I ran into Charlotte quite by accident one evening just after I had left work. Random meetings of acquaintances occurred on a semiregular basis, New York being a smaller, more intimate place than many realize. I was trekking uptown and we spotted each other amid the skyscrapers of Sixth Avenue, packed with midtown’s early evening pedestrian traffic, noisy cars, buses, cabs. It was, as it turned out, the last time I ever saw her.
How long had it been since we’d last met up? It was scary to contemplate the speedy passage of time. A year and a half? Two? I had news to impart: After a seemingly endless stretch of indecision and dithering, I was going to be a bona fide graduate student. My nose, as the saying went, was to the grindstone—formally accepted, finances resolved, millions of little arrangements completed.
She had always been a fervent adherent of the whole nose-to-the-grindstone ethos, and without really intending to, I emphasized the hard-work aspect of it all, trying—and I’m not even sure why—to garner as much approval from her as I could. I soberly sketched out my intended course of study, shared thoughts on a future career in academe. Then there was a pause.
We both looked at each other. Suddenly, the sheer, imposing enormity of what I was about to undertake washed over me. My façade crumbled.
“My god!” I blurted out. “It’s so adult!” And the two of us dissolved into a total fit of laughter, right there in the middle of the canyons of Sixth Avenue.
On Charlotte’s last day on Earth, she essentially adhered to her routine; the familiar quotidian of Park Slope, Brooklyn. A cup of café con leche was purchased at the large Dominican eatery abutting Flatbush Avenue. Videos were returned, mail checked. With methodical, chilling foresight, she thoughtfully canceled all her appointments for the upcoming week, informing her various clients that she would be indisposed.
Buddy was still at work when she returned to their apartment on Union Street. As was her habit, she placed his mail in a separate pile, right near the phone.
It is difficult to ascertain exactly what goes through a person’s mind in those final moments. Charlotte left no note. There is evidence, though, of what actually transpired: She took a rope, constructed a sturdy, workable noose, and hung herself.
Was she crying?
His cubicle was positioned directly across from Charlotte’s. During his first few weeks working at the magazine, she’d found him—which he only discovered later—quite odd. He imbibed endless cups of coffee, seemed glued to his Walkman, and had once engaged in a loud phone conversation with his parents in Portuguese, the preferred language of familial disputes.
It became quickly apparent the magazine was the text definition of “day job,” its ranks populated by musicians, painters, academic aspirants, one or two law students, a former flamenco dancer. His supervisor was prone to elaborate paper-airplane construction, the fruits of which were often found floating down the aisles, or whizzing past the fluorescent lights. An elflike female coworker—punk bassist in real life—would holler “I don’t want to be here!” once or twice upon her arrival each morning, as a sort of catharsis. One of the editors—an older, chain-smoking widow—had been a staple on various soap operas, mostly in minor roles: a nurse, a nanny, the woman on a park bench.
It was still the era of the public address system, and he enjoyed visualizing the faces behind the deep Jamaican accent, the Truman Capote soundalike, the Southerner.
He resolved to do as little as possible.
The industrious Charlotte was a career-minded anachronism, diligently bringing in her lunch each and every day in a laudable display of frugality. She bemoaned the disdain the men at the office felt for a good suit and tie, chastised those who wanted a job and not a career, harbored the opinion that much could be gleaned about a prospective boyfriend’s character by the strength of his handshake. Once she asked him why he didn’t smile more often.
A portion of his job responsibilities entailed attending industry press conferences, almost more crashingly boring than the office routine, the only high point being the abundance of free food. He took to helping himself to the fixings and then leaving. “Your trap’s down,” one of the servers muttered to him cryptically during coffee at one of these events; apparently, his fly had been open for quite some time. Soon he began skipping the press conferences altogether.