Chapter One – In and Out of my life
I walked into my apartment at around two o’clock in the morning or so. I fell into a chair and plugged in my phone – the battery had died hours ago and I was too busy getting busy to worry about charging it. I closed my eyes and fell into a deep sleep. I woke up sometime around dawn when my phone began to vibrate. I jumped, startled, not realizing that it was my phone that was vibrating and felt the cotton inside my mouth.
I looked at the phone and saw that it was from my brother, David, I answered.
“Hey, whats up?”
“You need to come home, its Dad.”
I threw some clothes into a bag, wet my hair, brushed my teeth and reapplied my deodorant. Called a cab, booked a flight and bought a cup of coffee after printing my boarding pass.
LAX at seven in the morning – looking as if its the middle of the day anywhere else. My flight was at Eight O’clock and after spending 40 minutes in a security maze of people, I barely made it to the gate on time for the flight.
It had been 4 years since I had last been to New York.
It had been 4 years since I had last seen my father and now he was in the ICU unit in Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn.
I thought about our last face to face – it was not a good one. We had never gotten along and the shit hit the fan when he found out that I had slept with my Aunt, several times over a long weekend in the Hampton’s.
Its not like I knew she was his sister.
Its not like she knew who I was.
We were just two people – she was only two years older than I was – who were physically attracted to each other.
We met at the “Red Bar”, I was sitting by the short bar and waiting for a table for one. I saw her walk in with another woman and we instantly made eye contact.
I went back to my drink and small talk with the bartender and thought nothing of it.
I smiled, probably looking stupid and awkward…men aren’t able to take that magical moment to another level unless its a commercial or a movie. Normal men, if I am considered that, fumble the ball. We feel ourselves turning multiple colors somehow find ourselves walking into something or someone.
I sat down and avoided contact for a couple of seconds, fearing I would open my menu and it would knock the glass of water off the table, onto my pants and I would stand to reveal myself wet around my crotch area. (yes that went through my mind within the split second I managed to compose myself).
After several hours I mustered the nerve to look her way. She really wasn’t beautiful in a conventional way, her nose, mouth and eyes were kind of disproportionate to each other – but somehow it made for a fascinatingly alluring and captivating work of art.
The waiter came around and I listened but didnt really hear the specials. I was listening to the two women speaking,
“You need to move on – you seem to always put yourself in a non-win situation. Listen, I know you are scared…but if you dont take chances you will never know whats its like to live, to really live.”
I ordered my food and went back to pretending not to listen. I stared at my phone for a while, checked my emails (but not really) and checked the score of the Met’s game.
“What do you think?” I heard the voice but didn’t know it was addressed to me.
I looked up and I saw the two women looking my way.
“I’m sorry – are you talking to me?”
“Yes; my name is Rhonda and this is Laurie, whats your name?”
“Dylan.” I answered.
“Really?” Laurie asked.
“No, but I always wanted to be a ‘Dylan.’ My name is Bobby.” They laughed.
“So what do you think Mr. Zimmerman?”
I laughed, “Good one, Laurie. I see you got my reference..What do I think about what?”
“You were listening to us speaking, I could tell because you were looking at your phone but the screen was off most of the time.”
“It was – I checked the score of the Met game, they are winning four nothing.”
“Ok – so this is the situation. Laurie here broke up with her fiance a week before her wedding. This was a year or so ago and she hasnt been with a man since.”
“That’s not true I went out on several disasters.” She defended herself.
“That’s because,” She paused. “Why dont you pull your table closer and join us? Are you expecting anyone?”
“No, I am alone. Tonight, I am alone tonight. I am not dating anyone and I didnt want to stay inside tonight.”
The waiter came and pulled our tables together. I ordered a second drink and we continued our discussion. This went on for over an hour, food came and went and I began to have this compassionate, lustful and heroic feeling for Laurie. But Rhonda kept going on and on.
“I feel, and this is from an educated social worker specializing in bad relationships – that people purposefully put themselves in non-winning situations because they have a fear of success. Its safer to have not then to have.” Rhonda went on. “You see, Laurie knew that she was way out of Franco’s league – way above him in every level – but wouldn’t admit it to herself. She sub-conscientiously allowed herself to lower her standards because she knew she would always feel superior to his-“
“Stop already…I am tired of this shit. I just want to be left alone – I am tired of my every move being psychoanalyzed by you and everyone else. I get it, you love me and you worry about me, but you know, I am an adult and if I want to something I will do it. I don’t give a shit about why, how and when did it begins. I am out of here, sorry Rhonda and…Bobby.”
With that she stood up and left the place. I sat there and I stared at Rhonda. “I know you probably mean well, but no one, especially your friends want to be analyzed. Sometimes they just want to be heard.” I stood up and threw more money than I owed on the table and went after Laurie.
Chapter Two – Coming Home
I woke up with a startle.
“Excuse me Sir but we are preparing to land and I need you to put your seat in the upright position and fasten your seat belt.” I had slept the whole flight.
“Bobby, Bobby.” I heard the voice and I looked to see my brother standing there with his smile. We embraced and we each cried. It had been too long, too long.
“How is he?”
“Not so good. Let’s go. Do you have bags?”
“No just this carry on.”
This cold December morning reminded me instantly of my childhood and a sense of nostalgia came over me. As we made our way back to my old neighborhood the emotions came over me one by one. Excitement, reality, nostalgia, regret and remembering.
We exited the Belt Parkway onto Ocean Parkway. The Christmas decorations and the gray remaining snow on the ground shook me into a sense of homesickness I had not felt in the past four years. It all came to a head as we drove closer to our turn and moved past the schools and synagogues of my upbringing. I was reminded once again about what I had missed these past years. A sense of identity with a community. But then I remembered quickly – that communal call to conform was the impetus that had driven me out in the first place.
David and I caught up a bit. He had his second girl last month – he had an older boy. He was working as a salesman for a clothing company and was paying the bills.
“The money is OK but its the knockdowns that can break you. Its as if you are selling your pride on a daily basis just to keep food on the table.” He said with hint of tears in his eyes.
“I am sorry.” I said. I didn’t know what else to say.
“How about you Bob, are you happy? I mean, I know you are a successful writer and you are living out your dream, but is it all what you hoped it would be?”
“Well, Dave, the money is OK but its the knockdowns that can break you. Its as if I am selling my pride on a daily basis because if I don’t give the people what they want and stay relevant I will just turn into – its like what Billy Joel sang in ‘The Entertainer,’ you know? ‘If I go cold I wont get sold/I’ll get put in the back with the discount rack/like another can of beans.”
“So, we aren’t in such different situations after all. Other than the fact that you make 10 times what I make and are using your natural born talent.”
“Yeah thems the perks! But I am not who I am portrayed to be, the words I write are not the words I would choose to write.”
“In the end we are all just that ‘can of beans’ hoping to avoid the back of the rack.”
“Well, put David. The artist inside of you is still alive and kicking I see.”
“The stage may be different but life is still a play to be acted. Try as we might to control the words, the dialog – its all about acting for the audience.”
We pulled up to my mother’s house and walked up the stairs. It was only six thirty in the morning so the apartment was quiet ‘cept for the popping of the coffee maker starting to brew.
“Bobby.” She threw her arms around me and cried. “He will be so happy to see you.”
“As long as Aunt Laurie doesn’t show.” David whispered.
I let out a short laugh.
“David dont even bring that up.”
“I won’t i was just bringing some levity – just some levity.”
“He was levitizing.” We were doing our Seinfeld/Curb bit.
“Stop ‘levitizing’ and go clean up so we can go see your pop.”
As I was in the shower a thought crossed my mind.
If my father dies I will be sitting Shiva with his sister, my former lover and Aunt. Even Larry David couldn’t dream up a scenario like this.
I put on my jeans, pulled on my boots and threw on my collared button down shirt. I put some gel in my hair and walked into the car with my mother and brother. At the hospital we were met by Davids wife, Sandra; my sister Sophia with her daughter Florence. We exchanged greetings and I marveled at how Florence had blossomed into a 15 year old girl.
“Time goes so fast, Soph. I have missed seeing you.”
“You are the one who decided to stay away; just because dad was upset didnt mean you had disappear.”
“Well, it went much deeper than that and you know it.”
“I know but we are family-no point in harping on this now.”
“Four years later.”
“Yeah but its never too late.”
“Well, let’s hope so.”
We walked through a maze of corridors separated by doorways with the last name of the donating family on them and found our way to the Intensive care unit. My hands were sweating and I felt a slight chill when I walked into the ICU with my mother. I held her hand and felt like the frightened child I was once was so many years ago. As we edged closer to my fathers room the beeping, the nurses loud voices and the scent of sickness and disinfectant provided the dramatic soundtrack. Then, I saw him.
There were tubes all over him – his eyes were closed and blood was being drawn from his arm by a male nurse who looked as if he were 12. My mother asked him how my father had been doing.
“His blood pressure was low this morning, so we are just going to run some more blood work. The Doctor will be in soon to give you the details.”
“Do you know what time?” My mother asked.
“Your Doctor is Dr. Jacobs and he usually comes in around eight, eight thirty. OK? OK.”
I sat on the right hand side of my father and I whispered to him.
“Its Bobby, Daddy, I came to see you.” No movement.
“They said that he does hear you he just cant respond.”
He looked so small, so fragile, so unlike the man I once looked up to, once fought with, once tried to impress. I remembered him coming home at the end of the day; stetson hat and long coat covering a suit and tie. Always dapper and clean shaven – the CEO of his own textile company. He was superman and he knew it. He expected me, as the eldest son, to be the superman he wanted to parade, to show off and to succeed him at the helm.The problem was I was not that man.
“Dad…” I held in my crying – I didn’t want to cry, I didn’t want to reveal the fear I felt, the regret I now felt for the lost time.
“I am going to get a coffee.” My mother said.
“Want me to come with you?” I asked.
“No, stay here with your father. I will get you a cup. Milk and one sugar?”
“Yes, thanks Mom.” She walked around the bed and gave me a kiss on my head.
“Talk to him, if not for him then for yourself.”
I found myself staring at my father, wordless and unable to truly comprehend that this man laying before me was him. There was a book of Psalms on the table next to a yellow pitcher filled with ice water. I hadn’t prayed in a long time. I hadn’t even read Hebrew words in, I dont know how long. I opened the book and I began to read.
It was a strange sense of comfort when I read the words written in the ancient language. I had never forgotten my faith, nor had I ever denied it. I was not an apologetic Jew I was more of a confused one. I questioned everything and found myself waiting for the answers instead of looking around to figure them out myself. I thought about my life and how it could be assumed I was living the dream, fortune and fame. When in fact I was miserable, unfulfilled and lonely. I was just a character in a story that I was writing as the time went on. Who was I? What was I? I even wrote under a pseudonym Robert A. Black. My real name was Robert Levy. My true identity was unknown to myself – I played the role of succesful writer, collected awards and royalty checks. Spoke at college campuses, got laid any time I wanted. But at the end of the night – I was still just me, Bobby Levy, son of Joseph and Sarah, going home to an expensive apartment, with expensive furniture but no emotional currency at all.
I held my fathers hand.
“I am sorry, Pop. I am sorry I couldn’t be who you wanted me to be.” I broke down and just cried. I cried for the lost years, the loneliness, the faux successful life, the lost loves and the dream that once had so much promise only to be just another dream. Just another let down in a series of let downs.
“Oh dad…I thought I had it all figured out but I dont know anything. I am sorry for the fighting and the words I said and the words I didn’t. I love you pop.”
I felt his hand tighten and I looked at him. His eyes were open and a tear had slid down the side of his face.
“Dad. I am so sorry…” I broke down again and tried to suppress my emotions but it was really hard.
I felt his hand tug my hand and I looked at him. He wanted to say something I went close to him.
“I am sorry…”
“Its ok just, get better, Pop. Lets get back home and I will stay here for a while.”
A beeping sounded and it startled me as his eyes closed.
A nurse came in and asked me to leave as a Doctor followed. “Wait outside.”
“What happened? He was just talking to me?”
“Sir, please, wait outside.”
I heard them speaking inside in hush tones…I went back in and the Doctor just nodded. I walked out of the room. I didn’t want my last memory of my father to be him laying there.
I walked slowly and I saw my mother walking towards me with two cups of coffee.
She looked at me and she dropped the two cups of coffee on the floor.
Chapter 3 – Bobby and Laurie
I dream I am in the middle of a large arena – in a boxing ring and I am being introduced. There is a lot of screaming and I cannot even hear what the announcer is saying. I am told to shake hands with the fighter across from me – I look at him and he is really big. I know, somehow, that he is very strong but not very fast. He throws a lot of punches that are easy to dodge but if you do get hit – well, just try not to get hit.
We exchange the usual boxers greetings and I walk to my corner. I am met by an older man who looks familiar but I cant place it. He takes my robe and slaps me on my butt.
“Go get him and dont let him hit you.” The bell rings and the sounds of the crowd have been silenced. Its as if a mute button was hit and the sound is gone. I turn to look and my opponent runs towards me and throws his fist my way. I take a hit in the side and I lose my breath but I stand my ground. I am angry at myself for letting myself be distracted. The round ends and I go back to my corner.
I have a memory of training for this fight. Early mornings of running, sparring and dancing. Late afternoons and sparring, punching and dancing.
“You let him hit you – you need to watch out, kid. You need to take the temperature of the ring, quick survey and watch your steps. Its a war of attrition – you’ve been training for this you know what to do, how to react…” Bell rings. I put something in my mouth and then walk towards that giant. I throw a punch quickly and it lands on his face. I throw a left jab and hit him squarely on the right eye. He falls back a bit but remains standing. I throw another and another – right, left, right, left – he is still standing and now he begins to laugh. I see his eyes and I can see right through them. Its as if they are made of glass and I throw a punch but he punches me first, misses. Bell rings.
I backstep towards my corner and my father is waiting for me with a big plastic cup with water. I drink it and I hug him. The bell rings…
I am dancing, but there is no beat, no music that I can hear. I was told to play music and carry on a beat in my head to keep me going…but I think I am deaf inside as well.
I think about Cindy and how much I loved her – she left me for that plumber with the plumbers butt…
I feel his punch across my face and I am falling…I fall to the floor and I am seeing colors and scenes from my life with Cindy…I hear counting and instinctively I know that I must stand up. I hear a voice calling out to me.
“Just because you are down – don’t let them count you out!”
I somehow get to my feet upon hearing “Seven!” and the bell rings.
I go back to my corner and my mother is there to hug me and to brush my hair. Bell rings.
I am punched, punched and punched again…I fall to the ground but I stand up and I tell the son of a bitch to give me his best shot.
I throw a one-two right, left and he is down. I feel triumphant but all too soon he is up – without me aware he is watching me celebrate. He punches me and I fall to the ground…stars, I am seeing stars…I hear a voice inside of me imploring me to “Never give up!” I am tired…too tired to stand up. But I find the strength…
How many punches can I take?
I have thrown all I have at him yet he still is smiling, punching and watching as I fall. The rounds go on – one by one – and I am still getting knocked down only to stand back up.
“A fighter until the end!” I hear someone saying.
“How much more can he take?”
How much more can I take…I am tired of the punches and finding the strength to fight…I see my opponent, he puts his hand out and I go to shake it. He throws a punch towards me and –
“Bob, wake up, we need to get going.” Its my sister Sophia. I jump up and remember where I am. I feel sore, beat up and tired.
We are driven to the synagogue where they will be eulogizing my father. I am walking on auto-pilot it seems – as if in a tunnel and unaware of anything around me. I feel the eyes upon me and I can hear whispering. Old friends come up to me with hugs and “long time no sees.” I exchange hellos and thank yous and find my way to the front to sit with my brothers.
I sit next to David and Joe and that’s when I see her. I look at her and nod. Suddenly I am thrust back to that night…
I saw Laurie standing by the curb.
“Hey I am sorry for -”
She kissed me on my mouth and I felt her tongue inside me and she tasted sweet.
“Do you have a car?” She asked me.
“Yes, right there.”
“Want to come to my place for …to be my friend?”
“Yes – I could use a friend right now too.”
We spent that night being friendly, very friendly. We didn’t do much talking and I didn’t really care. We spent the next morning being friendlier.
“I just felt that he and I were not a fit. He was a party guy and I am more of a homebody. He wanted to travel the world and I wanted to have children.”
She looked away.
“My mother read me the riot act – my father sided with me. I didn’t care about what anyone thought. I just didnt want to spend the rest of my life with someone who was more infatuated with his image than he was with the woman he proposed to.”
“You made the right decision.”
“I know I did and the craziest thing is how many people came over to me when they heard and actually congratulated me for not going ahead with the wedding.”
“So, you are Jewish, single.”
“How did you know I am Jewish?”
“The mezuzah on the doorways gave it away.”
“Yeah I put that up for my father. He passed away several years ago and I know he would be happy knowing that I at least kept up something from the religion.”
“When did you break off your marriage?”
“This past Spring, why?”
“You said your father supported you in your decision?”
“Oh, ok so this is the story. My birth father passed several years ago. My step-father basically played the role of father because my mother had me out of wedlock. When she got pregnant he married her and when she gave birth they both decided it wasnt a good idea. He was married before and had a whole family with grandchildren. Plus, he was in his late 60’s when he was with my mom, who was in her 40’s. Its very confusing I know, why do you think I have self-identity issues?”
“So wait, your Grandfather…” This was sounding all too familiar to me and the stupid ass I am couldn’t put two and two together.
“Stick with me here, it gets kind of complicated. My mother was divorced and had no children. She met my father and they got along very well. My mother thought she couldnt get pregnant because she never did get pregnant in her first marriage. Then one morning she felt nauseous and, well, it was me.” She giggled. “So, my birth father did the correct thing and married her. They were both miserable together, he was an older man, but he stayed with her until I was born and then they both decided to divorce. My mother was too young to be with someone who was that old. Someone who had been through the whole marriage, kids, grandchildren, etc. life before – he couldn’t imagine the middle of the night crying, teenage years and all the responsibility. So, he came over often and we remained close; he was a good man. My mother met Teddy soon after and they married. Then she had the twins.”
It hit me there and then.
“What is your birth father’s name?”
Chapter 4 – Bobby and David
I walked away from the burial ground after we said the mourners prayer and found myself walking into the rented limousine that would take us back to my parents house to begin our week of sitting Shiva.
Memories flooded my mind but kept being interrupted by the need to console and others consoling me. I kept seeing his face and his smile. His stern look when he was at work and the look of frustration when I told him I could not follow in his footsteps.
“This job isn’t good enough for you? it fed us, built homes for us, took us on vacations, gave you the best education and look at you now? ‘I want to do my own thing.’ Do you see me as an asshole or something? Do you look at me and feel that you need to vomit each time?”
“No dad – I admire you. I really do. You have your name, your achievements – I need to have my own.”
“I will open a division for you to manage – achieve there and make a living.”
“Its not about the money pop.”
“Well, you are right. Because I wont be giving you any money once you move out.”
“I haven’t asked for anything from you in the past – you paid for my schooling and my upbringing. I am 21 years old now I don’t need anything from you.”
“You dont need anything from me? Lets see how far you go. Anything? Ha. OK.”
“Dad, I love you and I am grateful for everything you have given me and done for me.”
“But now you are all grown up and just the thought of ending up like me scares the shit out of you so-“
“That’s not it. Its just I want to try to -“
He saw me for the first time during that conversation. The anger and the sadness that had brought about a sheet of ice that blurred his vision had melted. The tears welled up disguised as the melting ice and he turned away and left the room. I sat down on the couch and felt suspended in doubt. Suspended in time and suspended in pain. Were these part of life’s “growing pains” one needed to face in order to get to the next level of growing up? Was the entrance to each new level as painful or would it increase each time?
My mother was crying now and I put my arm around her.
“He loved you.” She said.
“I know, mom, I know.”
That night the house was being visited by well meaning comforters; friends, cousins, co-workers. People from each of my family member’s circles who seemed to come to console us. All of them knew who I was and some kept staring at me as if I was a curiosity. Some old friends came to see me and it brought back memories of some good times; some of which I had documented in my stories. We had kept in loose touch, once every couple of years we would speak. But now came the “lets get together for good things, Bobby.” At 34 years old I was one of the only unmarried guys from our group of friends.
“You need to settle down and get married.”
“Why does he need to be in prison like us? Have fun.”
“I heard you dated…”
“Was it true?”
“You don’t know life until you find someone to share it with. Have children with.”
“Suffer with, cheat on…”
All assorted opinions of the married life which kind of drove me away. Until my old friend Craig came to see me in the middle of the day when the crowd was light.
“Hey Bobby, I am so sorry about your father.” He bent down to embrace me, I stood up.
“Craig – how have you been?” I was genuinely pleased to see him. We were never best friends but whenever we did get together we would have great conversations about baseball, religion, family and girls. Always girls.
“I was at the funeral – so many people – sorry I didnt get the chance to see you. I needed to get back to work.”
“Its OK you are here now. Come lets go sit inside and have a cup of coffee.” I led him into the den where no one was sitting and my niece brought us some coffee and a plate of stuff we should say blessings on in the name of my father.
We sat there talking for over an hour. He asked me about my life and how it felt to be a success.
“I don’t know what that feels like yet. I guess I haven’t found ‘success’ how its defined.”
“But you are doing what you love to do, isn’t that success?”
“It should be. Enough about me tell me about yourself.”
He had gotten married when he was 23 to a girl from Roslyn Long Island. They had a child together, who apparently was the reason for the marriage in the first place. They realized that by staying married for the sake of the child would be more detrimental to him than any good so they divorced amicably and he kept close to the child, a son named David. His father’s business, a wholesale children clothing manufacturer, had closed down after several big clients went out of business or stopped buying from them. Whoever was still in business wanted the cost of the product so low that they would lose money on each sale. The big blow came when a big order they shipped to Wal-Mart was rejected because of some technical glitch in the shipping process. Wal-Mart refused to buy the goods and stopped doing business with them. That’s when they closed shop.
“When was this?”
“This was in 2010? I then took whatever merchandise we had and sold them to local businesses across the country. I didn’t make much but it paid for the traveling expenses as I drove to Los Angeles stopping in all the states along the way. Smalll cities, towns – I met a lot of cool people and a lot of pricks. But it was a month that I needed just to disappear and remember who I was. The problem was, when I got back, that revelation fell off the Brooklyn Bridge and once again I found myself with ‘no direction home.'”
“Ha – I feel you. I have been ‘there’ so many times it began to feel like home.”
“Where do you live?” He asked me.
“Beverly Hills.” I say. “But I am going to move back to New York.”
“Being here reminds me that one of the things that are missing from my life is perhaps the thing that I once ran from. Family.”
We sat there talking for the afternoon until it was time for the afternoon prayers. He stayed, we prayed and then we promised we’d get together again for better reasons.
I walked him to the door and I realized how happy I was to have seen him.
“I just want to tell you that you made me really happy. I felt distant from everyone and you reminded me that there are still some people I can connect with.”
“Me too buddy – me too.”
Chapter 5 – David and Saundra
The congregation rose simultaneously as the Torah was lifted and was being carried to the Hekhal (the closet where the Torah and other holy articles are kept). David stood there in his own world. The Sabbath would be ending soon and so would his respite from reality. All around him he kept hearing about how “business was down,” yet within the same breath of a conversation he would also hear the question “Where are you going for vacation?”
It was the reason he didn’t like going to shul. A gathering of friends and family which sometimes felt like a schoolyard during recess. Pissing contests and bullying, whether real or imagined, seemed to hit David in the balls time and again. He couldn’t win.
“How’s your brother doing?” He would hear that over and over. Sometimes it felt sincere while most of the time it felt as if his own presence was of no importance. Similar to a desk clerk being asked to bring out the boss or an understudy for a lead in a play forced to perform in front of an audience wanting to see the star. His presence, he felt, was always a letdown.
He decided to walk out of the services before the end so he wouldn’t have to shake hands and hear the usual bullshit. He threw on his coat, his baseball hat and walked outside into the cold. It was dark now and the Sabbath was moments from ending. He pulled out a cigarette from his coat and lit up despite the minutes remaining where lighting a fire was prohibited.
He walked to the benches on Ocean Parkway and sat down. It was cold outside, definitely too cold to be sitting on a bench smoking a cigarette. He noticed a figure approaching with a dog on a leash leading the way. As the figure passed him by revealing a young woman who threw him a courtesy smile, he felt a chill and decided to stand up and head home.
In his house he went straight to his room and fell onto the bed. Still in his coat and hat he closed his eyes. Too old for this pressure but too young to feel so lost and overwhelmed he opened his eyes and checked his phone. He checked his emails and if there had been any breaking news stories – thankfully nothing to report.
“Why are you in bed in your coat?” His wife, Sandra.
“I am tired.”
“You slept half of the day, are you coming down with something?” She walked around the bed to touch his forehead. “You seem a little warm, but it could be because you are wearing your coat – take it off, get undressed I will get you something to drink.
“I am good. Don’t you have that charity thing you are going to tonight?” He asked her. He knew where she was really going and who for, but he kept it quiet.
“Yeah, but later on. Do you want me to stay home?”
“No, no, I am good. Just, go.”
He knew she was seeing someone although he wasn’t sure who. How could he blame her? He was this mass of depression walking around with the darkness surrounding him constantly. He felt like a ship on fire in the middle of the ocean. Still moving but in a ball of thick black smoke, slowly sinking, slowly dying with no help in sight.
Sandra, for her part, was not ‘seeing’ anyone. She was just getting away from ‘seeing’ David. She didn’t know how to make him happy or to solve the problems he carried. So she immersed herself in helping others whose problems were clearly defined. The poor who needed money for food, the sick who needed money for medical attention, the unemployed who needed a job or the grieving who needed to be consoled.
She wasn’t as passionate as David was and was able to go through life without the perks and spoils her contemporaries took for granted. What she could not handle was the cold sadness that emanated from him. Once when he used to come home the house would light up and she would run to see him. Now it seemed as though his presence brought about a dimming light effect on the home which in turn caused any sense of happiness to see him, to disappear.
David was in his room, still lying in bed with his coat on when he stood up and went to check on the kids – they were all in their little world. Watching TV, listening to music or on their computer. He loved them and he loved Sandra more than they could ever imagine. But he was tired of being dealt a losing hand whenever it came to making money. It was as if there was a hex or curse put on him. Or maybe he had made a deal where he would get all that mattered in life in abundance but would never take it over the red line when it came to finance.
David was a poet, a lover and a dreamer. He lacked that killer attitude when it came to business and it showed. His father labeled him “Mr. Softie” and his brother Joe just ignored him and referred any issues to others rather than to David.
To the world they were a successful family – but in the bank and in his head, David was the black sheep – living in his own dark and dreary world. Everyday seemed to be overcast and wet – even when the sun was shining bright and the temperature was high.
It was around seven years before his father got sick that he ended calling on Bobby for help. He was in Las Vegas for a trade show when he thought he was having a heart attack.
“Hey Bobby, I am in the emergency room in Las Vegas – I think I am having a heart attack.”
Bobby flew down there and arrived just in time to hear the Doctor telling David that he must have had an anxiety episode.
“You mean a panic attack?” Bobby asked.
“Yes, in a stronger phrasing of it yes, a panic attack.”
“I get them a lot – I have been on medication for a while now.” Bobby said.
“It’s usually hereditary. Anyway, your heart looks great and your blood came out pretty good as well. Your blood pressure is elevated but that could be because of your agitated state. When you get home go get a complete physical.”
They walked together from the can into the Wynn where David was staying. They sat in the bar and each had a drink.
“Whats going on with you Dave?”
“Things are OK…but, things are not OK. Things are falling apart and…I don’t know what to do anymore. I am on the verge of losing everything. My wife doesn’t even like to see me anymore and I really don’t blame her. I don’t like to see me anymore. The kids see me as a failure and I can’t blame them because I see myself that way. I cannot do anything correctly. The business, my side of the business is going under and I truly don’t know what I am going to do next.”
They spoke for the next several hours and ended up sharing the room.
“Just like old times.” Bobby said. They both laughed.
“Keep it down Dad may come and tell us to shut up and go to sleep.”
“As if that ever stopped us.”
“You did the right thing avoiding Dad. Working with him has been a nightmare. Its all about him and he doesn’t even give me the time of day. When I first started he expected me to be him; how can I be him when he is 30 years or so in the making?”
“He can be a cold bastard at times and then he calls you in and is the ultimate salesman.”
“I think he gave up on me and that is what hurts the most.”
“Fuck him, you are a grown man and you need to find your own identity. I will help you until you are able to get on your feet.”
“I cannot accept your help, Bob. I need to do this or something on my own. But thank you for caring it means more than you can ever know.”
They spoke once in a while after that night and months would go by without a call but it was somehow accepted as reality. Sadly time just passed and passed; before one would turn around the calendar would show another year had come and gone. He had tried to start his own business with a partner but the partner cheated him out of sales. He tried to go back to work with his family but was told that his job had been taken already.
“Sorry Davey, but business is not how it once was. We have two families pulling money out right now – we cannot afford a third.” His brother Joe replied. “I am getting a call I need to take, its important. But keep in touch, if you need anything let me know.”
After several jobs, ups and downs he found his way to pay his bills. If not in full, at least enough to keep the heat and the lights on.
Now as he sits in the hospital calling Bobby he cannot comprehend where the time has gone.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“You need to come home, its Dad.”
He hung up, went to see his mother and put his arm around her.
With that she broke down.
Chapter 6 – David and Sabrina
She walked right into his life and he knew right away he would give in to her. One look at her, four words spoken in her raspy voice and her hand lightly cascading down his left arm…
David was walking along Broadway in New York City one Spring Day when he decided to walk up to Bryant Park. He was in a rut at work, his wife seemed to have forgotten they were married and his kids were all busy being kids. He was in one of his mild depression stages and was feeling overwhelmed with money issues, self-worth and felt as if he had become invisible to the world.
As he crossed 41st Street he saw the park to the right of him, walked to the corner of 42nd street and bought a cup of coffee.
“Pass the milk, please?” When he heard her voice he looked up at her. She was wearing a baseball cap, long hair flowing on her shoulders, dark sunglasses on and a faded short jean jacket over a cropped knit shirt.
“Do you want soy milk, whole milk, 1%, 2%, organic, lactose free-”
“You are funny. I’ll take the 2%.”
“I am glad you approve.” She said with a smile. His stomach was feeling the excitement of a new event, a major happening…something had moved and the world was now out of whack somehow. She had a slight British accent and a soft rasp.
“Hey why don’t you sit and join me by the fountain?” The words came out of his mouth by some divine intervention.
“I am meeting someone, she should be here any minute.” He felt embarrassed.
“OK no problem, nice to meet you.” David walked away but was called back.
“Hey, why don’t you sit with me here by the tree, there are no seats but, ya know you can keep me company whilst we wait.”
“OK that sounds good to me. As long as you keep on speaking – i love your ‘Brooklyn’ accent.” He said with a smile.
“Very funny, you are a regular comedian you should be on the tele.” They laughed.
As they spoke the clouds began to form above them but they did not take notice. All he could concentrate on and he took it in as if he were tasting a million dollar bottle of wine, was her voice. Her voice the way her eyes would come alive when she laughed.
Her name was, fantastically, Sabrina. She was a 28 year old native of London but most recently was living in Croydon, South of London. She grew up in Hampstead into a very wealthy family. Her father was a cardiovascular surgeon and her mother a Child Psychologist. Sabrina had moved to Croydon upon her graduation from university and had been teaching in the Croydon College for three years when the opportunity to work in New York City was brought to her. Although Sabrina was close to her 3 sisters and her 2 brothers. She jumped at the opportunity. She was teaching advanced English at the British International School of New York and was living in a studio apartment on First Avenue walking distance to the school. This was her first year in New York and she had fallen in love with the city’s 24 hour madness. New York felt like London to her, without the doom and gloom attitude of the Motherland. No stiff upper lips or nasty looks here, instead there was the honest “Fuck you lady” when she would be confronted with someone who wasn’t thrilled with her.
David was entranced by her to say the least. She was curious about David and began to ask questions.
“Are you married?”
“Yes I am and I have 3 kids. You?”
“No,” She let out a soft laugh. “I am only 28 years old I have some time to go before I turn into an old mum and such.”
“I understand what you mean.”
“So what are you doing flirting with me? Is it my undeniable beauty?”
“Yes and that voice…Sorry. Ha, yeah well, I am not flirting, am I?”
“You like my accent? How about if I speak like this,” She continued in a poor but adorable New York accent, “How you doing? You are married and your checking out this younger chick?”
I laughed and she smiled as she watched me and then said, “You are a sad man, have you found your life bergied?”
“I am a sad man? I was laughing.”
“Yes but in your laugh I can sense a twinge of sadness. I am able to read people and despite your broad shoulders and your messy hair – you seem kind of weakened, clobbered?”
“Just a little but I am still…messy hair?”
“Curly as if you keeping it messy to avoid the eventual receding. The infamous Madame M, or W, depends on how you look at it. Don’t you think?”
“The infamous Madame – what does that mean?” He said playfully upset.
“The ‘M’ at the top of your forehead.” She ran her finger right by the border where the hair met his forehead. “You see, ‘M.'”
It was obvious after another 20 minutes of back and forth that they were comfortable with each other. Dangerously comfortable because when there is a married man and a single woman, a friendship can never be a simple scenario for either of them.
They exchanged cell phone numbers and then unexpectantly she went to give him a hug goodbye. Their lips met and they both froze for several seconds, lip on lip, until they both gave way.
“I am sorry, I didn’t-” He said, but she cut him off.
“Don’t be, I did.” She smiled.
He got the nerve to text her later that night.
David: “Hey, this is David from Bryant Park?”
David: “Is it too late?”
Sabrina: “For what? Lol.”
David: “I really was very happy to meet u 2day.”
Sabrina: “I hope you still are. :)”
David: “I am, I would love to see u again.”
Sabrina: “R u sure that is smart?”
David: “No but I am tired of being smart.”
She didn’t respond for what seemed like hours – in actual time it was only around 10 minutes.
Sabrina: “Hey, sorry, I am back.”
David: “I thought I scared u off.”
Sabrina: “I don’t scare that easily, old man.”
David: “Ok, young lady – you better hold on tight then.”
Sabrina: “Tomorrow at 4 O’clock same place”
David: “OK I will text u when I get there.”
They met the next day, they had several drinks at the Bryant Park bar and then found their way back to her apartment. This went on for several weeks until he realized that all he was doing was setting up his life for a major crash.
“Sabrina, I am incredibly attracted to you…you have woke up parts of me that I thought were lost.”
“Don’t do this.”
“It’s because I do care about you that I am doing this. I have the home, the wife and the kids. You have yet to even begin to live. I do not want more children…”
“I agree with you. How stupid we are…” A tear fell from her left eye and his arms rushed around her and he felt a sense of displacement or the way I lost child must feel…
“OK, please take care of yourself, stay away from people like me.”
“Of course no more married balding men for me.” They laughed.
“No more sexy voiced beautiful women for me…” Silence.
“I decided that I am leaving New York. and I am moving back home. I need my family…”
“When did you decide this?”
And just like that that chapter in his life had ended. It was a month later that he called his brother to come home because their father was dying.
Steve was divorced for several years and had never stopped being in love with Saundra. When he “friended her “on Facebook he was thrilled when she accepted and actually responded to his “Hi” on chat.
After several chat sessions they graduated to a phone call, which led to text messaging and their decision to meet at a diner in Staten Island. They both lived in Brooklyn and their thinking was they would never see anyone they knew there – so it would not be risky.
The first time was awkward as they did not know whether to exchange hugs, handshakes or kisses. He went in to hug her and didn’t let go for several seconds too long. She preferred to just give the “half-hug” but wasn’t able to break free from his long armed hug.
He thought she was gorgeous and wanted to cut the chitchat and rent a place so they could finish what they never started 20 years earlier.
She was convinced that he was “slow” but enjoyed his company because he would make her center of his attention.
They would drive separately to the Diner, drink coffee and talk. They would then leave the diner separately – usually 10 minutes apart. They would then do it all again a week later.
Steve had a warped sense of himself. He was born into a semi-wealthy family, got his first job directly after High School, at his father’s business, and never left.
In High School he thought he was popular but he was actually a laughingstock. He would hang around the Varsity basketball team and was the “water boy” before Adam Sandler was out of diapers. He thought he was the manager of the team, when in fact he was the mascot.
When he was working at his father’s business the people who worked there, who had all paid their dues, would mock him about his “Bosses son” attitude.
He also joined the volunteer Fire Company, and although he never got close enough to the flames to feel its warmth, he claimed to have extinguished the flames of “hundreds of homes.”
The firemen, usually respectful of the volunteers, all hated him and called him “Dud” in place of “Dude.” Several times they made him walk ahead of them into a burning room or deflated his inflated sense of importance by keeping him in the firehouse when a call would come.
Saundra was attracted to the faux danger in their clandestine meetings. No one knew anything about them and she was able to disappear into a different world when she was with him. She was never attracted to him physically, it was the attention he gave her and the sneaking around that reminded her of another place and time.
Steve was a nice guy but he was someone who would not grow on you but would grow under your skin until you would take any sharp instrument and do your best to cut him out. Without any regard for the damage and pain you would cause to yourself one needed to exorcise his presence from.
He would always, always use the wrong word in sentences. At first she thought he was kidding, but as they kept on speaking she realized he was, unfortunately not.
“I could use a great massage – do you know any good misogynists?”
“I find your perfume quite repugnant, Sandy.”
“I was wondering if they had a boy or girl…when I got to the Brit Milah there was blue all over, so I assumed it was a boy.”
“They should have exonerated that man, he was so guilty. So sad.”
She broke the news to him that they needed to stop meeting.
“Its not fair to anyone in my life, not fair to you.”
“Me? Of course its not fair to me. I was hoping for-”
“Steve, come on and lets end this the right way.” She cut him off before he said anything.
“I find this to be quite exhilarating.” He said staring at his empty cup of coffee.
She paused when he said that and then said, “Do you mean…? Ok, I need to leave now. You leave first and I will follow.”
“I respect you and I will always have intensive feelings for you.”
“Steve, I care about you, I truly do. But I have children and I am married. I was wrong to lead you on. Life has been really difficult with David these past couple of years and I guess I just needed to feel…”
“We haven’t done anything wrong. We haven’t even held hands.” He sounded like a pestilent child as he usually did when he didnt get his way.
“I know, but you know as well as I do that its coming.” She was being kind – she had no intention let alone desire to be physical with him.
“But I…,” He paused and caught himself quickly. “I understand. Let’s not lose touch all together. You are truly one of my only friends. One of the only people who do not make me feel as if I am interrupting something.” He stood up and said, “I will walk out first. I,” He almost said it. “I’ll see you around.”
He walked out of the Diner, heard the bell on the door pound and bounce and then he walked towards his black Cherokee. He turned the ignition went to put on his seatbelt and then thought to himself, “I am tired of always being the safe one.” He turned off the ignition and stepped out of his car.
He walked back to the entrance and looked through the window. He watched as Saundra was sitting down waiting for the ten minutes to pass.
He walked away and stood by his car waiting for her.
At last, ten minutes passed and it was her turn to walk out of the Diner. She saw him standing outside of his car and moaned to herself. “Shit…”
When she came out he walked towards her at a brisk pace and went to kiss her into loving him. He went in hard and kissed her on her lips. Too hard actually, as his top front teeth banged into her top front teeth, which were caps and knocked them both out of their place.
“What were you thinking!” Saundra yelled at him, in tears and with blood coming from her mouth.
“I was thinking to kiss you into wanting me.”
“Well, that was stupid. I dont want you, if I did I would have fucked you by now. Now leave me alone.”
“I don’t want to leave-”
“Get the hell out of here or I will file a restraining order.”
“No, but please just leave. I need to call my dentist.”
She drove to her dentist’s office with a box of tissues in her mouth and a pounding headache.
“How Am I going to explain this?” She said out loud to herself as she climbed across the Verrazano Bridge.