HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANYA (STO LAT)
If she had lived my friend Anya would have been thirty-eight years old today. If she had lived there’s no doubt she would have been married with a couple of kids. Anya would have made an outstanding wife and an even better mother.
As I write this I feel a little ashamed. I don’t think of Anya much nowadays. Mostly when I’m around my old Upper East Side neighborhood, or on her birthday, December 20th. I should think about her a lot more since she is partly the inspiration for this blog.
Anya was the hostess at her parents’ restaurant. It was a couple of doors down from one of the clubs I bounced at during my college days. Anya would come out and hang with us sometimes. She would sneak us hot tea and sweet Polish pastries. She would somehow find out when it was one of our birthdays and bring the birthday boy a special treat and sing Sto lat (One Hundred Years) the Polish birthday song. Some of us had no one to remember our birthday so Anya’s thoughtfulness went a very long way.
I guess she doesn’t cross my mind much because of the passage of time – she’s been gone for almost twenty years and partly because the last time I saw her she lay in her casket. Her long blond hair, usually unruly with a mind of its own, was fanned out neatly on the satin pillow. Her usually smiling face was dark and serious and despite the loving attention of the undertaker I could just make out the dark marks where the extension cord had cruelly cut into her neck as she choked to death.
One night the club got a new bartender, Stephen, a tall model-thin guy from California who looked like every blond, sun tanned surfer dude you’ve ever seen in your life. Anya saw him on his first night at work and it was all over. Love at first sight. At least for her.
I don’t want to think about her dead in her casket so I guess I try not to think about her at all. I still keep in touch with some of the guys from my bouncing guys and I can only recall one time when we spoke of her. We all went to her funeral, a small band of huge Black and Hispanic guys from Manhattan and Brooklyn and the Bronx in ill-fitting suits and borrowed ties, impossibly out of place among the all Polish congregation. They looked at us askance at first, wondering no doubt if we were in the wrong place. But as we joined the line and paid our respects at Anya’s casket, each of us coming away with wet eyes and stricken looks we became fellow mourners and humans, united by our common loss.
She would still come to the club on her breaks but she wouldn’t hang with us much anymore. A lot of her time was spent with Stephen and it became obvious that she was completely, head-over-heels in love. He didn’t seem to pay her much attention, she was a plus-size girl and he much preferred the rail-thin wanna be models and college girls that hung out at the club. We thought of Anya as a little sister and so we were sad for her because we knew it would end in heartbreak. We didn’t know our hearts would be broken too.
Soon after Anya’s passing her parents sold their restaurant. The old man used to wave to us when he locked up for the night and once in a while he would come by and tell us a raunchy joke in his heavy accent. We never saw him again after the funeral. We heard they sold the place and moved back to Poland.
After Anya died we found out that she had been seeing Stephen for months. Or rather, she was his booty call. He would leave the bar at night get on the train with us, get off, and double back to Anya’s place where he would stay for a couple of hours then leave before the sun came up. On the night she died I heard that Anya confronted him in front so some other girls and he said something about never being seen with an “ugly fat bitch” like her. I don’t know if that’s true, I wasn’t there. There was also a rumor that she was pregnant. Again, I don’t know if that was true, but clearly something he said must have hit a nerve because later that night she took an extension cord, wrapped it around her neck and hung herself from water pipes in her apartment building’s basement.
One by one the staff at the club quit, quickly replaced by people for whom Anya’s story was only seasoning for the stew that made up the neighborhood. It wasn’t long before I quit too. I missed her smile, her unruly hair and gentle ways. I missed her failed attempts at teaching us Polish. I missed being around someone who saw us as people and not a bunch of big scary guys. As for Stephen we never saw him again. But wherever he is, I hope Anya haunts him every day.
I told a friend about writing this post and she asked what was the take away from it. That was a good question. I suppose there should be one. I suppose I should say something wise about self-esteem and being secure in yourself so the comments of others don’t affect you as they did Anya. Maybe I should talk about how words can hurt. I want to talk about how my dearest wish is to raise a daughter that can never be affected by words like that and how much I love and respect women who have heard those words and choose to rise above them time and time again.
I wish I could, I can’t find the words so I’ll just say Happy Birthday Anya. We miss you. Sto lat.
If you’re struggling with feelings of depression and having thoughts of suicide please know that it is never the answer. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. PLEASE talk to a trusted family member, friend or counselor about your feelings or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The people in your life love and need you.