Posted while Florence was declining, I was in touch with the woman she had been in love with, involved with and in war with since they were teenagers. Today, with gay marriage now legalized, I wonder what their life would have been like if only the world had loved their love as they had.
All the other gay seniors rode. In the convertible, on the bus, in wheelchairs.
But not Florence.
She was in her 60s. She had waited her entire life to walk down a street as who she really was. And she wasn't going to give up that walk for anybody or anything.
It had to have been twenty-five years since all three of us were in the same room.
What unfolded was a living moment of the memory I loved the most, a rare one of childhood being happy, almost like the families I saw in picture books at the library.
It was when the whole family was home at the same time, probably a Sunday afternoon. Florence would be practicing in the other room, billions of music molecules building her cocoon from family life.
The three of us would gather around the Formica folding and extending kitchen table, before us that special maybe once-a-week but probably more like once-a-month bowl of ice milk and potato chips.
Then Dad would start telling jokes and jokes and jokes, as many as the notes pouring out of Florence's fingers. And we would laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh. Belly grabbing, tears pouring out of our little girl eyes, nose snorting, almost peeing but refusing to go because no one wanted to break the spell with a bathroom break, full-out laughing.
I wanted those jokes and that ice cream to last forever. Like the magical replenishing bowl I once read in a fairytale, I wanted that fun and joy to never end.
At some point Florence would appear in the kitchen door reminding us it was our turn to practice.
Just a couple of days ago, the crisis of care needing to be brought into this place he now calls home, we sat together briefly, less than two hours. He may not have remembered who had visited him just that morning or if the physical therapist was coming the next day. But within minutes of us sitting down, just us three, jokes and jokes and jokes poured out and my sister and I, like little girls, laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed.
Once again, chirpy accents that tinkle like fairy bells broadcast news there's been another "episode" of old age winning the battle against a desire to do something simple. Like, get a glass of water or walk to another room.
California sunshine fills even the dankest of hospital rooms and the pissed off roommate is more polite about how pissed he is than I am with good friends who say something stupid.
My father keeps saying when, when, when do I go home when are we getting out of here when do we leave and I keep saying soon soon soon soon we're getting out of here soon we're going to leave soon we go home.
But soon is no longer an abstract concept that invites patience. It is only the panic of a memory that doesn't remember itself.
And home now becomes ground that shifts and undulates like an earthquake, making haven a questionable place of uncertainty.
The big, fat wooden chairs with big, fat armrests scrape across the floor and when you have a room filled with hundreds of people hunched over books and computers and papers and ideas, running to the bathroom, shifting in frustration, giving up, going forward, while sneaking sips of water and stuffing illicit food so a few more hours of work can be accomplished, those chairs are constantly moving.
I used to come here when I was a girl and was running away from home. This was before computers so all you could do was read a book at the tables that stretched as long as a subway car.
Now, there's plugs all over the place and wireless and the place is brighter and cleaner than the days I had to run away to remember who I was. And now I don't have to run away to remember who I am. I just have to find a chair, plug in my computer, hide my illicit water bottle and protein bar from the patrolling guards who insist the library be kept clean and respected....
Thirty-six years later, conversation still bubbled forth, not one corner of the universe that didn't invite colliding curiosity. So, like explorers launching into uncharted territories, we launched into ideas and thoughts, experiences and questions.
Yet, out of nowhere... it wasn't a constellation. It was more like billions of threads weaving together a tapestry from long ago, and in between words and private thoughts those days reappeared. Our conversation was the only thing we had left of the L&M diner on the corner of 10th and Second...
...the one where they took their then itty-bitty daughter every Sunday, so much so that when her aunt took her once, the daughter knew exactly what and how to order...
...the one where I, with a 17 year old's knowledge of cooking and the sudden care of an adult life, new to this apartment, that painting on that wall then, retreated daily to the diner's counter and ordered lunch and then again later in the day dinner specials, asking for family and home served in a plate and watching the owner and cook's strong burly arms place food down before me, his faded blue number tattoo dancing before me as we both sought solace.
MY PRIVATE CONEY presents IT WAS HER NEW YORK, the short stories that accompany the work-in-progress video and photo collection of the same name (myprivateconey.com - media link - IT WAS HER NEW YORK). The stories and the media explore the tender rubble that holds both my mother, Florence's and New York's soul as one disappears into old age and the other into gentrification. All are real observations and/or experiences with very little tall-tale telling.
Except when it makes the story better.
Please visit myprivateconey.com for additional information and sample works.