A Note Before Reading: This is the final installment of a three-part essay. To begin at the beginning, go here.
And so the beading continued. And as boutiques, galleries and museum stores began to take my memory wire bracelets on consignment, I expanded my horizons – creating earrings, necklaces, and clasp bracelets. I even gave in ultimately to the pressure of popular culture – I created a website.
It would be a while, though, before I would learn what the foray into jewelry design was about for me. And during that year (plus) of being immersed in glass beads – calmed by their colors, shapes and feel – I would learn what love and neighbors are about….
… Running downstairs and knocking on Tim’s door. I’ve got a date in ten minutes, but because I’ve just put lotion on my hands, I can’t maneuver the clasps on the bracelets I want to wear. Tim answers the door with a towel around his waist. He was just about to step into the shower – but, like the brother I never had, he answers the call. Fumbling (as guys do), he manages the clasps. He settles my nerves and wishes me “Godspeed” on my date. Were it not for the precariously draped towel, he would accompany that wish with a hug…
… Going to Debbi’s the morning after the big break-up conversation. Sitting on her couch and drinking coffee. “I’m so proud of you,” she says. “You didn’t drag it out.” Her tears for me, her tears for the process, allow me to cry, too…
… Calling Julie during one of those weeks in the middle. “I’m confused,” I say. “I need to talk this out.” Julie responds in a tone that goes with her cowboy curtains. “Come on down,” she says. By the time I get to her apartment, the bottle of Jack Daniels is on the table. Julie pours and listens. She asks the right questions. Her observations are so wise…
September 11, 2001. I have a dental appointment, and because it’s a morning appointment, I am running late. I almost don’t notice the flashing light on my answering machine, but when I do, I decide to play it – quickly, before dashing out.
“Katie, oh God, it’s Deb – Are you up? Oh my God – I thought of you ‘cause of New York – Oh my God – the Trade Center’s been hit. And the Pentagon. Oh my God. This is major.”
But, it doesn’t click.
I have no idea what she was talking about in the message that was recorded while I was in heavy R.E.M.
I continue out the door, figuring I’ll stop by her place on my way to the dentist.
The front door to her first-floor apartment is slightly ajar. I push it open. “Deb?” I call. No response. But her TV is on. I stand there in her living room, looking at a shot of downtown Manhattan in a cloud. I don’t even know what I’m looking at. I cannot possibly process this.
I wonder where Debbi is, and for some reason, I still think I’m going to the dentist’s office. I head to the carport in the back. She and neighbor Kate are just returning from Starbuck’s.
“Can I use your phone?” I ask Deb. (I don’t want to go back to my apartment. Having seen people, I suddenly realize I need them.)
“Of course,” Deb responds. “Did you see – ?”
We go back into her apartment, and I call my dentist’s office. No problem cancelling – they’re closing up anyway. I then call my friend, Sue, with whom I am supposed to meet later regarding the book we’re working on. When I tell her I’m not coming over, that I’m not going anywhere, she’s disappointed. “Turn on your TV,” I tell her. “You’ll understand.”
Dan arrives, he and Debbi having recently made amends. It’s so good to see him, to get a Dan hug.
By mid-day, we’re all gathered around Deb’s TV. Julie had insisted on going to work at the hotel, but Tim’s there, and Sara. Kate pops in and out. We’re just looking at the screen, trying to process the event.
Suddenly, in the spirit of Elizabeth, we decide to pool our resources for a pot-luck. We all grab whatever’s appropriate from our respective refrigerators, and soon, we have a meal, complete with wine and beer. And when we need more wine and beer (and God knows, we will), we run down to the corner.
Together, we get through the day.
Later that night, I go into Deb’s kitchen to do some dishes. I need to get away from the television. As I begin soaping plates and glasses, something inside me opens up and allows me to feel. I turn off the water and quietly take myself outside, through Deb’s kitchen door. I sit on the short wall that borders the driveway, and I let myself bawl like a fucking baby.
After a few minutes, Julie comes out to see if I’m okay. “I thought you’d be out here crying,” she says, as she gives me a hug.
I hope never again to experience the disorientation that was September 11th. But if I must, I hope I’m again surrounded by people I love. There is no other way to handle such a day.
But I’ve also learned from the neighbors who have become my friends that it’s not just a day like September 11th that one should have to handle alone. It’s any day. Because, on any day, your sense of balance might be thrown; your sense of the future might feel completely up for grabs; your sense of yourself might lose its context. And when that happens, it’s good to have people around you who never had to love you, but who chose to – over time.
Sometimes, when I’m in my apartment, I’ll hear my neighbors chatting outside, and I’ll decide to join them. Other times when I hear them, I’ll decide to stay in. This is the privacy I always craved; the privacy I once thought was synonymous with being an unfriendly neighbor. This is respect and unconditional love. We place no requirements on our friendships. We have no expectations. We just happen to be there for each other. And the reality of that, which is bigger than all of us, enables each of us to grow in amazing ways.
2011 Postscript: This essay reflects an era that’s come and gone. With the exception of Tim, all referenced neighbors have moved away (though Deb and Julie remain dear friends). Several years ago, Jack sold the building to Stanley (an angel of a landlord), and last year, Stanley sold the building to some Not-a-Person, LLC. And so my building has become typical. I am blessed, though, for having “lived here when.” Few people get such an enchanting experience of love, spirit, and spontaneity. I will always be grateful for the timing.