An Encounter With ChangeNew York, New York
By Rebeca V. Taub
In the northeastern corner of the Bronx there is a tiny island on the Sound which feels like a little fishing village in New England, if you face the right direction, out over the harbor. The year in the mid-70's that I was in New York, between my years in France, I met an exotic, funny guy at work. Otto, a divorced bi-racial artist, lived in the Bronx. We dated that Spring, before I went back to Paris, to try living with my Tunisian boyfriend. One day, Otto and I decided to drive in my big blue Thunderbird to scenic City Island, up the highway and over a little drawbridge. We parked on the main street. You could almost hear the strains of “Sailing Away” on the breeze, looking at the little boats in the harbor. There were nice restaurants and little shops, which we looked at before going into one of the seafood restaurants to eat.
Afterwards, we strolled along the street, and saw a corner candy shop. We went in, perhaps for a mint or ice cream. Standing near the freezer was a lady who looked familiar. I was shocked to realize it was my old friend Nancy! We’d grown up together in Brooklyn. She’d been one of my best friends, people often took us for sisters, but she was a real “tom-boy.” Her parents were interesting, as their gender roles seemed reversed: her dad was a gentle button designer, and her mom seemed pretty tough.
After graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School, Nancy and I had gone to different colleges and drifted apart. After college, our paths crossed again. Nancy married my brother’s friend, who had been part of our crowd. I visited them a few times. We went to visit our sixth grade teacher, Miss Ritter. In her college years, Nancy had been in a bad relationship and started taking heroin. For a while the marriage served her as a source of stability and sobriety, but it shortly ended in divorce, I learned as we chatted to catch up on our news. The biggest change was that now she was in love with the nice Italian lady with cropped black hair who ran the candy shop!
Though I was a bit surprised, it made sense, as the kids in “Jeff” had made remarks about Nancy which I had thought were just mean, that she was “a Lesbian” because she was athletic. It turned out that she really was gay! I was glad that she found contentment with a new sexual identity, after so much turmoil. I was a little nervous too, not wanting to put my foot in my mouth, never knowing anyone who was “out” before.
That decade was the beginning of sexual liberation for women and homosexuals. Some years later I realized that several friends from college, most of the architecture students that I had known, were gay, too. Today, I’m lucky enough to be friends with two lovely couples who are gay. Nancy and her partner met me for lunch once before I went back to France, but we lost touch again. At a class reunion with Miss Ritter, now Mrs. Pierce, 30 years later, no one knew what had become of Nancy. I hope that she and her Italian lover have retired to sunny Italy, after a happy life together in New York.