Mr. Henry Longfellow by The Author
“Henry, why must you be such a baby?” I say to Mr. Henry Longfellow, my piebald dachshund, as I carry him in my arms across Central Park West on our way into the Park next to Tavern on the Green. I am not young or especially strong. Carrying an overweight dachshund is not easy.
Henry is shaking. The sounds of the speeding 6 p.m. traffic terrify him. He is actually not a baby. He is five years old, but most of his time is spent in Connecticut, in a former socialist colony on a river, where there are few cars. When in Connecticut, he is another dog — aggressive, uncontrollable, stubborn. The local dog warden has paid me many a visit on behalf of neighbors who complain about his incessant, high-pitched barking. He stands by the wall and barks and barks at imaginary squirrels.
“What’s that dachshund doing wearing a dalmation suit?” a child asks his mother as we cross. Piebalds are so unusual and rare that few believe they are real dachshunds, which they are. There is even a website called “Save the Piebalds.”
I pass a woman with red hair crossing the street in the opposite direction. Our eyes meet. We continue to cross the street. When I get into the Park, I turn and look back. She is looking at me at the same time.
She runs toward me. “How do I know her?” I ask myself. “Quick, quick, think.”
“Elizabeth?” she asks.
“Denise?” I ask.
We embrace. She tells me how sorry she is about my husband Gregory’s death in 2007.
“How did you know?” I ask.
“Hank told me. Did you know that he and Lynn sold their apartment in the building?”
“The building” is on West 70th Street, where I lived from 1997 to 2002. “Hank” is a musician. I wonder if his group still exists.
I start to babble about Gregory and how he died a horrible death from melanoma. I ask Denise if she was at the memorial service at the Church of the Heavenly Rest on Fifth Avenue. “So many people from the building were there,” I tell her. “Sophie, Barbara, Ed — do you still see them around?”
“I don’t,” she responds. “We sold our apartment several years ago. We’re on West End now. I want to tell you something. You and Gregory were so very kind to my husband and me when we were going through IVF. Do you remember my husband, tall, black hair?” Suddenly, I see her husband, in my mind’s eye. They were such a friendly couple, who always greeted us by our names.
I have no memory of their infertility, so I fake it. “Did you have a baby?”
“No,” she replies. “We never did. How is your daughter Lili?”
In 1994 Gregory and I adopted Lili in China. She soon became known as the Mayor of the Neighborhood. She knew everyone. Gregory would walk her to the Calhoun School on West 74th every morning, stopping at Starbucks. On Sundays we always went to the Greek diner on Broadway and 73rd, where the staff would shout, “LILI! LILI!”
“Lili is about to go to college,” I tell Denise. “Hard to believe.”
We embrace. We cry together, briefly, over all that has been lost. We don’t say, as New Yorkers often do, “Let’s get together. Give me your number.” Too much time has passed for that, and we know it. I am pleased that she remembers me and Gregory as nice people, back then.
I let Henry Longfellow down, off leash, and he races into the Park. We have a special, hidden place where he feels secure, next to the playground with water. No one can see us. He does what he knows he is supposed to do, and then we usually leave. But this time, I am frozen. I sit down on the wood chips and sob. Soon it is more than a sob. It is a muffled scream, one that I have heard before, too many times.
Elizabeth Titus has been a journalist for Gannett, an English teacher, an advertising executive (Doyle Dane Bernbach), a communications director and speechwriter (15 years at American Express) and a freelance writer and blogger. She has a BA in English (Skidmore), an MA in English (University of Pennsylvania), and an MBA (Wharton). She lives in a 1930s socialist colony in Connecticut as well as in Manhattan. She has published articles with the Weston Magazine Group, Westport News (Hearst), Ms. Magazine.com, Skidmore Scope, and MORE.com (Meredith) and will soon appear in Narrative and Talking Writing.