My first encounter with him was September 11th, 2003. A friend at the time lost her mother in the attack on the World Trade Center two years prior and our friend group took her out on the anniversary to cheer her up by imbibing alcohol, often for free thanks to a well-placed flirtatious glance with gentlemen at the bar.
Shortly after arriving I felt the urge for a cigarette so I excused myself from the table. The smoking ban had just been enacted in New York City relegating smokers such as myself to partake in our addictions outside. When I stepped out I found a steady rainfall had descended upon the city, making the evening seem more gray and bleak than it already felt on a day centered around death. I rushed to the side of the bar and huddled under the protective awning to light my cigarette as a strong gust of wind rushed by sending a chill through my body.
“You know those things will kill you,” a voice to my left offered. When I turned, I saw a man standing mere feet from me who I would have sworn was not there only moments earlier. The smoking coral was enclosed on three sides by an iron fence and I had just walked through the only opening. I chalked his sudden appearance up to my tendency to be oblivious to my surroundings when wrapped up in my own thoughts.
“I’m counting on it,” I said dryly, taking an exaggerated drag and blowing the smoke in his direction.
The man merely smiled before withdrawing his own cigarette and lighting it with a slim silver lighter from the pocket of his vest. He took a long inhalation and held it before blowing out a large cloud of smoke that moved slowly and hung in the air above his head.
He was a handsome man with dark hair that laid slick against his head. It appeared shiny with product and did not move even when the wind whipped up another gale. I could not determine his age as he carried himself with the confidence of an older man but had the wide eyes and flawless skin of someone much younger. It was as if he was a composite of a handsome man created in Photoshop; dipping dangerously into the Uncanny Valley. His eyes were dark, nearly black, but there appeared to be small gold rings around his irises and I could not help but stare at them.
“You’re an actress, aren’t you?” he inquired abruptly, pulling me from my eye-induced paralysis.
I furrowed my brow. “Oh god, do I seem like an actress?” I inquired, acting offended by the insinuation.
“I’m sorry. Are you not?” he puzzled.
“No, I am an but I don’t want people to think I am.” I shot him a coy smile and took another drag.
A sly smile crept across his face. “Do you want to be an actress or do you want to be a star?”
My defenses obviously lessened by the drinks I had consumed, without hesitation I let fly a torrent of truth rivaling the raging storm beyond our canvas covering. “No one would put up with the rejection, the dieting, and the abuse just to be an actress. Last week I took two trains, a ferry, and a bus for an audition in Staten Island only to be told that my calves were too fat for the costume. So then I took a bus, a ferry, and two trains back home to cry while calling myself fat. This industry makes you hate your body and hate yourself and the only reason to stay is the slim chance that one day you’ll be rewarded with stardom. It’s gross and demeaning but I stay, the same reason anybody stays with an abusive partner I guess. You tell yourself that maybe one day he’ll change but deep down you know he never will and you’re the idiot for staying.”
I tossed the butt of my cigarette into the gutter beyond the sidewalk, disgusted at myself for being a willing victim. I pulled out another cigarette but before I could fish my Bic out of my pocket, the man extended his arm and handed me his petite silver lighter.
When I struck the lighter, I felt a very small but very sharp piece of silver pierce my thumb. I gazed at my thumb and saw the faintest droplet of blood to the center of my fingerprint, no bigger than a poppy seed. I ignored the minor wound and struck again to light my cigarette.
“Let me ask you this,” he began as I passed the lighter back to him. “What would you do to get this stardom you want so badly?”
I rolled my eyes and responded, “You mean, would I sleep with somebody for a role?”
He smirked and subtly shook his head. “No, nothing as pedestrian as that. What would you sacrifice to achieve fame?”
I contemplated his hypothetical question for only a moment before continuing to share far too much with a stranger that I had just met. “Honestly? I’m at the point where I’d give anything to quit a job I hate that pays barely enough money to cover my bills and finally do what I love.”
“Would you give up your first born son in exchange for stardom?”
Without hesitation I replied, “In a heartbeat! I don’t have or want children so that’s easy.”
His smile widened and he nodded his head. “Good to know.” He tossed his half-finished cigarette toward the street and pushed himself away from the wall. “I have to go, but I’ll see you soon,” he said abruptly but politely.
I was surprised by the announcement of his sudden departure. “Are you not going in?” I asked, motioning to the door.
The man smiled wide, with his lips pressed together tightly. “No, I have places to be but let me leave you with a word of advice. You should talk to the handsome man in the green polo shirt at the bar.” I turned and peered into the window but could not see the man he referenced through the throng of patrons that had descended on the bar to escape the torrential downpour. When I turned back the man was gone, obviously having fled quickly through the rain.
I finished my cigarette alone and went back inside. While walking back to my friends, I glanced toward the bar and saw a handsome man with blond hair and striking blue eyes wearing a green polo shirt. Never one to deny fate, I made way toward him.
I ordered a drink directly beside him and when I caught the man’s attention I complimented his eyes. We began to idly chat and dare I say flirt and I discovered that his name was Barry and he was in town from Los Angeles to direct his first feature but filming was delayed due to their lead actress dropping out earlier that day due to an accident. I withheld my desire to tell him that I was an actress until he asked me what I did for a living, standard conversation in New York City. I told him that I worked for a bank, and occasionally acted. I dangled my bait and he swallowed it, hook, line, and sinker.
“You should audition!” he said, proud of himself for having the idea without any assistance.
“Would I even be right for it?” I asked, acting my heart out in the role of a shy, demure shrinking violet who could never picture herself in the lead of a feature.
“Absolutely! Here, take my number and we can set it up.”
Not bad for a night out to commemorate the death of thousands. With minimal effort I had an audition and possibly a date with a handsome man in a green polo shirt.
Not only did Barry think I was right for the role but so did the producers. I was hired on the spot and I quit my day job before the ink was dry on the contract. The shoot took four months and Barry and I began a relationship weeks into filming. The movie was released early in February the following year to critical acclaim. Screenings went from small, independent art houses, to multiplexes and even got mentioned on Entertainment Weekly’s Hot List.
Barry proposed the following Spring, we moved into a condo in Inwood, and married the following summer. A few months later I found out that I was pregnant thanks to a pregnancy test from my local CVS. Filming had just wrapped on a new drama and I was preparing for a starring role in a new elevated horror film from an up and coming director. Before I informed the studio of the recent development, I first made an appointment with my gynecologist to confirm what the plastic stick had told me.
While riding the subway to my doctor’s office in midtown, the train stopped at 59th street accompanied with an overhead announcement that we were being temporarily delayed due to a medical emergency. New York urban legend states that this announcement usually means someone had thrown themselves onto the track in front of an oncoming train to commit suicide. Whether this was true or not, every commuter was perturbed by these delays.
While waiting anxiously to move again, I looked up from my phone and saw the man from outside the bar standing on the opposite platform. It is not unusual to see someone you recognize in New York City, as it is only seven square miles, essentially the size of most small towns. What was odd was the way he was looking directly at me. He seemed to be staring across the tracks and through the window of the train with an unsettling, knowing smile on his face before he raised his hand to wave at me.
He was looking at me as if he got the punchline to a joke that had not yet dawned on me yet. My stomach instantly began to cramp under his gaze so I averted my eyes until the train started to move. Our previous conversation came to mind and I remembered his unusual question.
Would you give up your first born son for stardom?
As the train pulled away I instinctively placed my hand on my stomach.
Three months later I was informed that I was having fraternal twins, a boy and a girl. My heart instantly sank at the news, even though I could not verbalize why. I could not say it to myself, let alone share my feelings with Barry. This was simply an anxiety I lived with, always in the back of my mind as my stomach swelled over the next few months.
Shortly before my due date in May the following year I saw the man again. It was unseasonably hot that particular day and I decided to waddle down to my favorite restaurant for an iced tea, partially to cool down but mostly to get out of the house and break the monotony. As I walked the sidewalk on the perimeter of Indian Hill Park, I saw the man standing in the distance by the edge of Spuyten Duyvil. This particular body of water is where the Hudson and East Rivers meet at the top of Manhattan and is a Dutch phrase meaning “in spite of the devil.” Something about his presence in that spot seemed appropriate and chilling. The way he looked at me and the nagging memory of our conversation made me cross the street and flee from him.
Less than a week later I went into labor and Patricia and Paul were born at 7:47 and 7:48 AM respectively. The moment I held them I felt an instant connection with Patricia, named after my grandmother, but I felt nothing when Paul was placed in my arms. As my children grew, my love for Paul was never equal to what I felt for Patricia. She was my angel, my light, my reason to wake up every day. Paul was merely a burden. Say what you will. Call me evil. Say I’m heartless. But the fact remains, that I simply never loved Paul.
Upon their third birthday, Barry and I hosted a party in Indian Hill Park and invited all of our friends. Tables were set with balloons and prizes for all of the attendees when I once again saw the man across the park. He was leaning against a tree and once again his eyes were fixed on me with that anticipatory smirk on his face.
This time I steeled myself and strode across the park to confront him the way a mother lion protects her cubs but his expression did not change as I neared him. When less than a foot from him I bellowed through gritted teeth, “What do you want from me?!”
“You know what I want,” he replied dryly, his expression never wavering.
“He’s not yours!”
“Will you cry when he’s gone? Will you shed a tear for your missing child?”
My eyes burned and rather than allowing him to see me cry I turned and shouted back, “Leave me and my family alone!”
“You have ten years from today. I’m a patient man but I will be back in exactly ten years for your son,” he called after me.
I didn’t look back or acknowledge his words, but I believed them. I knew what he said was true and nothing could change that fact.
Over the following ten years I saw the man multiple times. I would spot him as I walked the sidewalks of Manhattan, or in the crowd while filming. Once he was in a friend’s apartment during a party, standing in the corner watching my movements intently. No one acknowledged or spoke to him and I simply spent my short time there pretending that I did not see him either. Never once did I have the fortitude to confront him again, but I knew that he was always nearby, counting down the days to my son’s thirteenth birthday.
As the life of an actress, a successful one at least, is transitory, I was on location in Los Angeles the day of my twins’ 13th birthday. It was not planned but I was more than happy to be away when I knew it was going to happen. After a long day of shooting I laid in my bed mindlessly watching television when my phone rang. I saw on the display that it was Patricia’s cell number and after some calculations, I deduced that it was early in the morning in New York. Expecting to hear her sobbing on the other end of the line, I prepared to act surprised at the news of her missing brother.
“Happy birthday, sweetie!” I said brightly.
“Mom?” she said softly.
“Is everything okay, baby?” I asked.
“Mom, I have something I need to tell you.”
I stood from the bed and strode to the window, seeing the sun beginning to rise behind the buildings. The traffic had already begun and cars crept slowly on the street below. The sound of an ambulance siren whined in the distance.
“You can tell me anything, baby. What is it?” I asked sympathetically. It broke my heart to hear my baby’s voice trembling. I could picture her bravely attempting to hold back tears.
“I don’t want you to hate me,” she sobbed.
Before I could respond I saw the man for the last time. Standing at a window in the hotel directly across from mine, he had his hands behind his back with that horrendous smile perched on his lips and his eyes locked on me. I looked away and turned my attention back to Patricia’s call. “Honey, I could never hate you. I love you more than anything in the world and nothing could change that.”
“I know. It’s just hard to say,” she whispered.
“What have I told you? When something is hard to say, you just say it.” Allowing myself a peak, I looked back to see him still there, motionless. I could feel his eyes boring into my back.
She took a deep breath and sounded as if she was gathering her bravery. “OK. I’m just going to say it.”
“Good.” I looked back to see the man lift his fisted hand to check his watch briefly before turning his eyes back to me.
“OK here it goes.” Patricia took a deep breath before continuing. “I want you to call me Patrick from now on.”
It took me a moment to process what she said but very quickly I knew what she was sharing. The information and unbearable meaning behind the words struck me like a bolt of lightning.
“Honey, don’t say that,” I pleaded. I quickly turned back to the window to where the man stood. He simply raised his hand and gave me a polite wave as his smile widened inhumanly, nearly splitting his head in twain.
“I’m not Patricia, I’m Patrick. I’m a boy, mom. I’ve always been a boy!”
Before I could say another word, I noticed the man was gone from the window and the next second I heard Patrick scream.