Did I mention that Florentina flew in from Rome on Saturday?
Early on in September, she decided that she did not want to be in Rome by herself on the first anniversary of Andrew’s death, neither did she want not to be with us, as Hugh and I celebrated 25 years of being lawfully married, as the saying goes.
Even as a little child, Florentina has always had a strong sense of occasion.
Always ready to decorate the house and make handmade cards at every birthday, graduation, home-coming… you name it.
Half heartedly I agreed that we should at least go out to lunch to acknowledge, in some way, however small, our wedding anniversary.
I chose Vongerichten’s Asian Spice Market restaurant in the old Meat Packing district in Manhattan.
It really is a great restaurant in every sense, the decor, the staff, the food, the energy of the environment.
I enjoyed everything I ate, and with each bite I kept telling myself how much Andrew would have liked this dish and not that one.
“He would have loved the rice,” I said out loud to everyone and no one.
Indeed, he would have enjoyed the steamed-in-a-banana leaf, sticky coconut rice. It would have been something he would have wanted to come back for more. And the Jasmine infused lemonade would have been another hit.
Everything was delicious, so delicious that I automatically started crying. My face went from normal to crunched and wet, and then back to “normal”. I took a few deep breaths, went to the bathroom and finished the meal without further “plumbing” issues.
But on the way home I reclined the car seat and tried to rest, except that Florentina and Robert, ahead of us in the Mini, kept calling to see where we were.
“I am going to have a rest when we get home,” I said to Hugh. “I Hope you don’t mind.”
He just nodded. Not given to bursting into tears, or indulging in open sadness, Hugh was missing Andrew every bit as much as I was.
When we pulled into the drive, Florentina rushed outside to greet us, took me by the hand and walked me in. The first thing I saw before even going inside, was a blue streamer decorating the door, and as soon as I stepped inside, Frank, one of Florentina’s best friends and one of my adopted children, jumped in front of me and screamed at the top of his lungs and truly surprised, if not quite scared me.
But then, as I took in the whole scene, I saw a room full of people I love.
I was truly surprised. While we were out to lunch, Frank had personally decorated the whole house with one continuous blue streamer, going around every window, door, and wall of the house. And tons of food on the table. I did think at that point, that we needn’t have gone to lunch, but didn’t say it.
I looked around and saw, Akil, Alan, young David, Frank’s girlfriend, Medina, Jesse, Eugene, Liz, my friend Mark, Nancy and her husband Nico, Christine and her husband Michael.
Amidst the cheers and Champagne bottles popping… you guessed, I burst into tears, of sadness yes, because Andrew wasn’t there, but I was deeply moved too. On my bed, laid out for us to read, Florentina had printed out messages from far away family and friends.
It was all wonderful!
And there we were, relaxing with our friends in the drawing-room, when Florentina comes in with:
“We have an announcement,” she says. ” A car is coming in an hour to pick you and Daddy up. You need to pack an overnight bag.”
Both Hugh and I looked shocked, I think that Hugh was looking forward to a quiet evening just as much as I was.
“Esmeralda, don’t give your children sheet,” sitting next to me, Mark said.
Anyway, Hugh and I rallied. How could we not, Florentina and Robert were so excited and had clearly worked so hard to pull this off, not to mention the fundraising they had been doing for months.
At five o’clock a smart BMW came to pick us up, and the driver was under strict instructions not to divulge our destination.
As we got into the car, everyone piled outside and shouted congratulations and have fun, and by that time it felt a bit like we were going away on a honeymoon.
And it was nice, but the underlining sadness and profound sense of loss, never left me.
Still, we were dropped at the Gramercy Park Hotel, one of Ian Schrager’s trendiest hotels. An envelope was waiting for us, with handwritten instructions from Florentina, that: the hotel was all taken care of, and that we had an 8 o’clock dinner reservation at the Oceana Restaurant by the Rockefeller Center and that everything down to the tip had been taken care of. In the envelope there was even a metro card:
“Because it’s halloween, and the traffic is going to be really bad. You’ll be better off taking the subway,” she explained. “And tomorrow, I will pick you up at 12 noon and take you to lunch.”
I could just see how she had gone about organizing the whole thing, I recognized the little child I spent so much time with, in every little detail of this amazing gift she had put together.
I know I am blessed, I know I have much to be grateful for, and I am.
I love everything I have here and I love my two special ones, up there.
And thank you Teri, Debra, Susan, Dave, Iola, Elisa, Lisa, Alan, Renato, Karuna and many others for your loving best wishes. They have touched our hearts.
Thank you Maheshi, Karen, Nushkin and Elizabeth for helping Florentina and Robert with the ready for this beautiful treat.