I HAD JUST…..
It was Tuesday morning, not yet 10 AM. I was on the phone. It’s funny – more than two and a half years later, I don’t remember who I was talking to – I think it was work related. Someone else was desperately trying to reach me. My call waiting kept flashing with a lengthy jumble of numbers, too many to make sense of, too many to be taken seriously. I didn’t get off my call, but again the numbers kept coming. They kept flashing in annoying disharmony with that atonal call waiting. The flashing numbers were unfamiliar, too many digits to be from the Homeland. Another solicitor to mock my Do Not Call Registration, I thought. I often barked, “I’m reporting you to the FCC!!” That sometimes worked, but call blocking is so much more immediate and empowering.
The numbers flashed a third time, and then a fourth. I grew irritated and wondered, “should I let this persistent disturbance “win” and puncture my morning?” The caller’s obstinate continuance won out. I had no choice and finally took the call. The news immediately knifed my heart without warning. My brother had died while vacationing in Cambodia. At 56, retiring early, he reportedly collapsed at the top of Angkor Wat temple and died.
The tears streamed down my face while I became inconsolable. I was alone. I remember seeing my tears splash on my wood floor. My brother’s partner of 17 years placed the call in a queer, emotionless, almost perfunctory manner. I had a strained relationship with Stephen, my brother, but I still loved him. I always loved him. Though as we both aged, we grew apart, drew our lines in the sand and failed to understand each other.
That call was January 7th, 2014. I had just moved to East Hampton full-time. For the preceding decade, East Hampton was my wonderful weekend refuge from the City – my weekend sanctuary, my second home. I had just sold my New York apartment of thirteen years and had just cancelled my short-term City apartment lease. I had just begun unpacking. I had just signed for an East Hampton P. O. Box. I had just accepted a new position with The Corcoran Group in East Hampton after a long successful career in global real estate finance. Maybe the City and banking burned me out – maybe I was ready for a change. Or maybe I had just earned the right to make my own career and life decisions and escape strength sapping corporate politics. I had just seen my brother on Christmas. Oddly, I had just begun to understand him a bit better that day. It was an epiphany I later discussed with my cousin Linda. I had just convinced myself that my 89 year old Dad in NJ would be just fine with my move. I would of course still visit, but my brother lived nearby, and we dutifully shared responsibilities when it came to Dad. I was now 130+ miles away. I had just begun a bold new chapter in my life.
I had just….I HAD JUST….
Telling my Dad was the hardest thing I have ever been tasked to do in life. I thought I would lose him. And in his state of health, why on earth did Stephen travel across the globe to such a hot and humid climate, making such a difficult climb? Why exactly did his body fail? No autopsy was performed. Stephen was cremated abroad. We were denied closure on the events surrounding my brother’s death.
Over the next several months, the drives back and forth to NJ from East Hampton seemed endless and incredibly longer than the weekend drives between the City and East Hampton. Dad stayed with me in East Hampton for some time and I stayed with him in NJ. We wondered how to carry on, but we found ways to navigate through our grief. Perhaps mercifully, Dad’s memory declined further – the utter shock, loss of his first born, extreme change and grief, pock-marked my elderly Dad’s memorybank in ways I didn’t expect. I so wanted to talk about Stephen – he did not, he could not. It was too painful. Dad continues to remember Stephen, but he seems to recall him more before he died – a blessing. I chose to park my grief and nip at it gradually, to achieve some semblance of healing over time. Discussing my brother is still very hard for me. During this time, New York City was virtually absent from my cognizance. Without realizing, East Hampton was becoming my home.
I dove into work, a classic Mazujian trait. Hamptons listings began to materialize and then sales. My life evolved from structuring multi-million dollar headline real estate transactions, to figuring out how to obtain an updated Certificate of Occupancy for sellers who unwittingly constructed additions without building permits. Surprisingly, the latter is much harder – but not impossible!! I began to find a new rhythm – work, clients, enjoying the house as my year round home, new friends and experiencing the East End as a full-time resident. There were now weekday beach walks, flowers and even herbs on the back deck, Harbor kayaking, cultural events and dinners out east on Sunday nights, and further connections with the community through charity work, church and my property owners association. I now had time to actually experience the East End in a more thoughtful and relaxed state. Before my move, I “enjoyed” the angst-filled drive from New York on Friday nights followed by about 36 hours of relative calm, sealed with the Sunday night journey back to the City. I felt I was experiencing a new normal. Friends called me “the Double R” – the Reinvention Renegade. It’s funny – I had grown jaded as so many of us do with the City. New York is a powerful drug, but it can also wear us down. My move to East Hampton was the “blood transfusion” my body craved – the transfusion which helped me accept the unexpected loss of my brother, heal and recharge my life on several levels, and desire to experience the New York City megalopolis anew.
I hadn’t planned on the City becoming my escape from home – my sojourns away from East Hampton – a major reversal. It wasn’t that long ago that East Hampton fulfilled that function. I joined the University Club. The Clubhouse is my camp for adults. The UC has become my new Manhattan outpost when leaving home.
I recall my mom would often say “life is a series of adjustments.” She passed so unfairly young. I was in my early 30’s and didn’t really appreciate or fully understand what she meant. Now I do. These past few years have been filled with so many adjustments. Life has a way of recalibrating our direction, often without warning. Just this year my aortic valve was replaced. Thank you Mr. Cow or perhaps Bessie who sacrificed their heart valve for my health and well-being. I learned last year I would need surgery due to an apparent congenital abnormality. I had just grown into my new rhythm on the East End. I had just found my new path after my brother’s death. I had just begun selling Hamptons homes. I had just been elected Board member of Hampton Waters Property Owners Association. I had just begun ushering at church. I had just renewed my respectful and adoring awe of New York City. I had just healed…
I had just…I HAD JUST…
Thank you Doctor Stewart, my caregivers, family, friends, my faith and of course East Hampton Meals on Wheels. Even in the snow, these “angels” arrived at my front doorstep, delivering food daily with a caring warm smile and often a Dreesen’s doughnut, as I convalesced at home – my East Hampton home. Thank you Southampton Hospital Cardiac Rehab who delivered back my strength and confidence to live my life fully, without fear or looking back. Three days a week, the “girls” and Erik exuded incredibly positive energy, humor, giggly laughs, and genuine caring while carving out my exercise, diet and emotional regimen back to full health. Peggy, I’m eating more vegetables and I’m up to 60 laps in the pool 5 days a week!
And just then as cardiac recovery was within my sights, my Dad had a fall. Life had again intervened. At 92, his pelvis cracked – another adjustment for us both. The long and frequent drives back and forth to NJ returned. But I continue to boomerang home – home to East Hampton. The “transfusion” continues to do its job – East Hampton is my wonderful home.