One of our neighbors died of cancer yesterday.
Jake was an old-school New Yorker. The kind that sits out on the building stoop all summer long, trying to beat the summer heat. The kind that gets to know his neighbors, even if the neighbors might not be that interested in getting to know him. He was an older man who lived with his partner and spoke often, lovingly and with pride about his daughter. He grew up in a different New York, when our neighborhood was more dangerous, poorer, perhaps closer knit.
Jake was always sweet to Alice. He complimented her smiles, and told us that she should be modeling or in movies, as his daughter had been. He was always happy to hear how we were fairing, and certainly felt at ease with telling us about his trials and tribulations. He spoke openly about his battle with HIV and cancer, and reminded me of a different era in the City.
I'm surprised by how sad the news of Jake's death has made me. Sometimes, when he was sitting on the stoop of our building, I would walk around the block one more time to avoid engaging in conversation. Michael & I both discussed how uncomfortable he could make us. But he was always good at heart, well meaning , and trying to connect to the people who lived right next door. He was good to Alice, and therefore good to us.
While Jake died, and his partner lost his love, I cooked dinner. Our family ate together. We complained about our days and fought off annoyances and went about daily life. We lived while he died. His passing is just another reminder of how connected we all are, how grateful we should be to have good, kind people around us. How New York can bring you closer to strangers than most anywhere else.
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