Sunday, November 04, 2012

Shades of Gray

As I get older the past seems to flood in more and more.
We are all wounded and flawed and it helps to admit that. - Tim Juliff, June 2009
Scattered pictures,
Of the smiles we left behind
Smiles we gave to one another
For the way we were. - from "The Way We Were", Marvin Hamlisch

Shades of Gray - View from my Living Room
I am twelve thousand miles away from what I am remembering. My brother Tim.

I saw his smile two days ago. Sitting on a cross-town bus on the northern part of the island of Manhattan. Below 39th Street our New York world's a mess. Flooded. Powerless in all senses of the word, wet, sad, gray.

We had more spirit in the aftermath of nine eleven.

I have my own refugee here. She's camped in the living room. Her apartment still has no power and it's been almost a week since Hurricane Sandy hit.

We went downtown yesterday to check it out. Guards opened the door to the apartment building and showed us where the water level had been. The security card system wasn't working. There was no heat, limited power, some water. A smell of dankness filled the lobby. Outside a tree up-ended by the storm showed its root system - bared to the gray Manhattan sky. The local deli had a few packets of cheese and some salami on its otherwise empty shelves.

Stuyvesant Town, New York
I've been all into New York this past week. The news, the internet, the people waiting for buses, lines of people holding cans for gas. The wreck that is Staten Island. Faraway Rockaways. It is as if a shell of gray surrounds us New Yorkers - living in our own little gray-encased world.

On the phone to OZ, people seen perplexed. "What do you mean, food shortage?" "Why didn't she fill the bathtub up with water?" And on Facebook, "At least you aren't in Haiti!" "At least YOU aren't in Haiti!" I snap back.

And so on the cross-town bus, I sat, immersed in my city, New York. No other place existed. Then I looked across the aisle. And saw my brother's smile.

The woman across from me sat reading. She'd looked up briefly, annoyed at some one's ringing cell phone, and caught my eye. She had my brother's gray hair, my brother's mouth and sixtyish wrinkles. As she caught my eye she smiled. It only lasted a minute, but was enough.

Woman on Crosstown Bus
I was transported back to Melbourne, Australia. To  a thousand different rolling-on-the-floor-laughing nights before emotions were acronyms. To the blue skies and white beaches of Wilson's prom when we were Dylan-listening teenagers. To Tim's sarcasm. To his deep love of his children. To visiting his first-born son in a Melbourne hospital, and picking baby Sime out immediately. Through the hospital nursery glass there were some twenty babies. All in hospital white. And there in the middle was Sime, all dressed up in hippie-purple.

Where was I? The bus jolted me back to reality. It had stopped on Central Park West. A heap of German tourists had ascended with all sorts of high-tech collapsible tubular steel mounted necessities for modern life. "Excuse me!" I had to get out.

I climbed over collapsed strollers, squeezed through the barricades of backpacks. Onto the busy New York street.

My brother's smile was fading. As it blurred into the grayness I remembered where I was.

In New York, New York.


Anonymous said...

One of your best and most touching.
The storm has rendered us very unequal.
Your brother's smile reflected back to you by a stranger's sweetness.

Anonymous said...

Maybe, just maybe, Sandy will show the inhabitants of this country what it's like in a country ravaged by war. Why do Yanks think they have to be the world's policeman? Don't Americans (and that includes me) realize we could back off and let countries half a world away look after themselves? So there's injustice in the world and cruelty and disease etc. Is it our responsibility to rectify all the world's problems. We could have our Festung Amerika at a tenth of the cost of the wars we prosecute.
BTW, great story, Kate. I can feel your sadness for the loss of your brother. Wish I'd had one during my lifetime - he died when I was 18 months old and all he wanted was to teach me baseball.

Anonymous said...

Good story, Kate.Thinking of Tim today (and frequently).) He was a kindred spirit.

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