Across the street from my apartment is a vacant building known as the Northern Dispensary.
Founded as a hospice for the poor in 1827, this wedge-shaped landmark is a West Village oddity situated at the oddest of intersections: the point at which two branches of Waverly Place come together, and where Christopher Street and Grove Street diverge off Christopher Park.
Throughout its existence the Northern Dispensary has gone through several incarnations and housed a number of disparate lives. Edgar Allan Poe was once treated for a head cold here in 1836. In 1960, the Dispensary was transformed into a dental clinic, one that would eventually become infamous for refusing to treat a HIV-patient in 1986. A lawsuit, and bankruptcy, followed shortly thereafter.
Today, Gottlieb Real Estate owns the building; its founder, William Gottlieb, left the Dispensary to his sister upon his death in 1999. William had the reputation of never selling his properties nor investing more than the minimum in restoration and management. This is a tradition his sister has successfully upheld: The interior is nothing but chipped white walls, and medical cabinets still remain in the middle of some rooms. Given the building’s history and setting, Gottlieb could make a fortune if the Dispensary were converted into apartments. To this day it remains uninhabited.
Still, sometimes at night I can hear strange things happening about the Dispensary—glass shattering, fights, drunken screaming, guys saying how they’ll give each other hand jobs. And then, one day not long ago, something else: A woman.
It was a Saturday afternoon, and I was still lying in bed from a night of heavy drinking. I was alone. My roommates were out of town. I got up, twisted open my blinds, squinted out the window. The snow from the night before had stopped, but Waverly was still covered in white. I was soaking in the scene when, out of nowhere, I saw her. She was standing on the corner ledge of the Dispensary, staring down onto the street where Waverly intersects with Waverly. Was she getting ready to jump? And if so, who commits suicide by jumping off a three-story building? She did not inch forward; she did not back away. I couldn’t find it in myself to make her stop whatever she was doing. Then again, what could I have done?
A siren went off in the distance. She looked towards Sixth Avenue then turned forward, looking in my direction. Though I knew she didn’t see me, it chilled me just the same. She dipped her head and stepped away from the ledge. She walked to her left, out of my view of the Dispensary.
That was the last I ever saw of her.
It was not the last time I ever thought of her.