Did you ever meet someone you just instantly liked? I mean before the person even spoke or before you knew anything about them? I have someone like that in my building. My neighbor.
I’ll call her Frances.
I met Frances in 2004 when I moved into my building with my new husband. She took the time to welcome me. That can be a rare thing in a place as busy as New York. She immediately started treating me like she’d known me for years.
Frances always has a slight smile on her face. She has beautiful smile lines that say she’s seen a lot, laughed a lot, learned a lot. They make her look wise and happy. She’s not the bubbly type. Her smile seems to be more for herself than anyone else. She’s fairly quiet. But when she does speak, she looks you directly in the eye and listens to everything you say back to her.
I’m not sure how old Frances is. She has a simple, bobbed hair cut that she’s let go completely grey. It tells you she’s sophisticated but also says “I was at Woodstock and I probably danced in the rain.” I don’t know if she was at Woodstock. I never asked.
She wears drapey clothes that could fit in at a beach party in The Hamptons, but not stand out serving the homeless at a soup kitchen. I don’t know if she goes to The Hamptons, or serves at a soup kitchen. I never asked.
When my daughter was born, Frances showed up at my door with food. She’d made the food herself. It was good food. A wise, thoughtful and very appreciated gift. I let Frances hold my newborn daughter. She handled her so gently. She held her close and looked right in her small face. Frances smiled. She was smiling to herself. I thought to myself, ”What a wonderful grandmother she would be.” Was Frances a grandmother? I never asked.
Our relationship continued pretty much the same. We’d bump into each other coming or leaving the building. We’d make pleasant small talk. We never went very deep with our conversation, but I always liked seeing her.
As my daughter grew to the toddler stage, my husband and I were always looking for places to take her to let her run without danger. One sunny afternoon we took her to a park with wide-open spaces. Seeing as she was a toddler, she bee-lined for the only thing that could possibly pose danger in the area. It was a large cement and steel memorial to New York victims of 9/11. The only thing I thought was. “Great, she’s going to fall and hit her head on cement.” I rushed to steady her.
When I was able to grab her, I noticed names all along the bottom of the memorial. Thousands of names etched in the cement. They circled the whole structure. They were from every ethnicity, every age, one after another after another. But there in the middle of one of the countless lines, was a name I recognized. I turned to my husband, “Look honey someone on here has the same last name as Frances.” He looked at me stunned and puzzled. “How could you not know?”
That name etched on the cement was Frances’ son. Her only child. He’d gone to a prestigious business school, one I’m sure he worked very hard to get in. He graduated with honors in 2000. He’d moved back home after graduation because his dad, Frances’ husband had just died. It was a good move for him. He could be there for his newly-widowed mom. His mom, who’d spent years caring for her slowly-dying husband and now lived alone. He could also save money. He was going to buy a place downtown in the Financial District. You see, he’d gotten a great job as a trader for a firm called Cantor Fitzgerald.
If you are a New Yorker, just saying “Cantor Fitzgerald” puts a period on the sentence. No one survived. Every soul, every man and woman who’d worked so hard to make it to that firm vanished when the first plane hit. They were gone in seconds. They’d had bright futures, dreams, loves and their own Frances. At least I hope they all had a Frances.
I saw Frances out the window yesterday. She was walking on the sidewalk in front of our building. She’d been to the grocery store and was carrying a big load of bags. I stepped out of sight and just watched her. She paused for just a moment and looked up. I followed her line of vision and saw a beautiful deep blue sky with one wispy cloud floating by. Frances smiled.
I wonder what she saw when she looked up.
I wonder what she knows that I don’t.
I need to ask.
@mbneil is also a guest blogger over at http://www.mylifeasanofficerswife.com/ today with another touching story. Check it out!