Wednesday night in the Emergency Room is bustling. It’s pouring rain outside. I think that explains some of the craziness in the waiting room. All sorts of ailments surround me, some visible, some not. For a few minutes, I sit next to Sandra De La Rosa, who barely speaks English. One of the male nurses keeps repeating to her in Spanish, “Are you sure who have no ID?” She nods. “Nothin’? You got nothin’?” She nods again. He leaves. Sandra starts to silently cry. When I finally notice, without thinking twice about it, I reach over and rub her back a little. I don’t know her at all. She looks at me and says with such heart-felt earnestness, “Gracias.” She makes me want to cry.
Mario didn’t show up for work today. Tuesday’s and Friday’s are his days, and we usually spent four or five hours together. Mario is quiet, an excellent worker and from Peru. He calls me, “Sinorita,” and my response to him every time is, “Mi nombre es Liza, no sinorita, por favor!” I tease him and his reaction is always one of an embarrassed schoolboy. He’s about 10 years older than me too. It was the first time since I started at this job that he didn’t show. The doctor asked that I call him to find out when he would be coming in, if at all. The doctor didn’t look at all upset, which perplexed me. And he has one of those personalities that, I can bet my life, he would be upset at this moment. So, why not?
It was just plain bad luck. “We think it had to do with a blood transfusion she had done 15 years ago back in Russia.” Levya is gorgeous to look at, slim, late 50s, and mother to Irene. She has a thick accent even though she’s been in this country for over 15 years. She’s got the body, energy and vibrancy of someone half her age – and it’s natural. Her style is that of Grace Kelly. “How did you detect it?” I ask. Levya still looks as concerned as the day she found out, “Irene was in the process of applying for artificial insemination when a doctor detected Hepatitis C in her blood.” A list of “what ifs” rolls through my head. She knew she was tired all the time but no one considered it to be a deadly medical condition. Irene was this close to dying, if it weren’t for that doctor, period.
Haige passes me an umbrella. I slip him a $20. He takes it, unable to look me in the eye. I have a feeling he’s done this before. A lot. I can’t pick his accent – Russian or Romanian? – it doesn’t matter cause regardless, he’s going to be my new super. I thought it only fair to give a little, “Hello Neighbor” gift. Haige has been working for Ranger Management for twenty years. He’s a stocky, short man. His uniformed look is paint-stained pants and shirts. He’s missing some side teeth but you don’t notice unless you manage to catch his hit-and-run smile. In the last twenty years, he’s moved three times in this building, “But this time my apartment overlooks the Hudson River,” he tells me. It’s only taken twenty years. Just a couple of hours before, while processing the money order for the apartment with my bank, the Hispanic teller looks at the payee information and can’t hide her smile. “What?” I ask, as if anticipating a funny joke. “Nah, it’s just that my mother lives in that building.” “What!” I exclaim. “Yeah! She does. She’s been there for twenty years, she loves it.” I bet she’s facing the river too.
Mr. Wilson is a big, burly, funny man. Quite charming. I open the door and there he stands – his whole 250 lbs self, dressed in white cotton, leaning against the doorframe. I can’t help but notice the bulge of hair that protrudes from his open collared silk-shirt. Is it a cross or a Virgin Mary that is struggling to be seen through the jungle that is his chest? And of course the “stare”. The not quite smoky-eyed look. He thinks he is sexy, I’m assuming. He’s a businessman that doesn’t need to wear a business suit. The same joke every time we see each other, “Liza-sun,” and gives me a traditional Asian bow. I laugh. Not because it’s funny, but it makes him smile. And his smile is an endearing one. Crooked ever since the stroke a few years back. He always makes off-handed remarks that make me laugh out loud. Not the most appropriate behavior for this environment, but then again if I told you guys like Mr. Wilson came to this place, you would swear I was lying.
Cheri is moving to, what feels like, her tenth place in less than half a year. “I felt like crying this morning as I was packing my stuff.” Her boxes are sorted out into two categories, 1) Further down the road and 2) Temporary. “The other day I had to go through a couple of my further-down-the-road boxes and it was like I’d been shopping! I didn’t know I owned this, that and the other. You just forget because you haven’t seen your full wardrobe in months.” She’s been living out of her luggage since, well, it all started last August. “I went from ex boyfriend to a dear friend’s place, to a new city, to a national tour, to a house sitting situation, and now to a friend’s couch while I figure out my next move. Is this what New York does to a person? “At first I didn’t mind the nomadic lifestyle but now it’s just getting ridiculous. And expensive.”
Merryl’s surname sounds like a producer, that’s cause she is, that’s why I’m not going to mention it here. She’s not conventional beautiful but she dazzles in her own, unique, lovely way. She refers to “the accident” every so often, so I lean in to hear more details when she decides to bring it up again. A collision that left her immobile for months. I can’t imagine what that must feel like; especially for a woman who’s day job is to jet set coast to coast like those birds that flock together to chase their seasonal cycle. I wonder if it’s like being told one day, that you’re handicapped from the legs down when you’re a professional athlete. Or like being told your vocal chords need to be cut and you’re a world-renowned opera singer. Is it humbling? Or a punishment?