He always said, “Hello, I’m so glad to see you? How are you?” even when he no longer knew our names. Starting in the last year, he didn’t care about answers. He cherished his long career as an impresario in the world of music, selecting and programming concerts for major institutions in New York City.
After that, he was around more, saying “Hello, how are you?” with his shock of platinum-white hair, much more often. He frightened my children while they were in high school—“Is something wrong with him?”—but I told them it was just his way of being polite and friendly, that they should politely return the greeting. It was hard not to, when we met him on the elevator. He lived on fourteen, we lived on ten.
I liked his cheerful ways. I suspected they were meant to cheer himself, but often they ended by cheering me. I felt a kinship with his efforts to put on a good front, to remain cordial and upbeat, to walk briskly down the street alone, even if he didn’t really need to go anywhere. This was especially true in the last six months, when he was no longer supposed to go out alone; when he couldn’t find his way home; when he got lost only a few yard down our block. But he still and always tried to greet me, even though I thought he no longer knew my name—and I saw the lost, desperate look in his wife’s kind blue eyes.
And so, more than ever, I made it a point to address him the minute I got into the elevator and saw him there, uncertain whether to speak to me or not. “Good morning,” I’d say, “I’m so glad to see you.” And a genuine smile would light his eyes, his face, and he would feel himself rise, I think, and he’d pump my hand and say, “Glad to see you, too, how are you today?” And we’d enjoy a few moments of upbeat conversation until we came to the lobby and his wife guided him toward the street.
And then he died.
But—before that, was something else.
One night, he became violent with his wife. It was the first time. She was alone with him. It frightened her, and she called the police.
A substantial number of them—I heard eight or ten—showed up at their apartment, not knowing what to expect. They were to take him—well, I don’t know where, but I expect some psychiatric hospital. By the time they arrived, he had settled down. They asked him to come with them, and he was frightened. He didn’t want to go.
But he said, “Fine, all right, I’d do what you want—if you’ll let me play the piano first.”
He asked them to sit down in his living room and listen. And they did.
They sat, he played, and they listened.
I don’t know what music, or how long it lasted. But the big burly men in their heavy, dark blue uniforms sat, patiently or impatiently, I don’t know.
Then, when he was finished, he got up and did what his wife told him, and they both went away.
He never came back.
Ellen Schecter has been widely published in print and online. Her first novel won the Amérigas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. Ellen Schecter’s memoir, Fierce Joy, is being published by Greenpoint Press, on June 1, 2012. It will be available as a paperback and e-book from Amazon.com, B&N.com, and from greenpointpress.org. A long-time Upper West Sider, her summer story, Chilling Out on the M5, appeared years ago on Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood and she was privileged to read at the MBN Reading Series at Happy Ending along with Patrick Gallagher way back when she was just beginning her memoir.