As we neared the 9th floor I said, “Excuse me, but I think I found your grandson’s glider.” We had lived there a year and I had only seen her once. She was a petite woman impeccably dressed. Her stunning black silk suit and Van Cleef and Arpel broach were amazing. She snapped back, “I have NO grandchildren. It’s just me!”
This was the beginning of an adventure. I did not plan to take this fork in the road but it was fate. I was quite happy with my life. It was a comfortable place of dinner dates and long weekends away. I had no idea how this chance meeting would change everything.
She stepped past the elevator’s threshold and waited patiently as I followed. We walked towards our doors as she asked one questions, “Do you drink?” Then without a breath she commanded, “Drinks at seven… bring your friend!”
Her caftan flowed as she guided us to the study. It was a massive apartment and the study had a gorgeous leopard rug. The entire place was amazing and reminiscent of Jacqueline Onassis. It was like stepping back in time.
Thursday evenings quickly became our night out. We dressed and dined in sophistication as she told us her life’s story. She had worked for Goodson-Todman in the early heyday of television. Her elbows were rubbed with Barbara Walters and Ralph Schneider. Chance meetings occurred with Donald and Ivana Trump at Roy Cohn’s Connecticut poolside soirees. This woman had even dinned with Boris Karloss at his famous Dakota Apartment. She told of wild nights at Studio 54 and a childhood friendship with Fran Stark, Fanny Brice’s daughter.
We thought most of her tales were fiction but we were soon proven wrong. The news clippings and personal photos overflowed from albums. They also included W. Howard Lee with his famous wife Gene Tierney. She stood beside MGM’s moguls and jet setting di Portanova’s. There was a diamond solitaire smuggled between her bosom and a private meeting with Senator, John F. Kennedy. What an amazing life she had led.
The attendant on the phone said, “Can you get a wheelchair?” It was mid-morning on Christmas Eve. Jose’ and I were at Neiman Marcus picking up a hostess gift. I said, “When will she arrive?” Christmas was cancelled and our lives became a flurry of bedpans and walkers. The driver delivered a helpless old woman to the building’s back entrance. Her Spanish holiday was cut short from a fall and shattered heel.
The youthful appearance she maintained had faded. What originally appeared to be a woman in her late 60’s turned out to be a woman of 85. This had long been my suspicion but the scars behind her ears and her patient file confirmed my assumption.
It came to light rather quickly that our neighbor had no one in the world. She was a childless barren widowed with a few first cousins twice removed. Her estranged family lived in Palm Beach and Boca but had not seen her in decades.
The entire experience tested the phrase, “God gives you no more than you can handle.” She became the meanest and nastiest old woman. She was a combination between the fictional characters Norma Desmond and Baby Jane Hudson. The old crow fired 17 nurses, helpers and maids in five months. She was nightmare and became the neighbor I wish I had never met.
The ones that surround you are the ones that shape your life. They teach you about the important things. This woman taught me so very much in such a short period of time. Most importantly, she taught me how NOT to live my life.
I never wavered in my convictions and persisted through her recovery. It was up me to help her because she had no one who cared. I wanted to pay a good deed forward. I knew one day I might need someone to show me the same compassion. I also refused any compensation. I did this thankless job only because I truly cared.
I froze as I pulled the balsa wood glider from my desk drawer. This small piece of wood changed my destiny. This entire set of events had changed my outlook and future. It made me look at my next forty years with a different set of eyes. I had forgotten that I had disassembled it and tucked it away. Agatha Christie could not solve this mystery. How did a toy plane land on my balcony nine floors above the ground?
I have always believed that everything happens for a reason. A dime store toy and cantankerous old woman started this chain reaction. These events changed my path in life. They changed my outlook, direction and purpose. Ultimately, all that occurred led me to my son.
These events may have happened by chance or by God’s divine intervention. You will have to draw your own conclusion. The entire experience shaped me in unimaginable ways. As I now look into my son’s eyes I see my reflection and how far I have come in this world. All I know is… I would take nothing for my journey now.