The New 60: Why Are We Waiting?
BY Robert Levithan
August 02 2010 2:10 PM ET
Just 48 hours ago I was settling in with a good book, feet up, dog curled at my knee, when the phone rang:
"I need you, babe. Right now." (It was my ex).
"Where are you?" I ask.
"I’m in Aunt Michele’s apartment, and she’s dead."
"OK. I’m on my way."
For many years I lived around much illness and death from AIDS. Some of my close friends and I would joke about what music to play at our memorials, what keepsake we wanted from each other’s collection. For a while I was the "designated die-er" in my circle. We often think we know who is going next. We don’t.
Christo’s Aunt Michele lived in the same building he does, a few floors below. It was an unusual situation he had found for her: The once 22, now seven, cats were paying half the rent, their original people having left New York City after September 11. Some of the cats couldn’t travel.
Michele had traveled. Born in Buffalo, N.Y., she later left an abusive husband in California and escaped with her five young children to Salt Lake City, where she proceeded to create a career and buy a house and get the kids all safely to adulthood. About 15 years ago, when she was 50, she realized that they weren’t moving out, so she left them, kept paying the mortgage, and moved to New York City.
She lived in the YWCA for two years until Christo found her the cat-sitting job. By then she had clients as a personal assistant and was living a wonderful life: opera, theater, travel. In the five years she was my aunt-in-law, she visited Italy, Turkey, and Berlin, not to mention spots around the USA. She hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for "strays," and she had adventures: One day she decided to go swimming in the Hudson River, not realizing this was unusual in NYC. There were police helicopters and a bit of drama. She was an innocent in the best sense: optimistic, curious, and always ready to reinvent herself.