Thirty years ago. I am standing at the window of an apartment on the twenty-third floor of the San Remo, one of the amazing old buildings on Central Park West in New York City, looking out at the stunning view. I am close to making an offer on this apartment. It takes up the entire floor, with panoramic views of the whole city and the New Jersey side of the Hudson. I am in a bedroom that overlooks the park and 72nd Street. My broker, who has become a friend, is with me. Our friendship was formed as he helped me buy numerous apartments over the years while I searched for a home—not yet realizing that you have to make a place your home when you live in it; you can’t try to buy into someone else’s creation. The broker for the seller—the estate of the ninety-something-year-old woman who had made it her home for forty years—walks up behind me, pauses, and tells me this story.
“The owner became a widow thirty-five years ago, when she was in her sixties. She found a new partner, a boyfriend, and he lived in the Majestic.” He points to a building on 72nd Street, a few blocks away. “They never moved in together, or married. They spent Tuesday and Friday nights alternating between their apartments, and the rest of the time they lived their own lives, with their separate friends and children. Her son told me that it was an amazing relationship. Every night they blinked their lights on and off to say good-night.”
After that story, my broker leads the seller’s broker away, and they wander around the apartment together. By this time in our relationship, my broker knows when to leave me alone and is making sure I can do my own thing without the seller’s broker pushing me. I don’t do well when pushed. I stand at the window for quite awhile, thinking about the apartment and the story of the woman who lived in it. I find it intriguing.
We bought that apartment, H2 (my term for my second husband) and I. Later, we divorced in that apartment.
It’s now been almost thirty years since the day I stood there hearing that story. I have thought of it often. At the time, I couldn’t imagine wanting the woman’s life. I couldn’t imagine not wanting a total commitment with someone. Living together twenty-four seven. But I was young then, and now I’m not.
I love my life. I love my family, with whom I have never been closer. My fabulous daughter, who shines so brightly in this world of dissonance. My sister, with whom I now share a bond that had eluded us for our entire lives. Nina, my charge from Bosnia, who went MIA for many years but is back in my life and doing so well for herself. My friends. My college friend with whom I am writing my first novel. My new friends in Maine, who I can’t imagine never knowing. My beloved Aunt Molly, who now lives near me in Maine. My New York friends, Hamptons friends. Business friends. Oh, what a charmed life I lead. My garden. Backgammon. My writing. My cottage in the woods. My, my, my...
I wake up every morning and can’t wait to start exploring—and I don’t know if there is room in this life for a traditional partnership anymore. Maybe that ship has sailed? Maybe the woman, whose name I don’t think I ever knew but about whom I have thought often over the years, had it right. She clearly had it right for herself; according to her son, she and her partner had the best relationship he ever witnessed in a couple. Who says that blinking your lights good-night is a less meaningful form of intimacy than spending every waking moment together? The fact that it worked for them says it all.
Here is what I know for sure. Being open to that which you never had on your radar is a good thing. We get so cemented into what we think the road of life should be that many of us—or perhaps I should just speak for myself and say “I”—find it too easy to stop being creative, to not look beyond traditional life markers for things that I might not have expected. It’s so easy to fixate on lives lived by others, and I tend to try to mimic rather than breaking new ground. But today I am telling you about the woman who was the previous inhabitant of my old apartment—someone I’ve never really spoken of, that I can recall—because maybe this is a time for me, and you, and all of us to consider other options than that which we had thought was the only way.