Stan Feldstein was having lunch alone at his desk on a bitterly cold and windy Tuesday in early January, absently perusing the New York Law Journal. It wasn’t the press of work that kept him there over the lunch hour; in all honesty, he wasn’t very busy just then. No, he was eating at his desk, as usual, because there really was no one in or near his Murray Street law office that he wanted to spend an hour gabbing with over lunch. Anyone he could think of would quickly get around to asking about his love life and would suggest another “perfect woman” to fix him up with, leading to another of those excruciating dinner dates that couldn’t be over fast enough. If he’d made any New Year’s resolution, it was to be done with that dreary game.
The streetlights barely lit the way to our destination. Flashlights, although necessary, didn’t keep the shadows from invading our space as we pushed our way through the broken fence. Bramble scraped against skin as we slid down the hill to the pavement below. The stifling air made it hard to breathe, pushing my fight or flight response full throttle. Having a battalion of armed men would not have settled my nerves, and I had only two. We marched in armed, not with guns but with folding camp chairs and provisions of coffee, sandwiches, and pastries donated by Starbucks.
Growing up in various small towns in Kansas, I’d lived a life wrapped in the gauzy imagination that insists the “real” America is comprised of white Christians. Our neighbors were Catholics or Methodists, Lutherans or Baptists. I had exactly one Jewish playmate throughout my childhood. But then I left for college.
Home, a place of refuge against life’s vicissitudes. When we die, we tell long-departed loved ones, “I’m coming home.” Safety. Security. If we don’t have a house, we still create a home – if only a hotplate and lumpy mattress in a fleabag hotel, or an empty refrigerator box in hoboville – not much for many, but for some, home.
My MFA nonfiction workshop was held in a small room, surrounded by bookcases with hardcovers and their yellowing pages. We sat around an oval, oak table listening to an older man with a sparse beard and black turtleneck. Among those plush chairs sat archetypes of stereotypical writers with their bushy beards, thick glasses, and self-proclaimed alcoholism. One of those writers was the man I fell in love with.
In 1989, the old building of St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children is a faceless, beige, concrete slab, blended in among industrial-flat structures in a North Philly ghetto. Though a wide city street divides the building from its chain-link, fenced-in parking lot, the road seems narrow, probably because of my age; at thirteen, all I know is that I’m traveling down this street to have blood work drawn and that there’s no turning back.
One afternoon I was passing the time at the Macy’s on thirteenth and Market. I walked in through the large columns and leisurely strolled the white marble floors, passing by the large glass display cases and cosmetics counters when I smelled it. The scent made my cheeks flush with warm blood. I detected a spicy mixture of ginger pepper, black basil, and amber that I knew intimately. My inner thighs tingled. Immediately, I turned around looking for him – my giant, my Bear – but he wasn’t there. I picked up the square glass bottle, holding it to my nose and closing my eyes.