Morningside.

“We all get stuck in place on occasion. We all move backward sometimes. Every day we must make the decision to move in the direction of our intentions. Forward is the direction of real life.”

– Cheryl Strayed

I was sitting cross-legged on my bed, laptop on lap, surfing the internet for a new dresser when the call came through. The number was familiar, but not in a way that brought comfort. My body tensed. My breaths came shallow. I thought about answering the phone, then thought better of it. I didn’t want to be blindsided by bad news. Let them leave a message, I thought. At least then I’d have an idea of what I was in for.

The voicemail notification flashed across the screen, and I gingerly pressed play and held the phone up to my ear.

“Hi Sarah,” came a polite, though somewhat timid, voice on the other end.

“This is Katherine, from Joe’s office. We have some documents to send you, and I just wanted to confirm that we still have your correct address.”

Documents. That sounded innocuous enough, but as I’d just spent the better part of the summer sorting through five years’ worth of paperwork covering such weighty topics as death, divorce and identity theft, paring a painful paper trail down to its essentials and depositing the rest into a large plastic bin that I delivered to an industrial shredding facility in the shadow of Los Angeles International Airport, the last thing I wanted was to acquire more documents. I had begun a new life. And I intended to travel light.

I sighed, pressed “call back,” and was surprised to hear Joe’s voice – my parents’ lawyer – on the other end. I had assumed he had retired, due to advancing age and a recent bypass surgery. But there he was, answering the phone. His tone was kind, grandfatherly, almost.

“Well, Sarah, it looks like we’re finally ready to close your parents’ estate, and I have some final documents for you to sign. We’re going to send them to your sister Marion first, then to you, and then we should be good to go.”

Really? Five years of bank statements and legal documents and insurance forms? Five years of producing death certificates with as much normalcy as I produced my driver’s license? Five years of always another form to sign, always another stack of papers to file bearing the red “For your Information” stamp? Could it really be true that after five years, this phase of life that I’d become so accustomed to was finally drawing to a close?

“That’s great news, Joe. I’m glad you called because I actually just moved. Let me give you my new address.”

If Joe was surprised by my New York zip code, he didn’t let on. Maybe he thought people packed up and moved their lives across the country every day. Or maybe after five years, he was ready to be done with me, too. Either way, we said our goodbyes, and I collapsed back onto my bed, a wave of exhaustion washing over me. I had only been in New York for three days, but I knew that it was more than just the force of jet lag hitting me. It was something like releasing a breath that I had long been holding. Something like the realization that after all these years, I might finally be turning a page.

Five days later, on a still warm September afternoon – the second day of fall – I swept the floors, rearranged the furniture, stocked the fridge and assembled a spread of snacks and drinks on my kitchen table. As a handful of guests arrived and day faded into indigo night, lit by the New York skyline and the three strings of twinkle lights I’d hung from the eighth-floor balcony of my Morningside Heights apartment, I realized that I had barely thought about the fact that this day, September 23rd, marked the fifth anniversary of the death of my mother. I had remembered it, of course, but I had – for once – been too busy to dwell on it. And when I did think of it, I didn’t feel sad. Instead, I felt lucky. I felt lucky that I had a mother who always told me that I could do and be anything that I wanted. I felt lucky that because of that, I had been brave enough to take a leap, and had been rewarded with a new apartment in a new city, one that was beautiful, priced well under market value, and in a prime Manhattan neighborhood. I was lucky to be surrounded by interesting, kind, creative people, who, like me, also wanted to tell stories and make art. And I was lucky to realize that as painful as it had been, it was the jagged, twisted, perilous path that had brought me here, to a time and a place where I finally felt, for the first time in a long time, that I was where I was supposed to be.

Until next time, friends.

10 thoughts on “Morningside.

  1. Pillow Cases’…

    ‘Question, when you arrived, feet landed as’ you sit there upon your bed reading this? Did you bring that huge and beautiful purple ‘Star Fish? And your pillow and your ‘Heart? What else matters in life’ right? Oh and Dark Chocolate, and cheese cake, espresso, hot Lattes’ and good friends. I am probably going to need to invest in grammar lessons someday :)’

    ‘Some night Sarah’ you should take your BFF’ ‘your pillow’ with you into the kitchen, place it upon a chair seated next to you’ make it a delicious chocolate (Gouache) latte’ and tell it thank you for always being there for you and your heart.’

    – Read you later Sarah.

    Brock. A. Lee. (Vested in Life).

  2. Endings are difficult even when protracted. Your ending comes with your new beginning. That’s serendipitous! It might not feel that way, but the ending is timed to allow your new beginning to be freer! This is good!

    Peace, Tamara

  3. I hesitate to write as I don’t mean to insert myself into your story – it is yours. But the mention of Joe took me back five years, as well. The day we found your dad in the house, and I called for an ambulance, I also went to the hospital. The ER docs would not let me in. I called Marion who suggested I call Joe. It was Joe who intervened and orchestrated access for me so I could hold your father’s hand – just as I knew you and your sisters would want me to do. Sarah, Joe has always been there for your family. However prolonged and protracted the probate process has been, he knew what to do, then and now. He is just as kind and grandfatherly as you noted. I cannot think of a better family lawyer – emphasis on family. Your family. Joe is another piece of the bridge that is taking you from what was to what will be. I am not surprised to know he answered the phone himself. I suspect Joe’s voice was the voice you needed to hear and I suspect your dad had something to do with that.

    • I agree Melanie. Joe is a good-hearted soul and has done a lot of wonderful things for my family. He was my grandparents’ lawyer as well, so as you can imagine, I’ve had more communication with him over these last years than I would have wished. I am grateful for him, but equally grateful to turn the page on this chapter of life. Sending love to you.

  4. As Tamara said above, endings can be new beginnings. It looks as though you’ve come out the other side of your grief to find a new life in a new city. ((hugs)) – Gwen

  5. I found your blog via Bottle and Heels. 🙂
    Family Grocery #2 on 140th and Frederick Douglas Blvd is the friendliest bodega with the best bacon egg and cheese – I lived on that block after I burned my boats and moved there with $300 and no job eleven years ago (I’ve since done the same to a different state, but I miss NYC daily).
    Have a wonderful adventure and eat a BEC for me if you find yourself in the neighborhood. 🙂

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