I struggled with the key.
The lock was jammed again. I checked the keychain, but it was hard to see. The super still had not fixed the light on the stoop. I dropped my bag, sighed, and used two hands to jimmy the lock. Click.
I looked over my shoulder to make sure no one was behind me. It was my first year in New York City and I was troubled by the thought that I would end up a tragic statistic. I positioned my bag over my shoulder and readied myself for the six-floor walk up.
My roommate would be home. She didn’t work on Tuesdays, so it was our movie night. We were single and gift-less and it was Valentines Day; or as we called it “Black Tuesday”.
I checked the door was shut behind me and discovered a black, cardboard, heart taped to my mailbox. I turned it over and read a single word, written in red, all caps.
W H O
My roommate and I met one year earlier in Boston. We worked at Cheers. The pub made popular by the television series. It was her first week. She was friendly and spunky and I liked her instantly. It took her all of ten minutes to reveal that she was going through a breakup.
“Really? I am too!”
“I’m Cristie, by the way,” she said and stuck out her hand.
We went out after work for an ice cream. We sat outside and shared our broken hearts over three scoops and a wobbly table. Whenever I hit a rough patch in my life, I still turn to Chocolate Fudge Brownie.
I looked around the foyer but found nothing else. Stuffing the black heart into my coat pocket, I ascended the stairwell. At the top was another offering, stuck to the checkered tile floor. A black heart set squarely in the center of, what once was a white tile.
I pried it up and flipped it over.
N E E D S
I learned about the Jewish boy she loved, who broke up with her because he could only marry someone in his faith.
“Apparently, you can date a Shiksa for four years in college but you can’t marry them,” she said waving a spoonful of whipped cream.
I poked at brownie chunks and evoked my boyfriend–the cheater.
“He disappeared at the company Christmas party. I couldn’t find him for 45 minutes. It’s clear now where he was.”
It took just one large bowl of ice cream for us to decide to move to New York, be roommates, and star on Broadway. We moved in May, right after my 25th birthday.
I turned the black hearts over in my hands, smiled, and then conquered the next flight by twos. The third floor offering was stuck next to the door of the lady no one ever sees. We knew she lived there. We sometimes heard her talking to, what we assumed were cats (based on the smell that trickled into the hallway). But we never saw her once in the year we lived there. The back read:
M E N
The day we moved into our railroad apartment, we met two girls that lived across the street. Our living room windows faced each other across 86th street. They invited us over to hang out later in the week. We climbed the six flights of stairs to their apartment and banged on the east side door. A young man answered with a spatula in hand.
“Wrong apartment,” he said with a smile.
His friend sat at the kitchen table holding a beer.
“He’s making lasagna if you would rather eat here.”
That night the six of us had dinner together. I brought the Mint Chocolate Chip for desert.
I went out with that chef across the street a few times. Cristie pleaded with me not to wear men’s XXL flannel shirts out on dates. I didn’t listen but I did let her talk me into wearing makeup.
Black heart number four hung from the flickering light in the fourth floor hallway. I marveled that my 5-foot tall roommate managed to get it up there and thought that if she could do this, I might get her to do the supers job. I dropped my bag, jumped up and grabbed it.
W H E N
Three months before our lease was up I was cast in my first big show. I was going on the road for two years, playing the lead in The Will Rogers Follies. Christie took me for my first manicure-pedicure. We bought silver toe rings on 83rd street and wore open toed shoes although it was March. Then we celebrated in a bistro on 1st with a large Strawberry Fudge Swirl. We promised each other that when I returned, we would find another apartment in a funkier neighborhood.
Fifth floor’s reward was fixed to the long, skinny window that revealed the alleyway. There was a bay of them on the side of the building. I looked down at the noisy pigeons who’s fussing awakened me every morning. I banged on the windows to scare them away, then freed the black heart.
G O D
The week before I moved out we were robbed. A very thin thief descended from the roof and squeezed himself through one of those tiny windows and into my bedroom. We arrived home to discover the window open and sooty footprints on my bed. That evening, we went to the roof to look for clues with a pint of Boysenberry and a couple of spoons.
Black heart number six was taped over the eyehole on my apartment door.
M A D E
I tested the door. It was unlocked. “Hello?” No answer.
I looked around the kitchen. An oversized crimson heart covered the freezer door. A glittery arrow pierced it and pointed to the handle. I yanked it open.
The freezer was empty, but for a lone pint of
Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
The table was set with several small bowls, each one filled with a flavor. Chocolate sprinkles, coconut, caramel, cinnamon red hots, blackberries and chopped nuts. There was a note.
“Happy Black Tuesday. Create some new flavor for yourself. The future is wide open.”
We never did find a new apartment in that funky neighborhood. But, we remain friends twenty years later and meet once a year in Manhattan. We see a Broadway show, take a yoga class, and catch up with each other. Then we take our six-year-olds out for an ice cream, usually topped with gummy bears.
What is your recipe for your future Valentine’s Day? Let’s write Ben and Jerry’s and create a new flavor for next years “Black Wednesday.”