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An Unknown Woman

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And she died.

Alone in her apartment.

Alone in her life.

The death certificate indicated “Natural Causes.” What were natural causes for an otherwise healthy forty-five year old woman?

Who was she?

She was pretty in a casual, unpretentious way...very little make-up judging by the content of her purse, and very little effort.

Her wallet held a New York State driver’s license, $63.28 in cash, three credit cards (an American Express Blue card, a Commerce Bank Visa debit card, and a JC Penney store charge: none of which carrying balances greater than $1,000.00), an organ donor card, library cards from both the Brooklyn Public Library and New York Public Library, and a Metro card with a balance of $22.00.

On her kitchen table was her last will and testament; instructing that all her possessions be sold at auction by ADA Auctioneers in Brooklyn and the proceeds from this sale as well as any other investments and dividends, after fees, be donated in three equal parts to her church, the closest local hospital, and the nearest public high school. The only stipulation was that all monies bequeathed to these three institutions be spent solely and exclusively on reading/literacy material and that these reading/literacy materials be in no other language but English.

How did she live?

Her two bedroom apartment was minimally cluttered with papers and craft supplies. She had dozens and dozens of books in a variety of subject matter from religious/spiritual to simple novels to historical references. She apparently collected shoes, most of which she never wore. Her closet was filled with clothes that clearly no longer fit but which were never discarded. Her CD music collection appeared as diverse as her books, ranging from hip-hop to country.  She had boxes and boxes of jewelry: both real and costume, in a variety of colors and gemstones. There was enough for every outfit in her closet to have a corresponding piece (or pieces) of jewelry.

None of the neighbors on her Brooklyn block knew much about her. Even her landlord of fifteen years admitted he knew very little about her but conceded she was one of the best and quietest tenants he ever had, paying her rent on time and not bothering him with silly requests or complaints.

What was her routine?

She went to work every day, at the Baxter and Moore law firm in Manhattan. She took her lunch alone, either shopping or eating at one of the many local Manhattan restaurants. She was pleasant and friendly with co-workers helping out whenever asked. Everyone knew she was the point person to go to if there was a question about job function or company procedures of any kind. But she never developed any deep friendships at work.

Saturday mornings were spent grocery shopping, and doing her laundry. Saturday afternoons she went to the movies, or Barnes & Noble or the occasional museum. (Museums were never a favorite thing for her to do because usually it meant going back into Manhattan and she preferred not to spend weekends in Manhattan since she was there every Monday – Friday).  Saturday evenings she would be seen at the local bar drinking different things on different nights. Sometimes she drank beer, sometimes seven and seven, sometimes dirty martinis. Here, too, she was pleasant and friendly, discussing politics and current events with the other patrons with ease and grace.  She was approached (hit on) by men and women alike at lease once a night. Her refusals were absolute but never hurtful or rude and she always went home alone … no later than midnight.

Sundays she always went to church. Every one there knew her by name and she helped set up and clean up the after worship fellowship hour socializing gently with fellow congregants. When everything was cleaned up and put away, she left quietly and went home.

She vacationed alone. Her co-workers knew that she always seemed to look forward to traveling but apparently never went away with anyone. When asked why, her reply was that she went on vacation to refresh herself not anyone else and this was her time to see things through her eyes and the eyes of her camera alone and as only she saw fit. She was never the subject of any of her pictures preferring to photograph places and things spontaneously as the mood struck her.

Was she happy?

She kept many incomplete journals. Most of them seemed to be little more than stream of consciousness, random thoughts. Some were letters to companies, politicians, and past lovers. Some of her writings were her attempts to get it right with God. She wrote poetry, prose, and short stories. She wrote when she was happy. She wrote when she was angry. She wrote when she was trying to figure “it” all out.

In the overall scheme of things, she seemed perfectly content with her life.

There are millions of people in NYC most of whom live their lives in relative, if not complete, obscurity. They will never be interviewed by Barbara Walters or photographed by the paparazzi. They will never own their own home but they will never be homeless, either.  They will never be arrested and they’ll never win the lottery.

Was she famous? No. Did she want to be famous? I doubt it. Did she ever have her fifteen minutes of fame? Probably not. Was she important? Absolutely. In fact, she was infinitely more important than the likes of Paris Hilton, and Rosie O’Donnell. She was one of the people who quietly and all but invisibly walk past you every single day. And she was perfectly content with her invisibility. She was a tiny cog in the huge wheel that keeps this city, and many other cities, moving. And she deserves to be respected for the silent beauty she brought to this city every single day.

And she died.

Alone in her apartment.

Alone in her life.

I never knew her during her life, but in her death she became the sister and friend I never new I had.


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