Come and Meet Those Dancin’ Feet (Part Two)

(Continued from Part One)

Four months after returning, my desire to go back to 42nd Street grew all-consuming. No longer a whisper at the back of my mind about “When can I go? …How can I go?” the question flashed like neon over everything I did.

I placed a framed photo of Mum’s billboard message in my plant window where I could see it each time I went into the kitchen. I hummed “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” as I made my morning coffee, and then I’d sit at the table affirming what the sign said in the fine print. “The 42nd Street Ensemble….You’ve got to see it live!” For the ticket buyers lined up beneath the sign in Times Square, this suggestion might have been the hook that drew them into the next performance. For me, it was a mantra. I scrolled endlessly through the performance dates on Ticket Master online. I’d come close to clicking the “Book Reservation Now” button at a dozen Manhattan hotels. At night, I’d dreamt I was hurrying out through the Port Authority terminal, hanging a right as I hit the street, and heading as fast as I could toward the Ford Center theater. But it hadn’t felt “right” to plan my own trip, even though I knew I could book it anytime I wanted. I held back, kept quiet, and waited for the sequel of my January trip to unfold.

“Mum will bring the play back to me, someday,” I thought each time I looked over at my skyscraper-huge memory captured in the four-by-six photo frame. “Maybe not on Broadway. Maybe in a summer theater around here. Maybe for Mother’s Day or my birthday. When she wants me to, I’ll see it.” And although I knew such gifts wouldn’t appear if I forced them into my notion of how they must come to pass, the stage I’d set in my mind’s eye as I talked to myself was grand and gaudy and bursting with glitzy show girls.

“What do you want for your birthday this year, honey?” my husband, Tom, asked when I came home from work to find him in shopping mode. Half reclined in the desk chair, right arm controlling the mouse, his tone was as laid back as his buying approach. I could only tell from his intent eye movements that he was honing in on an eBay find.

“Oh, whatever comes to mind,” I answered, trying to summon my best you-know-I’m-not-fussy tone. I had trouble making eye contact, and I wasn’t sure my customary response came across with the quiet confidence of a wife who, after 25 years of marriage, had every “thing” she really wanted. “You always get me something nice…you’ll do fine,” I assured. He pursed his lips and frowned at the screen as I hurried away into the kitchen. Standing at the plant window, I imagined him typing in a search string for earrings, probably…or maybe mountain biking gear. I thought I heard him mumble something about not being a mind reader as my Shuffle Off to Buffalo picture blurred from the stage lights flickering in my head.

I knew I’d have to avoid looking at email from home for the next week since bid confirmation notices would spoil the surprise gift from “MooseWatcher.” (MooseWatcher is Tom’s eBay user name, derived from our lake property in Maine and the fact that most of his online purchases are used either in the woods or on the water.) Was it reasonable for me to hope that someone with such a rustic identity could come close to fulfilling a New York City fantasy? No, I admitted, but reason and logic hadn’t been part of what brought me to New York in the first place. And, no, he couldn’t read my mind, but he could, when the time was right, hear my mother whispering in his ear.

Mum first met Tom when I was a junior in high school and he showed up at the house as my best friend’s date on prom night. He was shy, but incredibly handsome and the perfect gentleman, she thought. The fact that he was dating my best friend didn’t sway Mum’s enthusiasm in the least. “Didn’t you see how he was looking at you?” she wanted to know, just out of earshot. “He appreciates how beautiful you are,” she said, sneaking a disapproving glance toward where my date sat nervously on the couch. “Tom’s the one for you.” It took me only a couple of weeks to realize she was right, and no time at all for both of us to fall in love with him. He called her a Hot Ticket after the bowling league she played in, and she always quipped he was “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” or some corny correlation to a forest creature. She broke through his shyness and he made her feel like she was 17 again. During the year we had together, I think she spent about half of it clasping her hands together and grinning in Tom’s direction.

After Mum died, Tom was the only person who knew I kept a folded up sympathy card in my pocketbook. It contained the words to “The Rose Still Grows Beyond the Wall,” a poem about a rose growing by a garden wall that follows the light to unfold on the other side. It was the only image that brought me peace in dealing with my grief.

Many years later, after my Dad passed away, Tom was the only one besides my sister who remembered the essence of my mother, who could still see her doing a crazy shuffle across the kitchen. With his help, I was finally able to open my heart to the possibility that she was always close by in spirit. In time, my vision of a rose, full and healthy and opening to the light, became so strong that I didn’t need to reread the old card anymore. I’d tell her each day that I knew that she knew that we were happy, Tom was still “the one” and that her granddaughters often did things out of the blue that reminded us of her. I became comfortable enough with the dialogue to ask for signs of acknowledgement.  “You’ll send him a rose,” I began saying after each thought-prayer. “And when he gives it to me, I’ll know you’re looking over us with that foolish, tickled pink grin.”

My birthday present from Tom that year was a stained glass piece called “The Rose Still Grows Beyond the Wall” he had custom-made by a local artist. Brighter than my most vivid daydreams, it shows a marble-white stone wall bordering a landscape that rolls green and lush down to a mountain-rimmed lake. A rose grows toward the top of the wall, its blossom luminously red, holding and radiating all available light. From the moment I hung it in the top half of my plant window, the piece became a prism for capturing and reflecting love renewed. Three birthdays later, as I watched it throw rays of red and blue across the frame of my 42nd Street photo, I knew it was the only thing beyond my husband and daughters I would need to rescue from my house if it began to burn to the ground. Tom said the idea for the stained glass artwork just popped into his head as he was driving around one day. Now we know the gift rejoined us in a loving exchange.

 “Shall claim of death cause us to grieve       
And make our courage faint and fall?
No, let us hope and faith receive,
The rose still grows beyond the wall.
Spreading [her] fragrance far and wide
Just as [she] did in days of yore.
Just as [she] did on the other side.
Just as [she] will forevermore.” [1]

 So many mornings since I hung it up, I’d gazed at my rose portrait and repeated the verses that tell of my unfolding. After returning from New York, the colors seemed more vibrant than ever and yet, the words behind them echoed again with sympathy and loss. Could I really continue my personal affirmation of life after death in a place so close to where thousands had left their daughters and sons crying for the simplest evidence they had, indeed, gone from this world? How could there possibly be any correlation left between the huge, unnatural loss of September 11 and seeing my mother’s favorite songs performed live?

Mother’s Day came and went while I asked these questions over cooling coffee, until one morning the glass rose captured me in red like I’d never felt before. The warmth from it seemed as close to a hug as I could get, and I let it comfort me with answers.

The truest blessing, I knew, was the gift of just being age 46 – of opening my eyes on my birthday surrounded by my family. Anything else I’d do, see or feel would be trimmings. I also knew the best way to receive would be to somehow give. Should I donate more money to the September 11th Fund? Could I find some way to support the World Trade Center rescue effort, even though it was coming to a close?

“OK, Mum, I’m ready. You let me know,” I said as I finally drew my focus from the plant window back to my morning routine. “Show me the way to bring hope to a family, to touch them from the other side of grief as you have with me.”

By the time I got to my office, my willingness to do whatever it took to find what I was looking for overpowered my work deadlines and sense of  “responsible” corporate Internet use. I logged on to eBay, went straight to “Event Tickets” and typed a search string for 42nd Street. “Orchestra Seats – Sept. 18 Performance – Ford Center” displayed immediately at the top of the results list, telling me my instincts were on track. Good, I thought, I’d get my own seat for the show and figure out how I could give back to New York and its people when I got there. Meanwhile, I’d free poor Tom from having to fulfill a birthday fantasy for which he’d never even been given a script.

I opened the auction link, curious to scope out my competition. Who would have bid on these tickets already? Who could possibly want them more than I? Questions raced through my mind, and then fell away like useless chatter when details filled my screen and my eyes zoned in on the name of the eBay top bidder: MooseWatcher.

I shuddered, blinked, and looked away to an empty spot on my desk. Had Tom’s shopping really brought him to 42nd Street after all? I slowly shifted my gaze back to stare hard at the screen display. I hit the refresh button and held my breath. Yes…there it was again – MooseWatcher! His one-of-a-kind Internet link reappeared, brighter than cobalt glass and more magical than any marquee name.

“Thank you, MooseWatcher! Thank you, Mum. Oh, thank God!” I whispered. I didn’t dare navigate away from the evidence of my wish coming true until I realized I didn’t know who else had made it possible. Who was selling these tickets? I glanced down to the eBay seller’s name to find a link to a corporation rather than an individual: Cantor Fitzgerald.

I clicked on the link, desperate to remember the details of why this corporation sounded familiar to me. “Proceeds from the sale of these tickets will benefit the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund,” the company website explained. I explored deeper and, as the faces and facts behind the Cantor Fitzgerald story filled my screen, something beautiful and powerful I carried next to my heart burst open. I was unfolding again, as I had in Times Square, centered in a glorious cycle of giving that began with a poem and a single ray of hope, and now radiated without limits.

The Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund website told more. Seven hundred people working in Cantor Fitzgerald’s offices on the top floors of the north World Trade Center tower lost their lives on the morning of September 11. They were parents to 1,500 children. One hundred percent of my auction purchase would help bring grief counseling and other services to the families left behind.

Tom had been so focused on carrying out his “idea” for my birthday, he hadn’t noticed the seller information until I told him about the Cantor Fitzgerald – 42nd Street link and how I’d happened across it on my own. He increased his purchase price after the auction was over and, even though I’d unwrapped my own present early, he still gave me something to open on my birthday: A poster of a beaming Broadway dancer flitting across a bright red 42nd Street backdrop inviting me to come see “A Musical Made in Heaven.”

(Continued in Part Three)

[1]  From “The Rose Still Grows Beyond the Wall” by A. L. Frink

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