One of the consequences of aging, is watching your spouses and friends die. Their legacy includes two intangible, yet profound, objects: memories, and an empty space.
Both of these objects are permanent. Although memories fade, and empty spaces shrink, they still remain with us forever.
Birthdays are memories, and many cultures celebrate the birthdays of dead people. Some of these birthdays mean a day off work, while other, more personal birthdays, are grim reminders of the empty space, which someone’s death left in your life.
I met Ellen in 2002, in Manhattan, while we both waiting for an Uptown 1 train at the 72nd Street Station. Part of New York City’s solution to its homeless problem, has been to make it difficult to sleep on the benches found in most Subway stations. On that day in 2002, we tried to sit on a bench, which some overzealous bureaucrat at the MTA had redesigned, so it was even uncomfortable to use as a seat, much less a bed.
Since Ellen and I were both thin, we joked about how heavier folks would be uncomfortable, but would sit there anyway. I don’t remember what we discussed after that, but it was so engrossing that I missed my stop.
Ellen and I were living together two weeks later. I would stay at her place during the week, and she would stay with me on weekends. We were not in love, we just got along extremely well, so I guess were dear friends. Ellen was a fantastic date. She was extremely bright, and she stayed that way, because she never had more than two drinks in an evening, no matter how long it lasted.
Finally, Ellen had plenty of energy and stamina. I used to meet her after work, and we routinely walked the two miles to my apartment. Sometimes on Summer weekends, Ellen would arrange a route from the Upper West Side to Greenwich Village, which included stops for flea markets, food, and live performances.
Our active lifestyle ended abruptly, when Ellen complained about back pains. Ellen was originally diagnosed with a kidney stone, but she still had pain when the stone was removed, because she also had pancreatic cancer..