From that point on, Lucy turned to me, discussing with me in great details what she planned on doing. Sometimes she listened to me; sometimes she didn’t. But she got what she wanted: my involvement. I became, in essence, Father, her Joint Chief of Staff, so to speak.
I was still living in Mother’s apartment but was spending almost every night with Lucy. We both just did not want to be away from each other. Ever! And Anna K. Libid? Just months after Lucy and I had started our affair, she took ill. It was almost as if she had kept her good health long enough to know that Lucy would not be alone if she died.
But this also meant that I would soon be faced with decisions. What if something bad happened to Anna; then what should I do? Should I abandon Mother’s apartment at long last and move in with Lucy? That made more sense, in that her place was larger, and in many ways, better than mine.
It sat facing the ocean. Her room, which we stayed most of the time, was large and sun-filled. This was so important because of the 35 watts light bulbs. It was also filled with large, expensive, comfortable Old World furniture.
“This was my father’s room. It’s just as he left it,” she once explained to me. As she made her comment, I saw for the first time the Manhattan Syndrome. I could feel her sadness and sense of great loss.
The lit candles, after we turned the lamp out, gave her room an even more warm, embracing feeling. I could see the ocean and hear it on nights when it became fully alive. Then, the ocean also gave me much comfort—in many ways more than wine or sex or doo wop, mainly because I knew it had seen so much and will see even more, as the life that once crawled out of it to walk on solid ground, lives, dies and lives and dies—until it is all over, and then the mighty ocean once again reclaim everything. We are the water planet despite what we on land might think. That much is sure.
But, could I give up Mother’s apartment? It would mean a breaking away not only from a comfortable space but a breaking away from Mother. Each day I spent in that place, I felt her presence. I saw her sitting on the couch, at the dinner table, cleaning up my room. Could I really fully throw myself in with this often-scary young person I barely knew?
I sat with Anna K. Libid, as Lucy left for one of her meetings.
“Look after grandmother. I don’t think she’s well. Please don’t leave until I get back. Okay?” Lucy spoke in a low ominous whisper, as if Anna might overhear us, as she kissed me goodbye and gave me a hug at the door.
“Really. She getting worse?”
“Are you going to do anything about it. I mean, what can we do to help her?”
“I’m going to go see my caregiver in the morning. I hate that nosy bitch, but I need to know what to do in case something happens to grandmother. Look, Alexander. I’ve got to go. We’ll talk about it when I get back. Love you. Love you.”
With that, Lucy left me alone with Anna. I sat down across from her in the same seat I sat in when we first met months ago. I could see by the look on her face that she was not feeling well. The happy, jolly look was gone. Now, all of that fat just sagged. It seemed as if her entire body was melting into her fat body.
But, for some reason, Father, I wanted to talk to her, to hear her advice, to listen to her, as I once listen to Mother.
“I’m so glad Lucy found you, Alex. She used to bother me all the time, ‘who’s that black man. You say you know him. I want to meet him.’ I’d say, ‘leave the poor man alone. Can’t you see he’s full of hurt? If he wants to meet you, he would say something.' Just let him be, child. But, for some reason, she just wanted to meet you so badly. I was almost as if God was telling her that you needed saving, and she was your angel of mercy.”
Anna spoke softly, with none of the high drama and playfulness that she used have in her voice. It was hard to believe that it was only a few months ago when she sat here and charmed the life back into me.
Now she spoke quietly, introspectively, in Russian, as if Lucy was in the next room and she wanted to keep this conversation private, just between she and me.
“God provides. God willed it,” I answered back just as low, just as softly, just as introspectively, my Russian now haven’t fully come back because of my conversations with her these last few months.
In many ways, the moments I shared with Anna K. Libid were much more intimate than anything I shared with Lucy. For some strange reason, Father, I also felt that Mother was in the room with us, watching over our conversation, listening to us as we poured out our Russian souls to each other. When I was with Mrs. Libid, I was back with Mother, just she and I, sitting around our dinner table, talking about God, theater, mother Russia, or just bad, lying neighbors.
“Yes, God is good to us, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is,” I answered.
“You take good care of her, you hear. She’s a good girl. A little wild. She’s Irish. Irish people are wild, not like Russians. I told my son, ‘Don’t marry that crazy woman. Find a nice Russian girl in Brighton Beach.’ But he wanted to live in Manhattan with Lucy’s mother.
“Poor child. Poor little Lucy. I love her so much. Alex, I really do. I tried to give her everything I could. If she hadn’t been staying with us…just a little visit with grandma and grandpa—but you know how young men are when they’re in heat.
“Don’t notice a thing. Manhattan! Manhattan! Everything was Manhattan. Broke his father’s heart. Killed him. I know it killed him. My husband was also named Alexander. I never told you that, did I? Only he spelled it in the Russian way, like the great Pushkin did. He wanted to name Lawrence, Alexander, but I said one is enough for me.
“My poor husband. Such a nice man. He drank some, that’s all. He just sat and died. Never said another word. Not one word. It was so sad. It was so crazy back then, Alexander. But her mother turned out all right. She’s nice girl.
“Who knew, Alexander? If Lawrence had stayed in Brighton Beach like you…had listened to his father and mother…maybe…but, then we wouldn’t have Lucy, would we? She’s all I have. Be careful not to call her Irish. She feels guilty. She thinks that I think that her mother killed my son by talking him out of Brighton Beach. Sometimes I say the wrong things. I talk with feeling instead of my mind. What made me say something like that? I just used to get so sad. Don’t say anything about her being Irish. She’s Russian. God, I love her so much. I…”
Her voice trailed off again, this time coming to a complete stop. She gave me a quick, meaningful glance and looked away. It was almost as if she had been talking to herself. She sighed deeply, looking down, looking inward.
For the first time, Father, I saw clearly the Manhattan Syndrome in full force. Being the great actress she is, she had managed to conceal it from me all of those months. Now her acting had ceased, and suddenly, there it was.
The candlelight flickered up and down, occasionally highlighting her old, sad, tired face.
“You black people have soul,” she said, still looking as if I was not even in the room, and she was having this private conversation with herself.
“God, do you people have soul! You know what I mean, Alexander. Pushkin had soul. That’s what made him so great. That’s why your dear mother named you after him. That’s why he was the greatest Russia ever. You know what I mean, Alexander.”
For some reason, Anna K. Libid was calling me Alexander for the first time. The way she pronounced my name in Russian made it sound so formal, so serious.
“Yes Anna, I know what you mean.”
“Soul is close to God, Alexander.”
Anna looked up from her inner self and stared at me with unblinking eyes. She lowered her eyes and fell silent. We just sat quietly after that, for the rest of the evening until Lucy returned, not saying anything, both of us locked in our private world.
For some reason I decided that night not to stay with Lucy but to return home. Lucy gave me a look of deep disappointment. I saw a flash of real fear and longing on her face.
“I’ll be back early tomorrow,” I said, reassuring her.
“But, why do you have to go, Alexander? she said, pleading with me in a small whining voice.
“I don’t know. I just have to go.”
I quickly left. Maybe I knew, Father, that this was going to be the last night I spent in Mother’s apartment and the last time I saw Anna K. Libid alive.
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