After my husband died, I was, like many others, all alone in a house too big for me. I had friends nearby, but most of them were still working, and both my daughters lived several hundred miles away. Physically, I was in fairly good health except for a leg injury that was healing. As it got better, I walked more and more. My Brooklyn neighborhood was lively and familiar, and I enjoyed mingling with people in the street. Even when I was outside alone and spoke to no one I knew, I liked being part of the crowd that was on its way to school, the supermarket, the playground or the subway. I needed to feel that I was among others. I needed the bustle, the surge, the energy. I was buoyed by casual encounters, especially with people who had dogs (and I lived in a very doggy neighborhood).
I had given my own dog to Linda, his walker, when both my husband and I were sick and could no longer walk him. Whenever she’d bring Danny Boy to visit, she and I sat on the stoop to talk and watch people go by. Danny Boy sat on a lower step, eager for action, and he was definitely a lure. Other dogs and their owners stopped to visit and play. I remembered Frank, a dog owner who lived several blocks away, who sat on the steps of his house for years and years, a series of bull mastiffs by his side. When I went by, I imagined that he was keeping the neighborhood safe, his “eyes on the street,” in Jane Jacobs’ phrase.
Now that I was widowed, I saw stoop-sitting differently. I needed the contact, even transient contact, with responsive people, to make me feel less alone. Maybe Frank needed the same thing. I realized that in the twenty years I had watched him stoop-sitting, I’d never seen him with a wife, partner, or child. In my case (and maybe Frank’s), the neighborhood was helping me by stopping for a minute to say hello.
I read a lot. I enjoyed going to the movies, the theater and museums and didn’t mind going alone because I lived in a vibrant city.
My turning point came when I came down with a mild flu which, together with the leg injury, kept me in bed for a while. I stopped eating, lost a lot of weight and was weepy. The leg was a recurrent problem, the result of a childhood injury. On a trip with my older daughter, Jenny, a little while earlier, I could barely walk. She and Kate, my younger daughter, began to see me as frail and encouraged me to move closer to one of them.