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6

In those days and it was the mid-1980s, as I have said William and I lived in the West Village, in a small apartment near the river. A walk-up, and it was something, with the two small children and having no laundry facilities in the building, and we also had a dog. I would put the younger child in a carry pack on my back until she got too big and walk the dog, bending precariously to pick up his mess in a plastic bag, as the signs told one to do: CLEAN UP AFTER YOUR DOG. Always calling out to my older girl to wait for me, not to step off the sidewalk. Wait, wait!

I had two friends, and I was half in love with one of them, Jeremy. He lived on the top floor of our building and he was almost, but not quite, the age of my father. He had come originally from France, from the aristocracy, and he gave that all up to be in America, starting as a young man. Everyone different wanted to be in New York back then, he told me. It was the place to come to. I guess it still is. Jeremy had decided in the middle of his life to become a psychoanalyst, and when I met him he still had a few patients, but he would not talk to me about what that was like. He had an office across from the New School, and three times a week he went there. I would pass him on the street, and the sight of him tall, thin, dark-haired, wearing a dark suit, and his soulful face always made my heart rise. Jeremy! I would say, and he would smile and lift his hat in a way that was courtly and old-fashioned and European this is how I saw it.

His apartment I had seen only once, and this was when I got locked out and had to wait for the super to show up. Jeremy found me on the front stoop with the dog and both children, and I was frantic, and he had me come in. The children were immediately quiet and very well behaved once we got inside his place, as though they knew no children were ever there, and in fact I had never seen children going into Jeremys apartment. Only a man or two, or sometimes a woman. The apartment was clean and spare: A stalk of purple iris was in a glass vase against a white wall, and there was art on the walls that made me understand then how far apart he and I were. I say this because I didnt understand the art; they were dark and oblong pieces, almost-abstract-but-not-quite constructions, and I understood only that they were symptoms of a sophisticated world I could never understand. Jeremy was uncomfortable having my family in his place, I could sense that, but he was an exquisite gentleman, and this was why I loved him so.

Three things about Jeremy:

I was standing one day on the front stoop, and as he came out of the building I said, Jeremy, sometimes when I stand here, I cant believe Im really in New York City. I stand here and think, Whoever would have guessed? Me! Im living in the City of New York!

And a look went across his face so fast, so involuntary that was a look of real distaste. I had not yet learned the depth of disgust city people feel for the truly provincial.

The second thing about Jeremy: I had my first story published right after I moved to New York, and then it was a while, and my second story was published. On the steps one day, Chrissie told this to Jeremy. Mommy got a story in a magazine! He turned to look at me; he looked at me deeply; I had to look away. No, no, I said. Just a silly little really small literary magazine. He said, So youre a writer. Youre an artist. I work with artists, I know. I guess Ive always known that about you.

I shook my head. I thought of the artist from college, his knowledge of himself, his ability to forgo children.

Jeremy sat down beside me on the stoop. Artists are different from other people.

No. Theyre not. My face flushed. I had always been different; I did not want to be any more different!

But they are. He tapped my knee. You must be ruthless, Lucy.

Chrissie jumped up and down. Its a sad story, she said. I cant read yet I can read some words but its a sad story.

May I read it? Jeremy asked me this.

I said no.

I told him I could not bear it if he didnt like it. He nodded and said, Okay, I wont ask again. But, Lucy, he said, you talk to me a lot, and I cant imagine reading anything by you that I wouldnt like.

I remember clearly that he said ruthless. He did not seem ruthless, and I did not think I was or could be ruthless. I loved him; he was gentle.

He told me to be ruthless.

One more thing about Jeremy: The AIDS epidemic was new. Men walked the streets, bony and gaunt, and you could tell they were sick with this sudden, almost biblical-seeming plague. And one day, sitting on the stoop with Jeremy, I said something that surprised me. I said, after two such men had just walked slowly by, I know its terrible of me, but Im almost jealous of them. Because they have each other, theyre tied together in a real community. And he looked at me then, and with real kindness on his face, and I see now that he recognized what I did not: that in spite of my plenitude, I was lonely. Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me. He saw this that day, I think. And he was kind. Yes is all he said. He could easily have said, Are you crazy, theyre dying! But he did not say that, because he understood that loneliness about me. This is what I want to think. This is what I think.


| My Name Is Lucy Barton | c