I love the series Humans of New York where the photographer takes a candid photo and then interviews the person behind the image. Their stores are absolutely fascinating. How many of our own stories with humans have we missed on a daily basis by having our faces stuck in our iPhones.)
My Humans Of Miami Story
I was alone except for the tired restaurant worker still dressed in his work clothes sitting at the end of the bench with his head in his hands.
I pulled my straw hat down a little further to keep the hot noonday sun burning through the waving palm fronds off my face. I was waiting for the South Beach jitney to take me up to Lincoln Road where I planned to do some last minute Christmas shopping.
Suddenly this tiny little woman who had hurriedly crossed the street stood looking as though she wasn’t too sure where she wanted to sit, but then quickly plopped down beside me.
“Have you been waiting long?” she asked.
“No, but you know the jitney. It sometimes takes awhile for it to get here,” I replied.
She seemed very sweet, casually dressed, beyond middle-aged with her graying dark hair pulled back in a bun and small frizzy curls in front of her ears were let loose to fly a bit in the air. She looked like she could be someone’s sweet grandmother, I thought she probably was and was taking the bus back to Miami.
“Are you visiting?” I asked.
“No. I live here. My parents immigrated from Cuba when I was three years old. They were trying to escape the Castro regime. So I have lived in the states most of my life. Not always in Florida, because I went to New York to go to college. Then after college I moved to an apartment with some friends in the village and started working in the music business. Then after that we moved to Williamsburg and until I retired, I was involved with a large company that did a lot of the organizing for shows on Broadway. When I retired I moved back down here to Florida to be next to my son. Now I’m a chef for one of the private yachts in the marina here. The owner has a gluten sensitivity so it’s a challenge for me to try to create recipes without any ingredients that have gluten. But I’ve become pretty good at being able to do Cuban dishes and other dishes by substituting gluten-free products into those menus.”
We continued our conversation on the bus until she arrived at her stop. We exchanged business cards and she went on her way. She was such a fascinating woman. I was so wrong and have to claim stupidity in my initial narrow first judgement and impression of her. What I would have missed, not speaking with her! She was a well-educated, smart entrepreneurial woman.
The moral of my encounter is two pronged. Never judge a book by it’s cover and never miss a fascinating encounter by connecting with a fellow human, even if it is at the bus stop. What an interesting human story I would have missed had I not kept my iPhone in my purse.
Copyright Sandra Hart 2014. All rights reserved.
(The following is a reprint of an article written about my son and I by Brain And Behavior Research Foundation May 27, 2014.)
Holidays are sometimes very hard for those with depression and other forms of mental illness, so I wanted to share our story again to give hope to families who are in chaos due to mental illness to give them hope that research and cures are our biggest priority. We care about you.
In Schizophrenia’s Wake, a Son Laments the Father Who Might Have Been
Emerson Hart is a singer-songwriter. In the 1990s, he co-founded the Grammy-nominated rock band Tonic and, as the lead singer, has written hit songs for the band’s multi-platinum albums. Emerson credits his mother, Sandra Hart, an actress and writer, for his love of language and performing, and his late father, Jennings, a singer in his youth, for handing down his musical talent. But Jennings also bequeathed to his son a darker legacy.
The most salient fact of Emerson Hart’s life from earliest childhood, one he kept hidden for years, was his father’s mental illness. Untreated and only belatedly diagnosed as schizophrenia, it manifested itself in abuse and rages that cast a shadow of unrelenting terror over the family, which included Sandra’s two small daughters from an earlier marriage. A decade ago, Emerson began confronting the family “secret” with the release of his first solo album.
“I love kids and I wanted to be a father,” he says, “but I felt that if I continued to keep that stuff inside, it would poison my relationship with a child.” (He now has a daughter, Lucienne, age six.) Since he has gone public, many fans tell him, often in tears, that his story is theirs. This is a main reason he and his mother so strongly support the work of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation—there should be a way to diagnose and treat these illnesses before havoc is wreaked.
The story began in 1968 when “Miss Sandra,” then the Baltimore-area hostess of the children’s television show “Romper Room,” found “the perfect husband.” Jennings, she says, “was handsome and charming, had his own business, lots of friends and a beautiful Irish tenor voice.” He also, she was to learn, had great skill at hiding the symptoms of his illness.
After Emerson’s birth in 1969, Sandra struggled to keep the family functioning. Then came a night when goaded by inner voices that told him she was unfaithful, Jennings, brandishing a screwdriver, lunged at her. She was somehow able to knock him off balance long enough to grab the children and flee. Arrested and hospitalized, Jennings was finally diagnosed and treated, but as soon as he was released and returned home, he stopped his medications and the violence resumed.
Unable to help him and increasingly concerned for her family’s well-being, Sandra divorced Jennings in 1977. Then, she says, the stalking began. “He stalked and threatened me constantly. I was certain he would kill me.” Instead, in a stranger-than-fiction twist, Jennings was killed, or so it is presumed. In 1980 he vanished without a trace, believed murdered by a jealous husband.
Sandra Hart – “Behind the Magic Mirror”For Sandra, Jennings’ death brought relief, but closure came slowly. Although she married again, happily, and resumed a career as a television and film actress, it took her decades to exorcise the past. She did, finally, by writing about it in the book “Behind the Magic Mirror.” (photo above) (Romper Room fans will recognize the allusion to the show’s “magic mirror.”)
For Emerson, the death brought nightmares. “To this day,” he says, “when I’m under great stress, my father will appear in my sleep, sometimes alive, sometimes dead, smoking a cigarette and staring at me.” Because of the unresolved circumstances of the death, Emerson long feared his father might return. Another “hammer over my head,” as he calls it, was the worry that he would inherit his father’s illness.
Ultimately, however, his deepest feeling is sadness. “If my father had had the right diagnosis and medication early on, if treatment had been possible, with all the good qualities he had going, I know he would have been an awesome father.”
Let me know what you think. Lately I’ve become very bored with Facebook. It used to be when I logged onto Facebook it was everyday stories about your friends – pictures, recipes, family events, sometimes a forward of a funny video, but it mostly was allowing us to share our daily lives and interests with each other.
I find now when I log on Facebook it’s filled with massive forwards, unsolicited advertising, crazy videos, and such impersonal stuff that it really isn’t telling me anything much about my friends, except what they’re reading on Facebook and passing on. For me, Facebook has lost the intimacy and the specialness that it used to have.
Now, I don’t want to clump everyone in this great big lump of impersonal information, there are many of my friends who are very clever about their comments and they share extremely interesting and enlightening posts. But too many of my small group have gotten lazy about posting about their lives. These postings used to enable me to connect with them. It always gave me the feeling that I’m living in real time with them on a personal basis. That I’m sitting across from them at their kitchen table with a cup of coffee and just chatting one on one.
Facebook used to be a cozy corner in my daily life where I could sit and have a few moments of intimacy with friends, new and longtime friends, that are farther away than just around the corner.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the convenience of certain internet benefits. As a writer, so many great benefits. But I hope the pendulum soon swings back to the original intent of Facebook’s personal connection and exchange of interesting ideas over a cup of coffee from my house to yours.
My husband called me today from the city asking me if I could get him on the Internet from our shore house. You see, I should be flattered-he thinks I’m a maven. Although I have tried to tell him, I can’t perform miracles, the burden of his believing I can do anything and everything sometimes is a heavy weight.
Now, I admit I am much younger than he is and started our marriage by being pretty self-sufficient, but he doesn’t understand there are things that are beyond my scope. I can’t set up his Wi-Fi in the city from New Jersey.
Disappointed, he asked, “What are you doing today?”
“Up on a ladder painting the house trim.”
In my dreams I heard him reply,
“Oh Honey, wait for me and I will help you this weekend.”
In reality he replied, “Well, be careful don’t fall off the ladder.”
“If I do nobody will know except Sophie (our Lhasa) and she doesn’t know how to dial 911. I will be like the giant tree that falls in the woods and makes a great noise, but nobody hears because no one is there.”
“Ok. See you this weekend. Love you.” He hung up hearing nothing that I said, confident his maven had it under control.
Moral of this story: I learned a long time ago in our relationship that my husband is Tom Sawyer and I am the one who is showing him how to paint the fence. Because I am honestly kind of a maven I get it. And I go along with it because I get it and he doesn’t realize it.
I clicked off and wiped the wet white paint fingerprints from my iPhone. No use dreaming of a knight in shinning armor riding to my rescue with bulging biceps and a paint brush. My knight has skinny arms, rides a bike and his hand holds not a paint brush, but a remote that hops from channel to channel. He loves my soups, misses me when I am away and thinks I am beautiful.
Relationships are work. No doubt about it, the Venus and Mars theory is right on!
He looked so tired, as if his last burst of energy had left his body a long time ago. His physicality reminded me of the elegant Nubians I had seen in Egypt.
Last Sunday Arthur and I had hopped aboard the jitney that would take us to Lincoln Road for a stroll along the shops, flea market stalls and farmers markets. It is on this jitney that I encountered the weary traveler.
He sat sideways, giving me a view if his hard hat. Small stickers of butterflies and turtles were placed in childlike angles on his hat. Stickers that I recognized from those my grandchildren would stick all over anything that was not moving.
Hesitant to invade his space on the almost empty bus, I couldn’t help but eject myself into his silent space because he looked so weary, so alone.
“Did your children put those stickers on?”, I asked just a little above a whisper, hoping I wasn’t offending him.
He turned and looked a me and in a quiet recognition of my interest in his hat, shook his head up and down.
“You know they love you, don’t you?”
My words seemed to float into the empty space between us. Hanging. Silence.
And then in his weary voice he lowered his head looking at his weathered hands in his lap and replied so quietly, “I hope so. I hope so.”
I wanted to assure him, but I just smiled in reply. I wanted to tell him I know so. This grandma knows when your children or grandchildren put their precious stamps on your things, it makes you theirs to keep. Each time you look at those stickies, a part of their little souls will travel with you no matter how far. Smart little critters. All of them!