The Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge

It was the summer most of us graduated from college. We were artists; dancers, singers, musicians, actors and migrated immediately to NYC to start our new lives. There was a building on E. 52nd Street that a number of previous graduates had cycled through. That’s where I wound up; a six floor walk-up, top floor. Three of the four apartments were occupied by us. We called it The Tucker Arms after the landlord who lived on the ground floor.

We were determined to enjoy everything Manhattan had to offer. It was a never ending party. The freedom was exhilarating. We did whatever we felt like. It wasn’t unusual to get a phone call at 11:00 pm asking if we wanted to meet up and catch the midnight show of Wayland Flowers and Madame at an Upper Westside cabaret. We’d dress up, smoke a joint and hop in a cab. Afterward, we’d stop at the all-night doughnut shop before climbing the six flights home where we’d crash for a few hours. A quick shower and then off to the various crappy jobs we had to pay the rent. Brunch on the weekends, last minute pot luck dinner parties, picnics in Central Park, dancing all night at drag clubs, sunbathing on the roof, putting on impromptu shows for each other; it was glorious.

It wasn’t just our building though. We had college friends all over the City. One of them was Mary B. She had been a part of our tight-knit group when we were still on campus but had graduated the semester before. Mary was one of those special people that everybody, man or woman, gay or straight, fell in love with just the littlest bit. She was full of life; not pretty in the traditional sense but bursting with youth and absolutely fearless. She had piercing blue eyes, thick, dark hair, fair skin and freckles. She looked like an angel but could curse like a sailor. And she was talented. She could sing, dance, act and was a hell of a photographer. She was someone everyone wanted to be around. Her energy was boundless and infectious. A natural leader, she always went her own way. Senior year, she moved in with her boyfriend, Drew. That’s pretty common place today but in the seventies, it was still considered a bold move.

I saw her once that summer. I had come home from work and knocked on my neighbor Rita’s door looking to hang out for awhile. Mary was there visiting her. She was dressed in a white tee shirt and painter’s pants. Her hair hung loose and she wore no make-up but that made her even more beautiful. She seemed to glow from within. We drank wine and talked. She and Drew had broken up. She was living with her dad in the Bronx. She had been doing a little modeling and was getting more involved with her photography. She pulled her camera out of her shoulder bag to show me. She seemed so happy.

Weeks went by. I had just come home from work. There was a knock on my door. It was Rita. She’d been listening for me to come home. She wanted to catch me before I knocked on her door. Eddie, another friend was there and was pretty freaked out. Mary was dead. My first thought was that something had happened to her in the Bronx. But then Rita said “Drew killed her”. It was one of those moments when you think you must have heard wrong or misunderstood. What she was saying didn’t make sense. So she told me what Eddie told her.

After Mary had moved out of the apartment with Drew, Eddie moved in. Apparently, Drew wasn’t handling the breakup well. He was already trying to deal with his mother’s terminal illness and losing Mary had driven him into depression. That weekend, he asked Eddie to go to his parents so he could have the apartment to himself. He was going to ask Mary to come over and try to convince her to come back. Eddie obliged. When he returned on Sunday, he found Mary dead and Drew overdosed on pills. Mary had come as Drew asked and while she was sitting on the couch, Drew went to the closet, got out his rifle and shot her in the heart. Then he wrote a suicide note and took the pills. Drew was lucky. They got to him in time.

Now Eddie was here because he couldn’t go back to that apartment. Rita was letting him stay temporarily but she had another roommate who was traveling but would be home that week. Rita asked me to come and talk to him for awhile and keep him occupied. We sat and talked all night. About everything but what happened. We laughed and listened to music and got stoned. I asked Eddie if he wanted to be my roommate. The girl I had been living with, a strange androgynous creature that I rather meanly referred to as “Elizabeth the Klingon” due to her unfortunate protruding forehead and unibrow, had recently moved out. Eddie excepted.

We got through that week somehow. Calling other friends with the news, dealing with Mary’s younger sister who crashed with us because she couldn’t stand the atmosphere at home, the wake, the funeral. The following weekend, Eddie moved in. We got him unpacked and settled. We tried hanging out with friends and having fun but neither of us was really in the mood. On Sunday evening, we sat in the shoebox that passed for our living room. The window was open to let in what little breeze there was. The light was fading so we lit a candle. We rolled a joint and passed it back and forth in silence. I looked at Ed. He suddenly seemed much older. “I guess this is what it feels like to be an adult” I said. “This is how it’s going to be for the rest of our lives.” He stared at the candle. “Yeah, I guess so.”

I’ve thought about that evening many times. I truly mark that as the moment I left the innocence of youth behind. Oh I don’t mean I was naive to the pain and trouble of life. And I’d seen death before. But never the death of one of us! We were young. We were immortal. Death wouldn’t touch us for many years. But it did and it took one of the best and brightest.

This realization of our own mortality didn’t stop us from being reckless. We still did crazy, on-the-edge things. But now, the next day there might be a feeling of regret or a relief that we escaped unscathed. No more the blind freedom of invincibility. And perhaps it was a blessing that this overtook us so early. It was just a slight breeze, a warning of the maelstrom to come when a few years later so many were lost to AIDS. Even Ed.




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Sifting Through A Life

I was sick this weekend, down with some bug that left me feeling like I had been body-slammed by The Hulk. I wanted nothing more on Saturday but to remain in bed as late as possible and then to spend the rest of the day in PJs and bathrobe drinking herbal tea. But my husband is a task master. He reminded me that we needed to start cleaning out my Aunt’s house. “It’s not going to get done if we don’t do it.” Although I had a legitimate excuse to beg off, I also knew that if we didn’t get started, I would find another reason to postpone this very unwanted chore. I loaded up on Alka-Seltzer Plus, dressed warmly and slept in the car for the hour and a half trip to my family home.

There was a parking spot right in front of the house when we arrived, so we parked there instead of navigating the narrow, cheek-walled driveway. While my husband got the construction trash bags out of the back, I stood looking at the two-family brick home I’d grown up in. At one time, seven of us shared that house; my mother and father and I downstairs and my grandmother, two aunts and and uncle upstairs. It was empty now. I moved my aunt up to Connecticut with me eleven months ago. Nobody has lived there since then.  I have been back a number of times to take care of various issues and I never noticed any change. But it looked different now. Desolate. My last, living connection to it was gone. It was just a vacant building now.

I knew what faced us. I’d been there since my Aunt began her decent into dementia. I knew it was dirty and cluttered. But I’d always had some other purpose to occupy me while I was there. Now I was just trying to empty it out.

The stale smell of a closed up place assaulted me the moment we opened the door to her apartment. And there is an odor about the very old that is difficult to describe but unforgettable that clings to anywhere they have spent time. I looked around at the piles of random things, the signs printed in large print with names and numbers and other important things taped up everywhere and all the other tricks she developed to navigate through the jungle of her life. Truthfully, it was depressing thinking about this woman who was an executive, who worked until she was 79, struggling to figure out how to do the simplest of tasks.

Our goal was just to clean out her bedroom. We began with her clothes, just pulling them out of closets and drawers and putting them into bags for Good Will. There was a stark contrast. She had always been a meticulous dresser. Smart, tailored suits from Saks, silk blouses and casual clothes from Talbots. They were there, hung sharply on good hangers in dry cleaning bags. But there was also, stained, cheap pull on pants and dingy tops hung haphazardly on bent, wire hangers. In the end, she was rinsing out laundry in the sink because she was afraid of the washer in the basement.

The dresser held much more than clothes. She had kept every greeting and birthday card sent her, many of them from me. And photos everywhere. And all sorts of “junk” that had held some meaning for her but meant nothing to me and therefore went into the garbage bag. I felt like an intruder, a voyeur and a heartless despot tossing aside things that obviously she held close. I kept all the photos; they would be gone through at a later date. But even they would be decimated. I knew there would be many faces I would not know and therefore would end in the trash pile. I felt I was judging her life in a way, what was worth saving and what was not. I know she was more than the sum of the things she had collected and treasured but still…

We opened a second closet in her room and the bottom was full of bags of used and unused Depends and dirty underwear. I imagine she knew she couldn’t flush them but was embarrassed to put them in the trash on the chance someone would find them. She was always proud. We had to make a cursory search before just tossing them because she would put important and good things in with things to be thrown out.

In the bottom of one, I found something wrapped in tissue paper. It was a beautiful, Christmas ornament in the shape of a rose. I’ve written before of the significance of a rose  to me. It is always a sign from someone I love who has died that they are with me. I find them in the most unexpected places. And mixed in with the Depends was the most unexpected place. It was then I knew Aunt Mary was letting me know that it was OK for me to be sorting through her things. She probably felt bad that Paul and I had to do it to begin with.

That day, we threw away more than we kept or gave away and we still have a whole house to sort through. But I know now that none of that matters. It doesn’t matter to me and it doesn’t matter to my Aunt because the only thing she took with her and the only thing she left behind is the love.


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This year
I will peel back
The layers of ego
That hide me from myself.

This year
I will release
All the fears and resentments
That weigh me down
And tie my wings.

This year
I will give my mind permission
To follow the magic
And chase after dreams.

This year
I will be awake
And open my heart
To everyone and everything.

This year
I will find my way closer
To The One.

This year.
This day.
This moment.



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Grandmother’s Blessing

It did not feel much like Christmas this year. There was much sadness in my home and outside, no beautiful, sparkling blanket of snow. Christmas Eve day was overcast and foggy and warm enough to walk out in a tee shirt. My husband went to run some errands and I stayed behind to work around the house. I went out back to pick up after the dogs and got side tracked. Paul tells me that I do that all the time, get side tracked, but something will catch my attention and I’m off. In this case, it was our backyard planter. I saw there was still so much that was green so I went to check it out. I was surprised to find a single pink blossom blooming in the back. As I stood there amazed and admiring the wonder of nature, I heard a voice saying, “Go look. There’s more.”


I’ve lived here for ten years and there are still many parts of our woods that I have never walked. I went down our garden steps and saw how the plants were confused and beginning to sprout.


I continued down the hill, following the old, stone wall that ran down to the road. I stopped, took a deep breath and decided to let my heart look. The first thing I saw was a fairy castle.


It had a magic portal on top.

I saw the skull of a dead tree.

Farther along was a snake tree.

There was a velociraptor head.

And a miniature forest.

And just so much green.

image image
A beautiful rock that seemed a world of it’s own.

And moss dressed for the holiday.

Finally, I stopped at Grandmother Tree. I knew it was she who had guided me on my walk. She stood there reaching up to the sky with her strong arms, her finger branches spreading out to bless and protect us all.

“Thank you, Grandmother. You have given me so many gifts. I would not have seen them without your showing me. Merry Christmas.”
I know she heard me because as I walked across the expanse of lawn I found one more gift, a single, beautiful pine cone. I picked it up and held it to my face and breathed in the scent of Christmas.


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Love Never Fails

I am a strong believer in signs.  I know that if you open your heart to it, Spirit will speak to you in all sorts of ways.  For me, a rose has always been a sign from a loved one who has passed.  I wrote about it in a post called The Rose.

Earlier this week, my Aunt Mary, who I loved dearly, left this physical world after a rapid decline over a few days.  Her death was quite and peaceful quite the opposite of the sparkly-life-of-the-party-girl she was all of her life.


That’s Aunt Mary on the left with her best friend Marge.  She had Marge were BFF’s for 70 plus years.

Wednesday, we went to her house to look for some things we needed for the wake.  The funeral director asked if my aunt had the crucifix from her brother’s wake.  She thought we might want to use it again.  So there we were, hunting through piles of stuff that Aunt Mary had accumulated over the years.  She was on the verge of becoming a hoarder.  Boxes and bags full of all sorts of things everywhere.  I was searching in her old bedroom (she had stopped sleeping in that bed a few years ago because it was too high for her to climb into) opening closets,  checking in night stands, digging in bags.  I made my way around to the far side of the bed, climbing over all sorts of obstacles, to a chest of drawers.  I had to move more boxes to open the top drawer.  I moved the contents of the drawer around and in the back saw a round, grey box that looked out of place.  I took it out and opened it.  Inside was a beautiful crystal rose.  Now that’s my Aunt Mary, sparkly all the way.


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They lit the candle outside my Aunt’s room tonight. There was Christmas music from the CD player next to her bed and a blank journal for visitors to write in. After I left, they were changing the sheets from standard hospital white to pretty pink or blue. The lit candle let’s everyone know that Mary is getting ready to transition. Nurses, aides and even the housekeepers will stop by so she is never alone.

I sat with her for two hours tonight. I asked if she remembered how, when I was little, we would sit on her bed and pretend it was the back of a whale that took us all over the world. What adventures we had. And she would pretend to be Chinese Girlfriend and call me up and we would tell stories. And when she took me to Central Park Zoo and I was done watching the seals and had to pee, she would take me across the street to the Sherry Netherlands Hotel to use their fancy restroom instead of the public ones in the park. And when I was older, we would go into Bergdorf’s or Bendel’s, places we had no business being in, and she would make the sales people take things out and we would try stuff on and then she would say “No, the color is all wrong” or “That just isn’t you”, and we would walk out. How she was always my own, personal “Auntie Mame”.

Her nurse Debi told me yesterday she thought Debi was me and was trying to plan a party with me. She was always the bartender, in the kitchen with the blender making cocktails. They never had names. She’d ask what you wanted by color. “You want a pink one or a brown one?” So I told her tonight that if my mother or her brother Marty came for her she should go. They had a big party ready for her. I would be back tomorrow but she shouldn’t wait for me. She should go and I would catch up later.

She couldn’t talk today. Or move her head. Her eyes had that “thousand yard stare”. But yesterday she could. She would say a lot of things that didn’t make sense to me but sometimes it was as if nothing was wrong and she would whisper to me like a fellow conspirator. “I know why you are here.” “Oh, why’s that?” I said. “You’re here to do what you were meant to do. To do what’s in your heart.” “And what might that be?” “You’re here to make people smile.”

Oh Aunt Mary, I’ve been trying to figure that out for years. What took you so long to tell me?



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I lived for 21 years with a man who terrorized me; physically, mentally, emotionally. In the beginning, before we were married, he wasn’t like that. He wooed me and pretended he liked me the way I was. I was younger than him and part of the generation of women who believed they were in charge of their own lives.

After we were married, his real intentions became plain. He was to be in charge of me. I would have no friends he didn’t approve of. I would do things his way. I would change my attitude or pay the price.

At first, I thought we could go to counseling and work things out. We went once. Then I thought I would just continue to stand up to him and eventually, he would see that he couldn’t change me. In answer, I had hot water thrown in my face, a wet rag shoved in my mouth while he grabbed me by the neck, a wine glass broken over my head, my head slammed into the wall. He tore the clothes off my body, threatened to kill my cat, woke me up in the middle of the night to throw me out of bed and just when I would finally fall asleep on the couch, wake me up again and beg me to come back to bed. He called me a disaster, whore and worse.

His furies were like a squall at sea. Everything could be perfectly tranquil and suddenly all hell would break loose. I never saw them coming. It was becoming an impossible situation. I even went to a lawyer to find out what asking for a divorce would mean.

One evening, we were home having a glass of wine,enjoying the fire. The mood was good, so I thought it might be good time to talk abut how unhappy I was and how I wanted to be like we used to be. Things went south very quickly. He said maybe we should just call it quits but that if I left, I would leave with nothing. I argued back that if we were going to split, I just wanted what I had brought to the marriage – some personal things and $12,000. He screamed at me that nothing was mine, it was all his. I would leave with nothing.

I don’t remember much other detail, except that for the next four hours he screamed at me, threatened me, threatened my family, grabbed me, pushed me. The expression on his face, the way his eyes had a burning, glassy look terrified me. I was sobbing, exhausted, like a rag doll in his hands. He demanded over and over that I admit that nothing was mine. In between sobs I kept repeating that it wasn’t true.

I ended up on my knees in front of the fire. My blouse was torn, my makeup smeared, my hair a tangled mess. He shoved a piece of paper and a pen at me. “Write”, he said. “Write that you have nothing, that everything is mine. Write.”

I couldn’t fight anymore. I was so tired. I took the pen and wrote what he asked. I handed the paper back to him. He read what I wrote and smiled. Then he tore the paper into pieces and threw it into the fire. “Let’s go to bed”, he said and went into the bedroom.

I knelt there, stunned. He just wanted to prove to me that he was, after all, in charge. I was a conquered land.

I knew at that moment, this would only end with the death of one of us.


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Look Up

Every day I ride the commuter train I see people being “productive ” with their train time.  They read the paper, check the news online, answer emails, make calls and work on their laptops.  I used to do that.  Now I meditate or just “be in the moment”.

Today, while everyone had their heads down being productive, I looked up and out the window.  This was my reward.


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Christmas Magic

We are doing minimal holiday decorating this year: a wreath on the front door, evergreen balls hanging on the front porch and gate arbor and a small, table top tree.  We may pop a few more tings here and there as the month goes along but this will pretty much be it.

So today we bought the little table top tree and put it in the family room.


Something caught my eye on the ceiling.  Looks like the universe lit my tree and put a star at the top.  Thanks for the encouragement.


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Clever Boy

Yesterday, I had a hair appointment.  The salon I go to only takes cash or checks and when I settled up, I used the last check in my checkbook.  As soon as I got home I went to get a new checkbook before I would forget.  We have a linen closet in the downstairs bathroom that we use as a place to store paperwork, paid bills, bank statements, etc..  That’s where we keep the box of blank checks.  I’m in there pretty much every week.  So when I opened the folding doors, I was suprised to see a photo lying on the shelf that I don’t remember seeing before.  It was of my boy Gilligan.  He’s been on my mind a lot lately because I knew we were somewhere near the one year anniversary of putting him down.

Now I’m terrible with dates.  I have to repeat a little rhyme to remember my own wedding anniversary.  I can remember months and seasons that things have happened, but not dates.  So today, I searched my blog to find the post I wrote when we put him down.  Yesterday was one year to the day.

Thank you my sweet Gilligan.  Clever boy.


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