everybody’s dogs. There was a service elevator with an elevator man too. The service elevator was for our maid (yes, we called Eleanor a maid at the time). It was for the milkman, who brought glass bottles of milk and cottage cheese, the dry cleaning that was delivered from Black and White Cleaners, and for groceries from Gristede’s on Lexington and eighty-eighth street. It was also for Virginia who came once a month to do heavy cleaning. It was also for meat that was delivered from the butcher in East Harlem who my mother called several mornings a week from the phone in her bedroom to place her order.

The building had a bike room crowded with kids bicycles and dusty outgrown baby carriages. It is also home to flexible flyer sleds and rusty scooters. Each apartment also had a storage room, closed with metal gates and a padlock. Families relegated their large, leather suitcases, flexible flyer sleds, cribs or old golf clubs. It was always dark and musty in the storage area, a bare bulb or two encased in a metal cage, the only lighting.

There were three wings, A, B, C. We lived on the A wing, it was of course the best, I was convinced. We lived in 15 A. Above us was the Penthouse. We actually lived on 14 however, since there was no 13 as that would have been considered bad luck. The Penthouse was home to a portly family. Dad was a physician, and there were two portly sons. Mom had a late in life pregnancy, but no one realized it until she brought home a baby girl. She never looked pregnant due to her portliness.  

When the elevator stopped at our floor the door opened onto a small foyer with one apartment on each side. Ours was the one to the right, the “B” apartment was to the left. There was a black and white marble floor and art that my parents had placed there that was considered appropriate to look at while waiting for the elevator but not good enough to go in the apartment. This consisted of several Hieronymus Bosch prints; including The Garden of Eden and Hell. I spent hours over the years in increments of several minutes, mesmerized by these prints. Their imagery forever etched in memory as I waited for the elevator to go to school, to ballet class, to visit Laura, or go to ride my bike.

My mother rarely locked the front or the back door, thinking that because the elevator man had to bring the individual directly to your floor that is was safe. While this was usually the case, we were robbed on at least two occasions of silver and some jewelry. Even this did not stop her from leaving the door unlocked in spite of my father’s protestations.

Eleanor lived in Brooklyn, a place I had never seen. She was from Jamaica. There were years when she “lived in”, and then as my brother and I got older, she lived out, and came on the subway everyday. She often stopped at Cake Masters and brought something for me as well, a muffin or small piece of pastry in a waxy paper bag. When Eleanor lived in she had a small room and a bathroom off of the kitchen. Her room was like another world for me. It had a distinct odor of Tiger Balm that she kept in a small tin on the old dresser my father had placed in the room. There was a single bed with a chenille bedspread, and a metal lamp on a wooden nightstand. She had a small black and white television at the foot of the bed on the dresser top. It was here that I watched “All My Children” and Gidget.  Her bathroom was a narrow space. It had a tub and shower that she also used for drying hand washing of my mother’s. The sink was small and stained.

Sometimes the phone rang for her during the long afternoons. Our phone number was Templeton (TE) 1-7288. If I picked it up I knew it was usually Hyacinth or sometimes the deep Jamaican lilt of a man’s voice asking for “Dawkins”, this was her last name. Even when I tried to eavesdrop, their cadences and dropped vowels made it impossible for me to understand.

Eleanor cleaned our eight room apartment every day. Every day she made the beds, did the laundry, mopped the kitchen floors, dragged around the vacuum, scoured the bathtubs and toilets and put away what ever we did not. Although I was tidy as was my father, my mother and brother were not. I usually made my bed and spent time doing my own hand wash and hanging up of leotards and tights. My brother left piles of dirty clothes and toys strewn across the floor of his room. My mother had an adult version of this, the floor of her walk in closet was littered with piles of discarded, old cashmere turtlenecks and black wool pants. Our curly white poodle Morgan could usually be found nesting in a corner atop some of these garments. Above my parents bedroom and her closet was the Penthouse terrace. There was always a leak somewhere, causing wet areas and cracks to appear on their ceiling and a moldy odor in her closet. There were also huge water bugs causing me to startle and scream when I came across one in her closet or once on top of a pile of napkins in a kitchen drawer.

My mother had a beautiful old carved mahogany bureau with a pink and white swirled marble top. A huge carved gilded mirror hung above the dresser. The dresser top was cluttered with small photos and a porcelain box. The top drawer was a cluttered mess of silk scarves, broken jewelry, lipstick stained tissues, belts that no longer fit her waist and expired passports. The drawers below held an only slightly neater collection of nightgowns, sweaters, stockings and more scarves.

My father had something I was told was called a “highboy”. It was a tall carved wooden dresser that held all of his personal effects and clothing. On it’s surface he had a small wooden box that held cufflinks, and a picture of himself as a barrister in a white powdered wig. The drawers held boxer shorts, tall black dress socks, shirts folded with the red cellophane tape from the Chinese laundry and stacks of white tee shirts. Suits hung in his own closet as did his few non-work items. He had a navy blazer with a Trinity College, Cambridge University patch on it. He also had a tweed jacket with leather elbow patched sleeves. My mother seemed to take up most of the space both emotionally and with her scattered belongings. There was an upholstered chaise lounge near the windows where she would sit in the afternoons with a cup of tea and the latest New Yorker. Next to it was a white wood stand that held a large telephone and the White and Yellow Pages as well as her worn address book with its illegible names and numbers scribbled in felt tipped pen. Once, I had dared my brother to write on the white wood with a turquoise crayon. He had done so and I immediately called out loudly to my mother who was in the shower to tell her what he had done.

 

 

My parents room and the living room faced Park avenue, the cabs cruising up and down, the trees in the middle and the “Brick”Church just one block north were seen from the window.

Their bed was actually two twin beds with one teak headboard, and a brass hook at the bottom connecting them. When made up with the large bedspread the beds appeared to be one King sized bed. I thought all parents had a bed like theirs. My mother slept with several pink rollers in her hair, a satin mask over her eyes and strange waxy earplugs in her ears to block out what little street noise penetrated the fifteenth floor.

On days off from school after my father had left for his office, I would sometimes take his spot and watch television while my mother did what I referred to as her “Londin’s”. She would call the butcher, the pharmacy, and place the morning call to her own mother, just thirty blocks south in her “Tower” apartment at the Sherry Netherland. When it could be delayed no longer, she rose to shower and dress in the Park ave. matron appropriate uniform of the day. This included stockings with a garter belt, a girdle, a suit skirt and jacket with a jeweled pin on the lapel. If it was winter, this was finished with a mink coat and leather handbag that she rarely remembered to close fully. A mink hat was sometimes added if she had to attend a charity meeting or lunch that she abhorred. My mother much prefered a piece of pickled herring out of a jar, or a tuna sandwich and a TAB drunk from the pink can.

Once dressed and a few words about the day were exchanged with Eleanor in the kitchen, my mother descended the elevator to complete her errands in the neighborhood. She might cross north to 91st street and step into Schmidt Pharmacy to purchase toothpaste or refill a prescription. It was here that I also went alone to buy last minute birthday party gifts, always consisting of Tinkerbell powder or when a bit older, Jean Nate body splash. Sometimes she brought a my father’s black wingtip shoes to the shoe repair on Madison and 92nd and visited the small lending library next door.

When I went with her we would go to the Society Library on East 79th street where we had a membership. We would browse the dim and dusty stacks, bringing home books to peruse for the next few weeks. If it was Fall, we might go for school shoes at Indian Walk on Madison and 75th street where Mr. Adler was always there. Afterwards we went to Zitomer’s up the block. At the counter we ordered egg creams and BLT’s and my mother instructed me on the lingo of the short order chef; “Adam and Eve on a raft”, among her favorites. We might take a taxi to Saks Fifth Avenue to the girls department for back to school clothes or a party dress. It seemed to me that I never made it out of the 4-6x department even though my tastes gravitated to the Junior Miss. Here, we were always helped by Mrs. Goldfarb. It was my mother who once quietly pointed out the faded numbers tattooed on her inner arm. My first Holocuast lesson had begun while trying on jumpers in the girls fitting room.

When finished it was always “Charge and Send Please”, my mother having no left over tolerance for having purchases wrapped or bagged. We took a taxi home and she went to her chaise lounge and waited for Eleanor to bring her a cup of tea which she drank while Morgan sat on her lap. It was years before I realized that I could in fact take home with me what I bought without waiting days for the UPS man to deliver it.

I went to my floral carpeted bedroom to listen to records of The Nutcracker or Swan Lake or perhaps called Laura; EN (Enright) 2-2436 and we arranged for a hasty game of school to take place in her huge walk in closet that we pretended was a one room schoolhouse.

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