Six months later I have found my way back to school and resumed my studies as an Art History major. I have even gotten a part time job as an administrative assistant for a bank owned company that buys and maintains airplanes.
It is a particularly cloudy October afternoon in 1986 and I sit cross-legged on my sofa in big slouchy socks, a pair of jeans and a baggy gray sweatshirt. About a dozen oversized books lay scattered beside me as I read and reread the passages I’ve outlined in yellow in preparation for midterm exams.
I focus on an image of two figures. A man and woman are seated together in a French café. They appear to be in a catatonic state. At first glance they seem to be dressed appropriately until you realize they are not. There is a sense of carelessness in what they’re wearing. Their clothes look as if they have been slept in, they’re somewhat disheveled and one can imagine they might have an offensive smell too. The eyes of both figures elude mine. While the man looks to the right off canvas, the woman stares vacantly downward, her body is slouched ever so slightly but one gust of wind could easily push her onto the table and into the cloudy greenish drink which sits on the table in front of them.
It is Edgar Degas’ L’Absinthe.
The woman is lost to the wanderings of her mind. As I stare at her I find something both disconcerting and familiar at her state of isolation. Although I do not drink, nor do I use drugs I have come to be close friends with loneliness and isolation. As I ponder this thought, the buzzer rings loudly.
Not just once, but like someone’s finger is stuck on it and my ears are assaulted by the deafening loud annoying buzzer which has filled up every corner of my small one bedroom apartment. I’m not expecting anyone and try to ignore it but whoever’s finger is on it is not going anywhere. I feel trapped.
After ten long minutes of trying to get past this and let whomever it is to tire themselves out, the buzzing continues. I’m livid and push my books aside to go see what asshole is being such a pest.
“Who is it?” I bark sharply.
“It’s me, Ira.”
I let out an audible gasp and stand there confused. I am thrown off my center and quickly look around my apartment so as to remind myself that I am home and not in my work apartment, which in fact doesn’t even exist anymore.
My heart begins to race and skip beats and I can hear it against my chest. Thumpty thump thump thump. Thumpty thump thump thump. And because I think maybe, just maybe, I’ve heard wrong, I ask again: “Who is it?”
“It’s me Ira,” he repeats.
I gasp for air and try to remember everything I ever told him. I know I never told him my real name. I never told him anything that would lead him here. But somehow this client, this Ira, this person who is to me like every other person I met at a time in my life that I really just want to forget, this person has the audacity to be standing in my lobby with his finger on my buzzer and has now crossed into my space.
My personal space.
Into my life.
My personal life.
A life he knows nothing about. A life he has no part in.
So how is it that Ira is here in the vestibule of the small eyesore of a building I live in?
My building is perhaps the ugliest building on an otherwise pretty tree lined street where families live in private town homes and well-maintained brownstones. It is over 100 years old and looks every bit its age. It has a drab gray exterior and an unsightly stoop with seven steep tilting steps one has to climb carefully because they are as narrow as they are high. There are odd cracks here and there with loose and missing pieces of concrete and looks as if a giant had at one time placed one massive foot on the whole of the stairs leaving his footprint on the uneven broken steps.
. . .
In years to come I will look back at that defining moment and will realize that I did not think about Ira’s own apartment, or apartments, as he later explained, having taken two enormously huge co-ops and merging them into a palatial home on ultra glam Park Avenue, the most exclusive residential address in all of New York.
He lives in a spectacular limestone covered building with truly magical beauty in every detail. A sought after address well known among the elite for its spacious and unique apartments. There are beautiful twisting wrought iron staircases, soaring 18-foot ceilings, original stone flooring in some of the apartments, and all are topped off with over sized windows overlooking Central Park.
His set of apartments is on a street where neighbors have names like Astor and Rockefeller, and where Barbara Hutton and Samuel Kress once took the same elevator he takes to go up to their respective apartments. The New York Times recently summed up the building as “Where Sumptuous is no Exaggeration.”
Park Avenue is the only place in all of New York where you will see flowers even on the coldest and most miserable days of the year. Where begonias, cherry trees, and tulips line the median that separates the traffic going North and South. Nothing ever looks bad in this small enclave of approximately 12 city blocks that make up the neighborhood where only the very rich live and where money literally line the streets.
The life of the high class girl call who wasn’t ever real and the real me are at odds with each other. One doesn’t exist any more and the one that is left doesn’t know how to handle this sticky and quite unexpected situation because somehow Ira has climbed those steep, broken and narrow steps and has pushed himself into my real life.
The flashbacks begin. I remember my other place, it was much nicer visually than the place I call home, but it was just a workplace. A place where men would come and go. Literally.
. . .
I gulp for air and feel my chest restricting and then I put my finger on the speak button and press down again.
“I’m busy, go away.” My voice is stern and I hope he disappears.
“It’s taken me six months to find you, just give me one minute.”
“No!” My body is trembling and I feel like a trapped animal and indeed I was.
“Just let me speak to you for a few minutes, please.”
“Give me your phone number. I’ll call you in a few days.” I lie, then absurdly add: “I’m studying for midterms,” and immediately after those words leave my lips, I think wait, that’s too much information to give this non-entity.
“No, give me your number and promise to meet me for lunch at The Plaza on Thursday. Do that and I’ll go away,” he insists.
“Promise,” he echoes.
So, like an idiot because I can’t think, I give him my real phone number, and less than one minute later my phone rings.
“I couldn’t wait till Thursday,” Ira chirps smugly. In my mind’s eye I can see him standing at the old phone booth on the corner of Broadway across the street.
“How did you find me?”
As if losing his composure, he fires off a flurry of sentences. “I hired a retired police officer I know. I give a lot of money to their police functions. Dave is his name and I trust him to keep this quiet. I paid him $150,000 to find you for me. It took six months. I’ve missed you. I love you. See me please.”
I’m too dumbfounded to say anything. I’m taken aback by the $150,000 figure. A lot of money. The whole thing is so invasive. I have been hunted down. And now my head does a backward somersault. How did he find me? How did find me? Oh my god, how did he find me?
I felt inherently violated. For some odd reason Rita Hayworth pops into my mind and I recall her famous quote: “Every man I knew went to bed with Gilda and woke up with me.”
It was exactly how I felt. I wasn’t the vamp he met when he paid for sex. I was just an ordinary girl.
What I will not know for years to come is that Ira has been spying on me. He already had my phone number. Asking me for it was just a ruse and I’m being followed wherever I go. Two days later on Thursday I meet him at The Plaza when it was still The Plaza before Donald Trump bought it.
I follow him quietly to the Oak Room. He never orders lunch. I spot two other men walk in behind us and sit down immediately to our right, which I think is weird since the whole place is empty. Nothing feels right and I simply want to leave. And then Ira gave me a good reason to do just that.
“I want to see you exclusively,” he tells me in a monotone voice as though he’s ordering a glass of water. “Just see me, no one else. I’ll pay you.”
“I’m not for sale! The girl you met and the girl I am are two different women. I’m not interested!” Flush with anger and completely insulted, I storm out.
I will not know when I ride my bike through Central Park in the following days, weeks and months to come and bump into Ira on his own bike that it was not coincidental. He is, in fact, spying on me. He has become my stalker.
Someone has told him I’m in the park on his orders so he can zip on over and chat me up. He is priming me by making me feel he is becoming my friend. I will not know for years to come — even after I become his mistress of many years that my phones are tapped and every single move I make is being recorded for him. Someone else is writing my diary for the sole purpose of one man’s folly. In time I will succumb. But for now, the man who one day will turn me into his sex slave is merely spying on me.
Copyright Kirby Sommers