OUR BRONX APARTMENT

Posted: March 30, 2013 in New York City
Tags: , , ,

7

A lot happens in the span of a year. Then again, a whole hell of another lot doesn’t happen inside that same span. You grow a little older, but just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, life comes around and throws a pie in your face.

We finally got around to finding a decent apartment for a reasonable price, but we had to settle on looking outside Manhattan. My friend Ray’s sister lived in the Bronx and Helena and I met up with her one day for lunch at Madison Square Park when Ray came into town to visit from Miami for the first time in ages. We all commented on the pleasant day as we munched on burgers from the Shake Shack. It was August but it wasn’t hot, thanks to the breeze left over from Hurricane Irene ‘s visit just a few days before. Maria, Ray’s sister and a lifelong New Yorker, mentioned how much she loved greenery and the sounds of nature.

“You must miss it then, living in the Bronx.” Helena commented.

“Not at all. It’s right outside my window. I live in Riverdale. It’s very green there.”

This piqued Helena’s interest. She loved the outdoors and was already showing signs of displeasure at the cement surroundings. Maria invited us to come visit the area some time and we took her up on her offer.

We took the subway all the way up to the 231st street stop in Kingsbridge. It was a 40 minute train ride from where we took it on Christopher Street in the West Village. When we walked down the El into Kingsbridge, I could feel Helena tense up.

“There’s no way I’m going to live here,” she whispered as we descended the stairs into the busy, dirty intersection of Broadway and 231st Street. The sound of the train departing above us was deafening as the wheels clacked loudly against the tracks above, built over the street and casting a dark, industrial pallor over the entire area. There wasn’t a green leaf to be seen anywhere. Instead, franchise restaurants, pizza parlors, bagel delis, pharmacies and a bank surrounded us. The air was filled with the aroma of delicious roast chicken and gasoline. The sounds of the traffic, the bus’ engines as they roared by mixed with every other city noise you can think of, was cacophonous.

I caught a glimpse of Maria out of the corner of my eye waving at us from inside a taxi.

“It’s best that I pick you up instead of having to catch a bus from here or you might get lost,” said Maria as we got in.

“We have to catch a bus normally from here to get to where you live?” I asked.

“If you take the train you took you do.” She said, smiling.

Maria gave the taxi driver directions in Spanish and I looked at Helena, who looked like she had just eaten a shit sandwich.

“So this isn’t Riverdale?” asked Helena?

“Oh, no, no. This is Kingsbridge. We’re going further west, near the Hudson. Actually I live just south of Riverdale, in a place called Spuyten Duyvil. It means ‘The Devil’s Spout’ in Dutch.”

Wonderful, I thought. If a dive like this neighborhood was called “Kings”bridge, what the hell would a place called the Devil’s Spout look like?

Apparently, the Devil has a very pretty spout. All the green leaves were located here. You can tell you’re heading towards Spuyten Duyvil as you approach a park from 231st Street and Broadway. Ewen Park seems to be rising from the ground like a sudden eruption frozen in time. It’s sliced in two by a staircase that climbs all the way to the top.

“That’s a nice park.” Helena said to herself.

“Yes, it is. But don’t walk there at sunset. My husband got mugged there once.”

“He did?” I asked, incredulous.

“Like four or five kids surrounded him. I always warned him not to cross the park at night but he did anyway. Short cut. Anyway, he took off his watch and his wallet and threw it as far away as he could. That was smart because the gang went after all his stuff and that gave him a chance to run the hell out of there.”

“Wow.” I muttered.

“Oh, it’s not like that anymore. But be careful anyway. I mean Spuyten Duyvil is a safe place but try not to put yourself into situations where you’re just asking for it.”

Maria took us on a grand tour indeed and, in a nutshell, we pretty much loved it. Helena loved how green the neighborhood was. We walked alongside the Henry Hudson Parkway from 227th St all the way up to 246th Street and back. Wave Hill, an incredibly beautiful and very well-kept park right along the Hudson River held a breathtaking view of New Jersey and a fascinating array of varied species of plants growing naturally and in greenhouses.

As we walked back down, Elena fell in love with a connected row of charming one-story brick homes, each and every home with a shiny red door and a landscaped path. She couldn’t get over how pretty the doors looked. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a sale or rent sign anywhere to be seen among them.

We visited a few apartment buildings that day and decided later that evening that we wanted to move there. Soon, we would have our own place again, vacant, so we can rebuild our home and our lives together. We would miss the West Village though, but promised ourselves we’d come back often. There was plenty of easy access to the buses, subways and trains from Riverdale. A train ride into Grand Central took only 20 minutes.

It all sounded very romantic. I relished the fact that I was indeed living in New York City, the Big Apple, one of the most important cities in the world, filled with history, drama, entertainment and opportunity. I truly felt born again; a new chapter of my life had begun. Most importantly, I felt truly happy. No, I wasn’t where I wanted to be in my career. Although I had accomplished much, I still felt it wasn’t enough. Everything I’ve done did not sum up to the volume of work I still felt I could produce.  Maybe it would be different in New York. I bet my entire comfort zone in Miami that it would. But not much happens in a year. Then again, a whole helluva lot can happen, too.

My relationship with Helena had subsided from a passionate, constantly together romance to a more laid back, loving one. I loved her quite a lot and I felt she loved and cared for me too. Her occasional displays of impatience and rude remarks were things to be overlooked. After having been married twice before already, I finally got to the point of understanding that, as long as there is love between two people, everything else was something that had to be tolerated and dealt with in a calm, loving and positive way. It took me a long time to learn that.

*****

 I had divorced my first wife, Maureen, simply because I was young, still in my twenties, and with an intense desire to fool around. I was co-producing the premiere season of Sabado Gigante  back then and women were everywhere and readily available. My young conscience however, could not abide having so much candy and being on a diet, so I did what I believed was the only right thing to do and divorce my wife for the simple reason that there was no way I was going to keep it in my pants much longer.

I was actually shocked when the Chilean producer of Sabado went up and put his arm around me to ask a question that he earnestly couldn’t understand.

“Robert! Why are you getting a divorce? Your wife is such a pretty girl. Why don’t you just fool around on the side?”

I don’t try to paint myself as one who has any kind of noble human being because I don’t feel very noble. I simply did not want to go through the process of having to lie all the time and remembering to keep the lies straight and make sure I didn’t smell like perfume, etc. Too much stress and trouble. Better I snipped things. It wasn’t easy. It’s not like I didn’t care for my first wife, Maureen. We had had our shares of happiness and tragedy. Her parents had died in a plane crash only a year earlier. That had affected me very profoundly, seeing the mask of sorrow and heartbreak carved into Maureen’s face every day after that horrible moment. I was afraid of it. We were no longer alone in our home. Once, Maureen and her sister smelled flowers in our garage and they frantically yelled for me to come. I ran in, wondering what the yelling was all about, and distinctly smelled flowers. And this was the garage. NOTHING ever smelled like flowers in there. And just as soon as I acknowledged the scent, it dissipated and went away. This was only a few days after the plane crash.

Weeks after that, the cellar door in that same garage would fall open more than once in the middle of the night. I would investigate to locate the source of the loud bang and there was the square, unhinged door laying on the platform that I would step up to to get into the cellar. It never used to do that before the plane crash.

I started to stay out late, saying I had to work at the show. I would come home completely inebriated and woke up hours later to get back to the studio. I was desperate to not be home. I missed my own family. Each time the phone rang, I wondered if it was bad news. Finally, I moved out and back home to my parents’ house to sort things out. Maureen didn’t want me to leave. She warned me that I was taking the wrong step. But I left her. Months later I filed for divorce. Just like that. It was over. It was such a long time ago.

My second wife was a disaster. It was more than a payment for my sins. It derailed my life. The only thing good that ever came out of that union is my lovely daughter. I walked away from that marriage, too, but I didn’t walk away from my daughter. I’m satisfied to say that I did not miss a moment of her childhood.

*****

So here I was, married for a third time. It was something I’d never thought I’d repeat; and in New York City, a place I’d always dreamed of living in. I was truly happy. Helena is a beautiful woman and I finally understood, and more importantly, accepted that marriage had its ups and downs. There would be good times and bad. I knew that.

I noticed a discernible change in her affections a week after she took the job in the beginning of June. She was acting distant. When before, she used to run up to me and hug and kiss me after only a few days out of town on business, now she would barely kiss me hello after coming home from work, replacing it with a hand up towards my face and a curt “Don’t start!” when I criticized her weak attempts at a kiss.

It was two months later when she told me she didn’t think she loved me anymore and a few months after that when she went away for good. The marriage had barely lasted five years.  It was very hard. For the first time in my life, I didn’t enjoy being alone. The tables had turned on me. How do you blame someone for falling out of love? How do you explain to someone that a marriage has its ups and downs when they want to get off the ride no matter what? Now I was to pay for my sins of the past. Again. Or maybe that’s just the way life is.

Yep, a lot happens in the span of a year. I was facing an uncertain future, alone and sad. My sadness overcame me many, many nights. Winter had begun. Spring was still months away.

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