To E. L. Konigsburg
(for sending us on our first big fictional adventure in NYC)
Saturday, December 13th
I had been dating Lily for almost a year, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t get her brother to like me, trust me, or think I was remotely good enough for his sister. So it was a shock when he told me he wanted to meet for lunch, just the two of us.
Are you sure you have the right number? I texted back to him.
Don’t be a dick. Just show up, he replied.
The scary thing was, as much as I was trying to deny it, I knew why he wanted to meet, and what he wanted to talk about.
He wasn’t right about me, but he was right that there was a problem.
It had been a hard year.
Not at the start. The start had me clutching for such plebeian terms as awesome! and super! Because Christmas and the new year brought me something other than the usual consumerism and post-consumerism depression. The start of this year brought me Lily—bright, believing Lily. She was enough to get me to give credence to the notion of a benevolent fat guy in a red suit and a turbo-jacked sled. She was enough to make me feel cheer when Father Time turned over the keys to a newborn and said, Here, drive this. She was enough to turn me a little cynical about my own cynicism. We started the year making out in the rare-book room of the Strand, our favorite bookstore. It appeared to be an augur of good things to come.
And it was. For a time.
She met my friends. It went well.
I met many members of her seemingly infinite family. It went passably.
She met my parents and stepparents. They were confused by how their dark cloud of a son could have brought home such a sunbeam. But they weren’t complaining. They were, in fact, a little in awe, to a degree that New Yorkers usually reserve for the perfect bagel, a fifty-block cab ride with no red light, and the one movie out of every five that Woody Allen aces.
I met her beloved grandpa. He liked my handshake, and said that was all he really needed to know about me in order to approve. I sought more approval anyway, because this was a man whose eyes sparkled when he recounted a ball game played fifty years ago.
Langston, Lily’s brother, needed more convincing. Mostly, he left us alone. I didn’t mind. I wasn’t dating Lily to be with her brother. I was dating Lily to be with Lily.
And I was with Lily. We didn’t go to the same school or live in the same neighborhood, so we made Manhattan our playground, gamboling through the frostbitten parks and taking refuge in Think coffee shops and every available screen at the IFC. I showed her my favorite corners of the New York Public Library. She showed me her favorite dessert at Levain…which was basically all of them.
Manhattan didn’t mind our wanderings one bit.
January turned to February. The cold started to seep into the city’s bones. Smiles were harder to come by. The snow that dazzled as it fell grew less and less welcome as it stayed. We wandered around in layers, unable to feel anything firsthand.
But Lily—Lily didn’t mind. Lily was mittens and hot chocolate and snow angels that lifted from the ground and danced in the air. She said she loved winter, and I wondered if there was any season she didn’t love. I worked hard to accept her enthusiasm as genuine. My mental furnace was built for immolation, not warmth. I didn’t understand how she could be so happy. But such was the love I had fallen into that I decided not to question it, and to live within it.
Two days before her birthday, in May, I was asking my best friend, Boomer, for help in knitting her a red sweater. I was discovering that no matter how many YouTube videos you watch, there is no way to knit a red sweater in a single afternoon. The phone rang and I didn’t hear it. Then the phone rang and my hands were occupied. It wasn’t until two hours later that I saw how many messages I had.
Only when I listened did I learn that her beloved grandpa had suffered a minor heart attack with particularly bad timing, striking as it did while he was walking up the stairs to their apartment. He fell. And fell. And lay there for at least a half hour, barely conscious, until Lily got home and found him. The ambulance took a decade of minutes to get there. As she watched, he slipped under. As she watched, they revived him. As she waited, unable to watch, he teetered, until he barely landed on the right side of living.