SEE ME, FEEL ME

My husband Sam and I were hosting our usual Friday night dinner with friends, something we’ve been doing for several years. Sam is a psychology professor at NYU and I manage Dahlia’s, an eponymously named floral shop.

Our weekly dinner companions are Claude and his wife Piper who own a small eclectic bookstore called The Paper Trail and Austin and Rebecca who have been engaged for seven years. Rebecca is a music teacher at a private school in Manhattan and Austin is a graphic designer. We keep asking them “When’s the big day?” but neither one seems to be in a rush.

Our dinner conversations are always lively, touching on a variety of topics. This particular evening, Sam said “I asked my class this question today: ‘If you had to choose between being deaf or being blind, which would you choose?’ Now, my friends, I’d like to know how you would answer that question.” My husband – ever the provocateur! Perhaps that’s what I find so stimulating about him.

Well, no big surprise, no one said anything for a moment; this was a profound question. I finally decided to break the ice by responding. “For me, as a florist, I would have to say I’d choose to be deaf. I need to see the arrangements I’m creating, which color flowers go well together, the best bouquets to match bridesmaid’s dresses, even something as simple as placing flowers in the right vase. I wouldn’t have to hear the bell on the shop’s front door or the telephone ring; both can be hooked up to a light to get my attention. And customers could always email or text me with their orders. Why, I could even communicate with my customers via tablets in the shop. I’d still be able to see and smell all the beautiful flowers, meet my customer’s expectations and take pride in my creations.”

Spurred on by my answer, Austin chimed in. “Exactly! I totally agree with Dahlia. In the field of graphic design, I would be incapable of working without the ability to see. These days there are so many electronic devices we can use to communicate; I don’t think being deaf would interfere with my life or my work at all.”

Immediately Rebecca countered what we said. “I get where the two of you are coming from but I could never teach music if I were deaf. I’d be able to place my fingers on the correct piano keys or strum the right strings on a guitar because I’ve been making music all my life. It’s second nature to me. But I wouldn’t want to exist without the sound of music, to hear my students playing, to correct their mistakes or praise their achievements. It would be impossible for me to conduct an orchestra, not knowing if the violins should be a little louder or the bassoons pianissimo. Austin, if you were deaf, you wouldn’t hear the wedding march when I walk down the aisle or hear me say the words ‘I do’.”

Austin was quick to reply. “As long as I could see your radiant face in your gorgeous wedding gown carrying the beautiful bouquet designed by Dahlia, that’s all that would matter. And as far as hearing you say ‘I do’, I would read your luscious lips before tenderly kissing my new bride.”

We all laughed as Sam exclaimed “Nice save, Austin! Claude and Piper, we’ve yet to hear from you. What’s your poison – deaf or blind?”

As if on cue, both Claude and Piper declared their answers at the same time; he said “Deaf”; she said “Blind”. They stared at each other in bewilderment and the rest of us couldn’t help but laugh at the expressions on their faces. Of course Sam had to keep the game going by saying “At last! Some controversy, a little gasoline on the fire of our conversation. Let’s keep this ball rolling!” and he poured everyone a fresh glass of wine.

Claude cleared his throat. “Piper, mon cher, we own a bookstore! How can you possibly say you would choose blindness over deafness? Mon Dieu! Have you forgotten how we bonded at that little book shop in Paris … what was the name? Ah! La Manoeuvre! We both reached for the same book of poetry by Paul Eluard and when our eyes met I knew I could never look away.’’

“Oh, my darling Claude. I could never forget La Manoeuvre. You read poetry to me and time stood still. It was as though we were the only people in that shop. Our love for books is why we bought The Paper Trail; that store is our baby. I know each book on every shelf and have read most of them. The feel of the paper, the smell of the leather-bound first editions, hearing you read to me – I do not need sight to love a book.”

Piper and Claude moved closer to each other and embraced, momentarily forgetting they were not alone. They kissed, then pulled away, embarrassed. Piper blushed and gave a breathless laugh.

“Claude, do you remember the books I had in my bag the day we first met?” Piper asked.

Claude nodded and said “Oui. One was ‘Wuthering Heights’ in Braille and the other was French sign language. They were for your parents.”

Piper looked around the room at the rest of us and explained. “My mother is blind and my father is deaf. Somehow they never had trouble communicating; I suppose they spoke the silent language of love. That’s why I was so passionate about having a Braille section in our bookstore. Also, there is new technology to help both blind and deaf people enjoy a movie or television.”

Turning to Claude, Piper said “As long as I can hear your voice, it doesn’t matter if I never see another thing again.”

We all felt a little in awe of Piper at that moment. We sipped our wine, captivated by the sounds of silence.  

NAR © 2022

BLOW

It was the middle of February, probably one of the coldest days of the year, but that didn’t bother me. I liked the cold; people just assumed my persistent runny nose and watery eyes were from the harsh weather when in reality the cause was yet another hit of cocaine – my constant companion, my best friend and my most insidious opponent.

I was waiting outside the NY Public Library in Manhattan for my guy to show up with that lovely little glassine envelope of blow. He was running late, as usual, and I was freezing my ass off, so I decided to wait in the lobby. At least it was a little warmer.

Just a few feet from the entrance sat a bench where I took up residence. I was starting to get agitated, my fingernails tap-tapping on the wooden slats. It had been several hours since my last snort – an eternity for an addict – and I couldn’t still my scattered mind. A prune-faced woman sitting on a bench opposite me kept looking from my fingers to my face, clearly annoyed. Self-consciously I put my hands in my pockets, immediately coming in contact with my little amber bottle with the attached spoon – what a clever design that was, although I must admit the one with the little golden spoon neatly built into the inside bottom of the lid was pure genius. You know the one I’m talking about. OK – this was a nice surprise! I’d completely forgotten about it when I changed jackets the other day; I always keep my stash in my backpack.

Elated, I wrapped my fingers around the bottle, delighting in the feel of the all-too-familiar smooth surface. I could just walk to the corner of the lobby and pretend to blow my nose while actually taking a hit. I’ve done it a hundred times. One quick glance at the bottle and I cursed; it was empty. Hoping against hope, I decided to check my backpack just in case I’d hidden a spare bottle.

I reached down to retrieve my backpack from under the bench when I caught a glimpse of a bright pink book, obviously forgotten or misplaced by a library patron. Being a curious sort, I reached over to check it out and my heart stopped; in bold black print was the title of the book – QUITTING COCAINE: YOUR PERSONAL RECOVERY PLAN. That book and I stared at each other for a full five minutes. Was this some kind of joke, a sign of divine intervention or just a crazy coincidence. Well, I’m not the type who believes in coincidences; everything in our lives happens for a reason, whether we like it or not.

My leg was bouncing up and down like a jackhammer – something that always happened when I needed a hit – so I put my backpack on my lap, crossed my legs and snuck a peek at the book. The first line was a blistering slap across the face: “Keep shoving coke up your nose and you’ll be dead by this time next year.” No “probably” or “there’s a chance”; just a flat-out death sentence, literally. I read the first chapter in five minutes; still no sign of my guy so I continued reading. Forty-five minutes later I’d read the whole book and still no delivery. But I realized my leg had stopped bouncing; when did that happen?

Slipping the book into my backpack I noticed the author’s name on the back cover: Dr. Arnold M. Washton, an internationally recognized psychologist and author specializing in substance abuse treatment. A little further down was a picture of the good doctor, an email address, phone number and the location of his office. Holy shit! This was definitely no coincidence. His office was about a three-minute walk from where I sat at the library.

For the first time in my pathetic and broken life I felt like I had a purpose. I left the library and walked straight to Dr. Washton’s office. I had no idea if the place was even open but I knew I had to take the chance. When I arrived I hesitated for a second, then rang the bell. Immediately there was a buzz and the door unlocked. As I entered I heard a man’s voice call out “In here” and I walked into a dimly lit office. It was a very calming room with the smell of leather and black cherry pipe tobacco.

Dr. Washton sat in a large over-stuffed chair next to a blazing fireplace reading a book. He took the pipe from his mouth and looked up at me; his eyes were warm and kind.

“I need help” was all I said.

“Then you’ve come to the right place” was his response.

And I knew I had.

NAR © 2021

OUR LITTLE TRYSTS

“Given. Frank Given. Suite 412. Please check again” I implored the unfamiliar desk clerk at the Pierre Hotel. 

I’m sorry, ma’am, there’s no one registered here by that name.” The young man behind the desk looked at me with a mixture of embarrassment and pity. 

“You must be mistaken” I replied quietly. 

“There’s no mistake, ma’am. There isn’t even a reservation for a Frank Given. Perhaps you have the wrong hotel” the clerk suggested, trying to give me a way out. 

Well, of course I didn’t have the wrong hotel! Frank and I had been meeting at the Pierre the second weekend of every month for three years. I noticed two female clerks huddled in the corner looking in my direction and chattering conspiratorially. My face turned red knowing they were talking about me. 

I checked my phone for any texts or missed calls from Frank; there were none. Rather than stay in the lobby looking distraught and abandoned, I walked into the lounge and ordered a martini. 

I sipped my drink and absentmindedly fingered the outline of the crest of the Pierre Hotel on the cocktail napkin. From where I sat I had a clear view of the front desk on the left and the entrance on East 61st Street on the right. I’d be able to see Frank the moment he arrived. 

After thirty minutes and two martinis I began feeling paranoid. It was painfully obvious, at least to me, that everyone who saw me sitting by the bar thought I was either an elegant call girl just past her prime or a now lonesome and tedious woman who had been stood up. 

Now in a state of semi-panic, I took my phone out again and texted Frank. I stared at the screen waiting for an answer which would offer a perfectly understandable and forgivable explanation. 

Feigning nonchalance, I called Frank’s cell; it went straight to voicemail. Laughing flirtatiously, I left a message proving to no one in particular that all was right in my crumbling world. 

My mind drifted back to that night when Frank and I first met. We shared a taxi and instead of continuing to my apartment, I accepted Frank’s invitation for a late dinner at the Pierre. One thing led to another as it often does and we spent the night together. A fling turned into a romance. 

I became aware of someone approaching. Expecting to see Frank, I looked up, smiling; it was the concierge. Whispering discreetly, he handed me a note. It read: “Dearest Christine. I have treasured our little trysts but now we must go our separate ways. Farewell. Frank” 

Our little trysts!” I was shattered. 

Just like that, as suddenly as it began it was over. Looking straight ahead, I gracefully walked out of the hotel. After buying a bag of roasted nuts from a vendor on the corner, I walked over to Central Park. I sat on a bench feeding the pigeons, thinking of everything and nothing.  

NAR © 2021