Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Center of it All XII

Life had not dealt Gila Carmen a good hand. I sat on her broken, worn out couch, and looked around the room. $49.95 and a few days was all it took for me to find her address, a run down apartment building in a rent-controlled building in lower Manhattan. The five locks on the door gave testimony to the safety of the building. For some reason, the Mezuzah on the door surprised me.

The four-room apartment stank of poverty and cigarettes, a stench that felt as if it had permeated the walls and everything that entered the apartment. My allergies acted up immediately, the result of at least three cats that had the run of the apartment. I scanned the room looking for signs of a child, and saw some pictures of a girl on the shelf of a bookcase across the room.

As Gila made tea for me in the kitchen. I wondered how her life would have been different if she had never met Yoni. She would probably be married, with a family and a community. Instead, she lived the life of an outcast, forced to raise her daughter away from the pointing fingers and whispers that would have gone on behind her back.

She was pleasant on the phone, a bit curious as to what I wanted, and completely resigned when I mentioned Yoni’s name. Still, she invited me to come visit, and here I was, and as I waited for her to come in the room with tea, I thought for thousandth time since we set up this meeting how to talk to her.

She sat down on the chair across from the couch, and we drank our tea, making some small talk about winter in New York, and how expensive everything was in Manhattan.

“You said on the phone you had some urgent business regarding my daughter, Nechama” she said suddenly. “What is it?”

Her forthrightness caught me off guard for a moment, but she was right. Nechama was the reason why I was in New York.

“A long time ago,” I began, “I went to Yeshiva with Yoni Winters.” I looked at Gila, trying to read her reaction to Yoni’s name.

“That’s a name from the past,” Gila said slowly. She sounded sad as she continued. “I always thought he would try to come back into our lives. I used to hate him for how he treated me back then. Now, I don’t feel anything at all for him. What does he want?”

“He doesn’t want anything,” I said. I wondered if my words were the words she had dreamed about for years. Would they be taken with glee, or sadness? “In fact, he died a few months ago.”

“He died alone, in a charity hospital in Phoenix, this past summer,” I continued. I waited for Gila to say something, but when my pause was filled with silence, I decided to press on.

“I hadn’t seen Yoni in years, and I never knew he had a daughter.”

I told Gila about the time I spent in Phoenix, and some of the things I had learned about his life. “I got the sense that Yoni lived a very lonely, very sad life,” I told her when I finished.

She stayed quiet, and I felt uncomfortable with the silence, so I kept on talking. “Yoni was my best friend when we were kids. He saved my life once, and I’ve always felt like I owed him something. When he died, he left me a letter asking me to come find his daughter and talk to her. That’s why I’m here. I wanted to talk to you first, because I don’t know what she knows about her father, and I didn’t want to be the one to tell her about him.”

I stopped talking. I wanted to say more. I wanted to tell her how sorry I was that my shmuck friend had abandoned her so long ago. I wanted to tell her that the Yoni I knew would never treat a person the way he treated her, but what was the point. She didn’t ask for nor want my pity.

Finally, Gila broke the silence. “I used to pray that he was dead. And then one day, you wake up, and look around, and there is a beautiful little girl walking next to you, and you think to yourself, this is such a miracle. This little girl, who I would have never asked for, is my life. And that’s when I stopped hating him and stopped thinking about him.”

“Do you have a picture of her?” I asked.

“It’s over there, on that end table.”

I stood up and walked across the room. I picked up the picture and looked at her. “She looks just like he did when he was this age. How old is she?”

“She’s eighteen. A great girl. She’s a freshman in Brooklyn College, on academic scholarship. She was the top girl in her high school class.”

I put the picture down, walked back over to my seat, and sat down.

“I’d like to meet her,” I told Gila. “There are some things Yoni wanted me to tell her.”

Gila lit a cigarette, and thought for a minute. The silence filled the room, and I waited for her to answer.

Finally, she began to talk. “I need to talk to her first,” Gila began. “We haven’t talked about her father in years. I need to make sure it’s OK with her.”

“I’ll talk to her tonight, and call you at your hotel sometime over the next few days and let you know.”

I thanked Gila for talking to me, and went back to my hotel. And waited.

This story is fiction. You can find the beginning of the story on this blog.

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    Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

    The drips and drabs are killing me. I really hope part XIII is coming soon.

    2:55 PM  
    Blogger Krunk said...

    same here...and i'm assuming that the story of what actually happened at the house will come out as he talks 2 the daughter....i SO cannot wait!

    1:18 AM  
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    Anonymous Anonymous said...

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    4:46 PM  
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