The French Café

Below is a condensed version of an essay I wrote a few years ago for the Brooklyn Film & Arts Festival annual competition where you submit a work of nonfiction that is set in Brooklyn, New York. I didn't win the main prize, but I did have a portion of my full entry read aloud at the award ceremony which gave me a touch of closure which you will understand as you read on.

From the moment I met Jimmy, I hated him. He was my boyfriend Michael’s best friend and my instant competition. Jimmy knew I didn’t like him, and it was mutual. Very average looking and on the shorter side, it was beyond my ability to understand how he always managed to have stunning girlfriends. What did they see that I didn’t? I eventually married Michael, which meant that Jimmy was now a constant in my life, but I was used to him…and still couldn’t stand him.

After a few years, Jimmy married this beautiful girl (of course he did), who I referred to as the Ice Queen since she was so cold with zero personality. Jimmy was crazy for her, so I would grit my teeth when we went out as couples, always wondering how long it would take for his marriage to unravel. The answer came six years later, after the Ice Queen cheated on him. He came over to our house heartbroken. And suddenly, I no longer hated Jimmy. He was so open about his emotions and crushed dreams; he was a completely different person. He threw himself into his work and shied away from any serious relationships. We all hung out on weekends, and I now saw him as someone with insight and depth, kind and funny. I was shocked, but maturity had changed us all and we finally related as adults.

After many years, Michael and I moved to Florida and Jimmy drove a trailer down with some of our possessions. He stayed a few days before leaving and it was all I could do not to throw myself on the floor, cling to his leg and beg him not to leave us. He was my buddy and our last connection to Brooklyn. I cried for hours after he drove away. I tried to blame it on the newness of everything and that once I got used to my new life, I wouldn’t miss him. But I did and we spoke at least once a week on the phone. He visited on occasion, and I would sob every single time he left. I’m clearly not good at goodbyes and have always suffered from separation anxiety.

The years progressed, and Michael and I got divorced. Michael pulled away from his friends, but I continued talking with Jimmy and every year when I would visit my brother in Brooklyn Heights, we’d meet up for dinner. Afterwards, we always went to this French café for coffee and dessert. By this time, Jimmy was in a committed relationship, and I was thrilled for him. Then one year, when we met for dinner, he complained about stomach pains and just not feeling quite right. And the next thing I knew, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. I was terrified, but he wasn’t. He remained positive and beat it until a few years later when he was diagnosed with bone cancer and prostate cancer, and now we have reached the end of Jimmy’s story. He passed a year later, far too young. It broke my heart and still does.

Shortly after he died, I visited my brother and decided to pay tribute to Jimmy by having coffee at the French café, but I couldn’t find it. I walked up and down the streets, around corners, back to where I started and where I thought I remembered the café was located. Finally, I went into a neighboring business and inquired. I was informed that the café had closed two months ago, which was about the time Jimmy had passed. I started to cry, upset that I couldn’t fulfill my desire to pay tribute to a person I had loved. I left the store and slowly headed back to my brother’s house, tears rolling down my face. But then I realized how significant and symbolic it was that the café was no longer there because my friend was no longer here. Although we may not always understand it, there is most definitely a connection between life and death, and in this case, the connection was very clear.

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