We arrived in Manhattan early yesterday morning for a two week stay in the city we love, hail from, and often miss, though we’ve lived in North Carolina for 23 years now. As is typical for us in our New York forays, we walk. I don’t mean a little walk, but I mean we often cover 10-15 or more miles a day in our constant fascination of and love for this city and its crazy excitement.
So on our first day here we basked in the beautiful path along the Hudson River near the apartment we are renting in Tribeca. We chuckled at the children in the playground and marveled at the segregation of nanny/baby/stroller groups and mommy/baby/stroller groups. I was unaware of this line of division, but now I know.
We spent a lot of time in Tribeca Whole Foods, both eating delicious items from the food bars and stocking up for the next day’s breakfast. As is typical for me, I also spend a lot of time staring. I do this unconsciously but I am so taken with some artsy look, or fashionista, cute kiddo, crazy hairdo, public political rant, street side music, acrobatic subway rider, etc. I am not subtle about this and I know it can be an obnoxious trait of mine as I sometimes stop dead and stare. People completely fascinate me in every way and I suppose it is also why friends and family feel I am always asking far to many questions. I really want to know. I really do care.
We’d arranged to meet my dearest and lifelong friend for dinner on our first night here. We ate decent Indian food and caught up on our kids, our travels and at our age – our latest minor injuries and recoveries as well. I have known Nadine since I was three years old, growing up in public housing in the East New York section of Brooklyn. We played dolls together for hours, sewed doll clothes, created families in my metal doll house, traded plastic charms, created and donned Halloween costumes, spent hours sledding in the abandoned lots of our neighborhood, spent days playing Monopoly, Careers, and Parcheesi, Skelly, Girls Are, Ringo Leevio, eating Mr. Softee ice cream, street food knishes, and Carvel on special days. We celebrated every birthday together and I glimpsed my first lights of Chanukah as she helped to trim my Christmas tree. I played “church” with her where I was the priest and she received “Necco wafer communion!” We knew each others’ siblings well and in my case, she knew my mother’s craziness like no other outsider.
I attended Nadine’s kid’s bar mitzvahs and weddings and she attended the one wedding in my family. On one fateful trip to New York many years ago, we made a point of stopping to visit her on our way out to Southampton with our four kids, the youngest of whom was two. We had a nice chicken dinner with Nadine and her family and my youngest, Gregory left handprints all over her mirrored dining room walls. We headed out east and dove into what would become the nightmare of our lives as our youngest child drowned the next day. Nadine was there at that awful funeral as well. A year later she gave us the money to build a memorial garden at our church where the ashes of my son remain today. Suffice to say, I have so much love for this sweet friend of mine that I was most grateful to spend last night with her and her dear husband.
We left each other at Grand Central and Shep and I decided to walk some more headed into an impromptu concert in Bryant Park and then the sheer, non-stop chaos of Times Square. It is such complete and utter overload there and I was most taken by the unbelievable amount of Selfie taking going on. We moved along into the subway to head to Chambers Street. Oddly, I was on the New Lots line (except it’s been changed from number two train to three??) and New Lots Ave. was my stop when I lived in the projects!
We got off at our stop and started our walk to the apartment. My feet were done now, really done so I was anxious to end walking when I noticed a small sofa under some scaffold on a corner in the dark. There lay a small black woman with pink glasses and it appeared that a standing young white woman carrying a canvas bag was holding her hand. On closer look, I felt that she was checking the pulse of the woman laying on sofa and it made me think of the stunning Netflix series, “Jackie” that I’d watched. Shep urged me to move on. I did not want to and I should have said, “No” and stopped to ask if I could help. He said, “What do you think you’re going to do?” I didn’t know, but I wanted to do something, call someone, say something. We crossed the wide street and as I crossed the street, I froze, refusing to walk another step. On a corner a block away I saw the flashing lights of an ambulance. “Why don’t they go and help?” I asked Shep. “They have their own emergency to take care of” he responded. A fire engine roared down the busy side street and I hoped it was to help this scene. They stopped their truck and slowly walked out. Four NYFD guys sauntering over in no rush. One appeared to have gloves on and checked for breathing by holding his hand at the mouth of the victim. No one offered oxygen. No one did CPR. No one did anything at all. The young woman still stood there and in time, she began walking away. One of the firefighters went to the truck, got out a big long piece of white plastic and laid it over the woman. She was dead and this was her tribute.
I insisted that we cross over and catch up with the young woman who was running and talking on her phone. I asked, “Are you okay? You did something wonderful, so sweet, so caring. What a good thing you did.” She was crying, “They were so gross. Those men. She was naked, had no pants on. They did nothing. They flapped her hands around. They did nothing. They were gross, just gross.” She cried on and walked on, wanting no comfort from me or anything else. I suppose the thing she needed most was to go home and be held by someone, anyone.
I am unforgiving of myself this morning. I could not sleep well thinking about this over and over. I did not do right. I should have held the hand of the hand helping the poor, dead woman. I should have knelt and prayed. I should have said kind words to the dying or already dead woman reminding her that she had once been someone’s beautiful newborn and that in her life she had made a difference somehow, sometime in some way. Maybe she was someone’s mother or sister or wife and certainly, she was someone’s child and always a child of God and my sister.
We behaved like the classic, stereotypical New Yorkers and walked on by a scene that looked like one from the bible. We are called upon to care and to love in the most wretched, dirty, likely drug filled moments. Still we are called upon to care.