On Florence's last Saturday, I pried my fingers out of her tightly held grasp and said I had to go. She asked me to stay but I had nothing left inside and needed to go home to nothing so I could start all over again. So I said what I knew she'd absolutely understand. I said I had to go home and work.
She said it the way we had all been raised to say it. Your Work was more important than anything. It was more important than love or family or illness or even death. In fact, when her mother died, Florence delayed the necessary next steps because she was inundated with work and rehearsals and teaching and supporting Louise for her senior recital.
That last Saturday was balmy so I got what I always got at this bakery on Grand Street. One pork bun and a cup of tea with milk and sugar. Then I sat in Chrystie Park and watched all the men I never grew up with run around the soccer field.
For years, I repeatedly asked myself if I could have stayed longer. A friend who is a funeral director says, "Don't chew." There are many cows in her country so this makes sense.
Now, lovely people live in Florence's old home and there are other lovely people looking to buy Florence's old home. An irreversible process has begun.
For only the second time since I cleaned out this place, I visited. I said things and I heard things. At some point there was nothing left and I headed to the Boat that took me to a quieter neighborhood and a kinder night and a bed I couldn't have dreamed of in my insomnia.
On the way, I stopped in at the bakery. It was not an homage or nostalgia. It was simply what one did after visits like that.
The weather too rainy and cold, I sat inside with my usual cup of tea and pork bun and listened to a gaggle of men talk, laugh, argue, and I suspect check the racing sheets. Their chatter of Tagalog and English felt likeChristmas lights to me - bright and dancing.
One day in March of 2008, I started writing the city I knew as intimately as I knew Florence. And found I barely knew either. When you are home, when you are in family, it is as normal as breathing and yet as mysterious as prayer.
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.