The next week or so, the ordinary was extraordinary. Movies from Blockbuster, a client’s Christmas party, helping at the flower shop, pasta at Franky Monopoli’s, something I call a “Chinese Indoor Picnic” (takeout eaten off a blanket on the floor), putting up the tree and Christmas shopping. We spent every single evening together! I wrote some more lyrics. On our two-week anniversary (does that exist?), Larysa hired my mom, and the 2 of them got along like girlfriends. This thing just kept getting better! Mom wanted a local job, and now she had it.
But, unfortunately, death never takes a holiday. And on the last day of Fall, Larysa’s Uncle George passed away. I had heard a lot about this Uncle: Larysa and he were very close, and he was her protector. Larysa was at work when she got the news. It was morning time and she called me crying. She asked if I could come to the store and keep her company. I told her I would try, but probably couldn’t. After all, it is a work day: clients, deadlines, etc.
As the words came out of my mouth, I couldn’t believe how wrong it felt to be saying what I was trained to believe was right. I looked across the room at my secretary and declared aloud, “You know, work has screwed up a lot of relationships for me. Not this one. I’m outta’ here.” I helped make funeral sprays until nearly midnight.
The next night, at the wake, I offered a prayer. And a promise: I’ll protect her from here on in.
On December 23rd, Tommy O. called me at work to recommend two special things: Norah Jones’ album “Come Away with Me,” and the movie “Serendipity.” I left work a little bit early, bought a load of toys at Toys R Us, and dropped into Sam Goody’s to follow Tommy’s advice. Then I was off for Mom’s, where Larysa and I were to have dinner. I unwrapped the CD, popped it in, and pulled up to a red light in the right lane. I stopped. The music started. I heard 8 notes. Then I saw a van driving straight at me. At great speed. I actually said “oh, no,” aloud, to no one. And then it slammed into me. It sent my car spinning up and over the curb, across the sidewalk and into the wall of a building.
When the car hit the wall, it lifted, fell and stopped. I unbuckled my seatbelt — glad I had worn it. Then I tried to open the door. I couldn’t: The driver’s side front fender, where the van hit me, was pushed up into the door. So I climbed out of the window. I stepped back and looked at the car. It was 6 weeks old. I had 500 miles on it. It was totaled. People were suddenly all around me. I said to someone, “I’m never gonna’ see this car again, am I?” Then I called my back surgeon. I knew I had bounced around pretty good. Not surprisingly, he said, “go to the hospital.” But I really didn’t want to do that.
Next, I called Larysa. I was ranting. I said, “I’ve been in the palm of God’s hand for weeks now. Is that over?” She assured me it wasn’t. EMS guys were crawling all over me by then. I told them all to go away. One asked who I was speaking to before I called… “My wife!” I told him, and he pleaded with me to get in the ambulance. I refused. He then told me that I was ruining his Christmas; he said that he would have to complete so much paperwork to explain letting a guy who had had back surgery walk away untreated, that he would lose all of Christmas Eve. Somehow this reached me, and I got into the ambulance — for his sake.
In the hospital, I noticed a Doctor who looked like my friend’s brother-in-law, Joe. So I called him to find out if it was. I told him about the crash, where I was, etc., and he confirmed that it was Joe. Then I guess he put out an “APB.” Joe was with me in seconds, and I was taken right into imaging. My doctor friend Steve showed up minutes later, still in scrubs, and reviewed my chart with Joe. They made doctorly sounds. Then Larysa flew into the room.
She was frantic and she ran to hug me. She touched my face and murmured, “Are you OK?” I replied “And I feel fine.” She said I wasn’t making sense, but you all know I was. I got discharged minutes later. The next day, Steve put out a totally different type of “APB.” And in it, I later learned, he described Larysa as “a classic Falcone woman.” The invitations started almost immediately. Everyone wanted to get together “to meet the new girlfriend.”
Back at Mom’s with Larysa, I had a lot of calls to make. I wanted to find my car. The back seat was filled with toys, and Christmas was 2 days away. I needed those toys for the kids. The next day, I needed 2 more things: someone to take me to the impound yard where my car was, and a car for the holiday. And my brother came up big. He took me to get the toys and other stuff out of my car, and loaned me his car for a few days.
That night, I went to my friend Lou’s folks for Christmas Eve dinner, as I had been doing for a few years. I always had a great time there. Wonderful company, superb food. But that night, I just wasn’t all there. It wasn’t the accident. To everyone’s surprise, and my own, I wasn’t upset about the car at all. “It’s just a machine,” I said. It was the Christmas card I had gotten Larysa. It just didn’t say enough. In fact, it sucked. I had to do something. Midway through dinner, I got the idea to write her a letter, and just tell her everything I felt and hoped. And I wound up leaving early to go home and write it.
I wrote it in red pen. I wrote it all at once, no edits or corrections, no rewrite. I held nothing back. It came out perfect. It’s the best thing I have ever written. It’s very personal, but I will say that I quoted “Too Early for the Sun” by Kenny Loggins, and ultimately invited Larysa to explore, with me, what it would be like to wake up happy every day. And I told her I was falling in love with her.
Christmas Day at my sister’s house is always warm and fuzzy. I love holidays there. That Christmas, it snowed like mad. Great for watching out the window, not so great for driving. The plan was for me to go to Larysa’s folks for desert, then split with her and exchange gifts at my place. The plan changed. Mom and I left my sister’s at 7 and drove off into the snow. Then the highway was closed down, with us on it, for close to 3 hours. Mom and I sat in the car concerned that if I kept it running, we would run out of gas. But she was freezing when the car was off; I actually gave her the Times to use as a Hoover blanket!
I kept calling Larysa with updates, but my cell battery was dying. Lots to worry about, and a long way to go. But eventually, we got moving. It was very late, and it was slow going, so I took my Mom with me to Larysa’s folks to save time. We arrived as the news was ending, and had dessert very, very quickly. Still, Larysa and I weren’t alone until well after midnight.
I gave Larysa a Tiffany charm bracelet, Burberry Brit, a scarf the color of her eyes, and a letter. Her eyes welled up as she read it, and midway through, she asked if she could finish it without me sitting next to her. I went in the bedroom, and she called me out a few minutes later. I sat next to her and she hugged me. She said, “me too.” Oh, she gave me a very fine bottle of Port. And more.
On Boxing Day, it was still snowing. Larysa made us French Toast when we awoke, then we watched movies and napped all day. Serendipity (I never felt magic crazy as this). Il Postino (ahh, Neruda). White Christmas (our absolute favorite). And I finally listened to the Norah Jones CD. Twice.
Eliot continued “hooking me up,” and I got a Mercedes SUV loaner only days after the accident. I later delivered Valentine flowers with it.
That Saturday, my Mom had the whole family over for dinner to meet Larysa. Italian Christmas dinner all over again! Everyone liked Larysa a lot. Particularly my nephew Nick, then a first grader, who pulled me aside and offered to trade me 2 third grade girls for her. Tempting, but I passed.
Michele and Heidi were playing a New Year’s Eve “wine flight” at Luigi’s, and Larysa got us a table. She was very excited about it. So excited that she went out and bought 2 new outfits and dropped by the office with them. She told me I had to pick one. And then I did something I had never done with anyone before. I gave her the key to my apartment! I told her to go there and get ready to give a fashion show as soon as I got home from work. And she did. I picked a great outfit, and insisted she keep both outfits anyway, and the key.
New Year’s Eve was magical. The wine, food and music were great. The slow dancing was really great. They played Jerry Vale during one of the Ramo’s breaks, and I sang Al Di La in Larysa’s ear while dancing. Heidi introduced us to her friends saying, “this is Lenny and Larysa. As you can see, they are in love!” We glanced at each other with a look that said, “Is it that obvious?”
Later, we shared a midnight kiss, then went to a party where we laughed ’till 3. At some point, a guy I know gestured toward Larysa and whispered to me, “I don’t know how you do it.” I answered with my usual joke, “I have a big p…ersonality!” But really, I have no explanation.
Little Christmas is a big deal in Larysa’s family. And her folks invited me to the celebration. Christmas dinner all over again! This time Ukrainian. During dinner, her Dad asked us how long we were dating. “A month today,” we said proudly. He just smirked. “I wasn’t born yesterday,” he said. “I saw the way you two looked at each other in court. I saw the little escapade with the fries. Please: it’s been nearly a year.” He couldn’t have been more wrong. Or more right.
We always made each other call after arriving home at the end of the night. One Sunday night, a few months into this romance, Larysa called speaking with very little volume, and her voice trembling. She was in her bathroom, she said, trying to not be heard. She explained that she arrived home to find her ex there, comfortable on the couch in his pajama pants and tee shirt. He announced that “this silly break up” had gone on long enough, and that it was time to make up and be back together. He intended to stay the night. I told her to walk straight to her coat rack, grab her coat (but not stop to put it on), walk out the door, go straight to the car and roll to me. I told her she should stay with me at my place for a while. I told her I would take care of the ex, and I did. She stayed about two weeks, and when she left, I realized that I didn’t want her to… ever.
By Valentine’s Day, I was 99% sure I wanted to marry Larysa. I took her to One if by Land, but I didn’t propose then. Instead I prepared to. I mixed a lot of questions into the conversation, like, ” What kind of diamond do you like?” And I asked her how long she thought a couple should be together before they got engaged. She said 6 months… “anything less is unseemly.” Ok, so I had my target date.
Just days later, I was 100% sure. A blizzard occurred on Sunday, and I had an important closing in White Plains on Monday afternoon. After lots of Monday morning calls, it was clear the deal had to close that day, and was going forward. Larysa was very worried, even though I had that great Mercedes SUV still. She made sure my phone was fully charged, she packed me a snack, she made me dress warm, and she called me every half hour. When I got home, I found she had dug out her car, went shopping, and had made soup, lasagna, and chicken with capers for me! And remember those microwave-heated blankets? They were ready for me too. No girlfriend ever cared about me like this before, or did so many nice things for me. That was it. I was sure.
A few weeks later, a dinner was arranged with my closest friends and their wives in Chappequa. That SUV came in handy again, as, again, it snowed. For some reason, my friends decided to use the occasion to tell Larysa the story of every drunken, dopey or dickish thing that they could remember me doing over the past 25 years. And she just thought it was funny. This gave rise to… more lyrics. Always shared with Larysa.
Then we hit the 3 month mark. I kept singing “Oh, we’re half way there” that day. Larysa kept asking, “why do you keep singing that?” I told her I just felt like it. She had no idea.
And then I got my car back! 15k in repairs. Wow! That night, we went to an album release party at the Cutting Room. The opening act was a kid who was having trouble tuning. Alexi Murdoch. I thought, “Oh, this is gonna’ be tough to take.” Then he started playing, and changed our lives. His music is simple and beautiful; his lyrics are even simpler, yet incredibly, deeply meaningful. He plays very well, and his voice is pure and true. We were transfixed by his set. “In your love, my salvation lies,” he sang. We understood. Later, he was selling his EP, “Four Songs,” and we went over to buy it and chat. As we did, he looked at us intently…and wrote on the CD: “Lenny and Larysa, be fearless with your love, Alexi.”
And I was! About three more months passed. We had given each other a lot of cute cards and notes. We had seen each other every single day since Valentine’s. We had gone to the Opera. We travelled to Puerto Rico. We had gotten to know each other’s extended family. Clearly, it was time. For sure.
But first, I needed a ring, didn’t I? Steve knew a retired jeweler in Northport, and his brother Fran offered to bring me to him. The night he did was like a scene from the Sopranos. Fran is a big man, easily 6’6″, and not a pound under 350. I met him one evening in a gas station in Oyster Bay. I pulled up in my little Mercedes; Fran was waiting in a cargo van filled with folding chairs from the front seat back.
“Geez, that’s your car?” he moaned. “I can’t fit in that thing! Follow me.”
And so I did. We drove through beautiful country, and up a road with beachfront on each side. Then my phone rang.
“We passed it. Make a U-turn”
“No, I don’t think that’s a good —” Too late, he had hung up. Then I watched as he turned off the road, onto the beach. The van sank as if in quick sand. It sunk all the way down to the floor boards. Fran got out and started to push. I joined him. It didn’t move one bit. We couldn’t even get the back wheel to spin. That van held a lot of weight.
Fran squeezed sideways into my car and he called a tow truck.
“Joe’s waiting,” he said. “We gotta’ go. They’ll call me.” Fran told me that Joe used to work in the diamond district, where he picked up the nickname “Joey Sparkles.” But he didn’t care for the name, “so don’t use it”. Of course I have ever since.
Then he said “nice out here, no? I was at a golf outing here a few weeks ago. What an outing. Calamad’ every hole!” It was so hard not to laugh.
Joe’s house was beautiful. And of course, because he is an old school Italian, before we did anything else, we all had to eat, looking over the bay (and Fran’s van), and relax a little bit. Only then could we be “ready” to look at diamonds. Joe asked if I knew what I wanted. I told him precisely. I had my One if by Land lessons memorized.
“Yeah, I got that,” he said. And he brought out an ideal marquis cut diamond. He said he would put it in the Tiffany setting I described, and that it would be ready in a few days. He asked me to meet him in the back room of a restaurant one evening later that week.
“Do you know Luigi’s on Union?”
“Sure do. Larysa and I go there a lot.” But I didn’t know it had a back room until that moment. (Some years later, we had our son’s 1st birthday party there.)
Driving home, Larysa started calling. And I had to lie to her, for the first time. Client meeting in Huntington. I forgot to tell you. Sorry you were so worried. Be there soon.
An ongoing love story throughout the month of February, concluded in Part IV next week, and if you missed Part I or II (weird that you’ve read this much without having read the first part…) catch up here + here. Dance on to Part IV, here.