Peak of summer, Manhattan 1995….life was on the upswing, what with an admin gig at a top law firm a hop, skip and jump from Grand Central, and my very own co-op apartment in picturesque Brooklyn Heights, whose major attraction happened to be a fabulous roof garden with a scintillating nocturnal view of New York’s other three boroughs (Queens, Manhattan and Staten Island), and glimpses of the cool blue profile of the Lady of Liberty towering majestically over the horizon.
A swirl of friends — artists, musicians, writers, poets, sculptors, photographers, and the occasional lawyer or stockbroker befriended during my years of freelancing on Wall Street and in Manhattan’s law firms — added zest to the mix. And while the week was one crazy stretch of slogging to keep body and soul together, weekends allowed me to dip my soul into hatha yoga and meditation, an amazing novel, an off-Broadway show, or even a Shakespeare evening performance in Central Park, after which a bunch of us would troop over to some generous stranger’s penthouse on the upper west side to party beneath a canopy of stars.
And yet, if life was so wonderful, why then did angst continue to gnaw at my insides like a vicious sewer bandicoot? I forced myself to face the bitter truth — despite the glamorous facade of my life, I was alone and adrift in a thrumming city that never sleeps, learning the hard way that freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.
How to get off this rapidly spinning wheel? I’d walked away from my marriage with zilch, and was now paying big chunks for taxes, Social Security, Medicare and a co-op mortgage — which rendered the prospect of escape bleak. I saw other slaves of New York growing cynical as they accepted their fate — but I, like a female Icarus, yearned to fly free, even if I burnt my gossamer wings daring to approach the blazing sun of liberation.
One Saturday morning I strolled down to Atlantic Avenue to shop at my favorite grocery store, owned by courtly Moroccans. I stepped right into a scene from a souk in the Arabian Nights: wooden vats of black and green olives, tubs overflowing with varieties of grains, oils, herbs, and links of merguez (spicy Moroccan lamb sausage) dangling from the eaves Mehmet handed me a cup of mint tea flavored with orange blossom honey and a portion of baklava that melted deliciously in my mouth, and, as I basked in their old-world warmth, my mundane worries temporarily dissolved into joy.
Backpack laden with goodies, I walked out of the store and spotted Angelica, slouching along on the other side of the avenue in faded Levis and paint-splattered sweatshirt, lank blonde hair framing a moody face. A struggling artist who lived precariously in a Williamsburg loft with a heroin-addicted sculptor, Angelica was on a perennial hunt for a savior. Once, stoned out of her head at a party, she’d blurted out that, soon after she’d turned five, her dad had stormed out of the house following a fight with her drunken mother, whereupon her mother had picked up a baseball bat and swung it at Angelica, shattering several tiny ribs; clearly this was but one of the many violent domestic episodes that had shattered Angelica’s faith in humanity.
“Hey Mira,” Angelica yelled, her face lighting up as she saw me. “I’m going to check out this brilliant lama tonight down in the Village. Wanna come?