Sunday, May 31, 2020

“The French Café” by Phyllis DeMarco - 2019 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Semi-Finalist

                                                                              The French Café


                                                                               Phyllis DeMarco

And suddenly, I no longer hated Jimmy.  He was so open about his emotions and thoughts and crushed dreams; he was a completely different person. 
In the meantime, Michael and I had two sons and Jimmy had no one.  They never had children because the Ice Queen didn’t want any.  Perhaps she knew she wouldn’t be staying.  Jimmy threw himself into his job, working for a company that provided cars for movies and television, as well as doing side work on racing cars.  I didn’t mention that he was also an awesome drummer and on Saturday nights when he wasn’t playing with his band, we would hang together and go to different clubs or concerts or just stay home talking and playing video games.  I saw him as someone I had never known existed.  He had insight and depth, and he was kind and funny.  I was shocked.  Had he been this person all along or did it take a traumatic event to create this person?  I knew the answer.  Maturity had changed us all and we finally related as adults.  I became very fond of him and felt super connected.  And the feeling was mutual, which leads me to the next part of this narrative. 
After several years, Michael and I decided to move to Florida and Jimmy drove a trailer with some of our possessions, including our oldest son and his snake.  When we finally arrived, Jimmy stayed with us a few days before leaving.  By that point, it was all I could do not to throw myself on the floor, cling to his leg and beg him not to leave us.  He was my buddy and our last connection to Brooklyn.  I cried for hours after he drove away, nobody more surprised than me that I could feel this way.  I tried to blame it on the newness of everything and that once I got used to my new life, I wouldn’t miss him.  But that was not true.  I did miss him and we spoke at least once a week on the phone.   
A year went by and Jimmy came to visit.  Michael had to work, so I was the one who showed him around.  When he left, there I was again, sobbing like a baby.  And I came to the realization that I really loved him.  I wasn’t in love with him, but he had become part of my family. 
One of his gigs at his regular job sent him to Miami for a week to drive cars around for a magazine shoot for a large German car manufacturer.  Michael and I took a mini vacation and joined him for the weekend.  After lunch, Michael had a headache and went to rest at the hotel.  That left Jimmy, me and a convertible to go touring around Miami, which we did.  Me, in my short skirt and tanned legs, Jimmy driving a vehicle that made him feel powerful and rich.  This little adventure added another dimension to our relationship, fun and possible attraction.  How could this be?  I decided not to overthink it because it felt damn good to be desired by someone other than my husband (shame on me), especially when that someone had a history of dating beautiful women.  It was an amazing weekend, memorable for the rest of my life for so many reasons. 
As the years went by, Michael became depressed and pulled away from his friends.  I kept the relationship up with two of them, one of them being Jimmy.  It felt so good to hear his voice saying, “Hi sweetheart,” when I would call him.  “Take care, honey,” when we hung up.
The years progressed, and Michael and I divorced.  My conversations with Jimmy grew more intimate and every year, I would travel back to Brooklyn Heights to stay with my brother and Jimmy and I would meet up for dinner.  Afterwards, we always went to this French café in Carroll Gardens for coffee and dessert.   One year, we held hands walking, later just holding each other close.  Another year, we kissed.  Another year, we were almost together, but Jimmy had found a girlfriend he cared about and neither one of us wanted to jeopardize that relationship.  After all, my life was in Florida and his was here. 
And then one year, we met for dinner and Jimmy complained about stomach pains and just not feeling quite right.  And the next thing I knew, he was diagnosed with colon cancer.  I was terrified, but he wasn’t.  He beat it and remained positive through the whole ordeal.  And a few more years passed, and he was suddenly diagnosed with bone cancer and then prostate cancer, and now we near the end of my story. 
Poor Jimmy suffered terribly the last year or so of his life and he died way too young, only in his early sixties.  Our phone conversations became more sporadic and he could no longer meet me on my trips to Brooklyn.  Shortly after he died, I visited my brother and decided to pay tribute to Jimmy by having coffee at the French café, but I couldn’t find it.  I kept walking up and down, around corners, back to where I started and where I thought I remembered the café was located.  Finally, I went into a neighboring business and inquired.  I was informed that the café had closed two months ago, which was about the time Jimmy had passed.  I started to cry, upset that I couldn’t fulfill my desire to pay tribute to a person I loved.  I left the store and slowly headed back to my brother’s house, tears rolling down my face.  But then I realized how significant and symbolic it was that the café was no longer there because my friend was no longer here.  And so I must say, there is most definitely a connection between life and death, although we may not always understand exactly what is being conveyed.  In this case, I know I did. 

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