One day, about ten years ago, I was with a friend, walking down Prince Street. I’d known her 15 years, and she’d grown up in the neighborhood — in the days when you put your keys in a mitten and threw them down to the street to let someone upstairs, and the neon sign on Fanelli’s was the only way to orient yourself as to direction — in the evenings, there was no one on the street you could ask.
As we walked in front of the old Post office, my friend recognized an older woman, and stopped to chat. I stood people-watching until they were done a few minutes later, and we resumed our walk.
I asked who the lady was. “Judith Patz”, she said simply. I knew my friend had been in the same playgroup as her son, and in fact, been on the schoolbus meant to pick him up that morning. I was thirty-six or so then, and think it was the first time, I really had any inkling of what the scale of grown-up loss and grief might be.
As we walked, I remember feeling as if it I’d been on the seashore of some giant, fathomless ocean — and the smallest drop of spray had touched my cheek — and I knew it was more than enough, and here was a woman who had to swim in it, every hour of every day.
The night after John Lennon was killed, Bruce Springsteen said,
“It’s an unreasonable world, and you have to live with a lot of things that are unlivable.”
I hope the Patzes can step a little closer to the shore now.
I’d sworn to myself I would never write anything about the case unless what happened was ever known. It felt pornographic to add even a drop to that ocean of sadness. I hope they have the right guy. I hope this is ok.
Rest in peace, Etan.