"Are you okay?" I asked.
"No," his voice trembled and his eyes were blank.
We had lived in New York for little over a year. We had a fantastic apartment, an extraordinary view of the city and we had settled into a comfortable balance of work and play. We made a fun circle of friends from our respective jobs and we were happy. All of that came into question on March 17th when I was suddenly and unceremoniously laid off.
We moved to New York because I had a job offer that was too hard to resist. Picking up stakes and moving to a strange city was more difficult for me than Billy who was always at the ready for risk. When he moved with me, he gave up his career in Los Angeles without a blink and two days after moving, he had signed up for a temp agency. No moss was going to grow under his feet.
The placement agency gave him his first assignment at Goldman-Sachs, arguably one of the titans of Wall Street. He started as the assistant to a high-strung privileged woman who was one of the firm's top traders. She was demanding and Billy would often come home spent from his day tending to her needs. He soon became indispensable to her and she would often reward him with little gifts as a token of her appreciation. She knew she was impossible and valued Billy's temperament to withstand her mood swings.
Every day he would get dressed up in his suit and tie, a costume for him. Billy was very much a jeans and t-shirt personality but when he would suit up, he was nothing short of strikingly adorable. He had to take two trains to get to Wall Street and he would have to switch in Grand Central Station. It was a long commute but he would get the Post everyday and read on his way to work. Sometimes he would bring a book. One he liked in particular was A Thing Of Beauty: The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia. When he wept at the book's conclusion, there was a niggling concern in my head that he identified with her too much.
After about three months into the job, he seized an opportunity to take a test that would make him a full employee and give him all of the benefits of a Goldman-Sachs member. He was not without concern. The exam consisted of a typing test as well as an academic profile. It wasn't the quiz that gave him pause; it was the typing part. He hunted and pecked like all do when no formal typing class has been taken and while he did it well, even better than me, the standards of the test were high. He stayed after work and practiced typing for the two weeks that led up to the test.
Exam day came and it was one of those impossibly hot days in the city when sweat pours just after a shower. He wore his "lucky" tie and his nerves were taut. The exam was going to be taken after the end of the workday. I called him a few times with pep talks until he finally said, "Stop it! You're making me nervous!"
I had dinner ready when he came home that night. As I heard his key start to fumble with the door's lock, I grabbed the knob and threw open the door. He had not been able to contain his tears on the elevator ride up because what I saw was his crumpled face wet with disappointment.
"Oh no," I gently said as I grabbed him and held him.
"I failed," he choked on those words.
"No you didn't, honey, you can take it again," I tried to reassure him but I knew better. I knew he was crushed and I knew it tapped into his feelings of unwantedness. I knew he would probably not retake the test. But his enthusiasm for the job returned in short order and he was back to being happy going to work as a permanent temp. He had already made a few good girlfriends there and their support helped him feel as much a part of the corporate family as did his boss.
We had a big New Years Eve party at our house that year with many of his Wall Street pals mixing with my talent agency friends I had made, and we had a great time. That was a very special New Years for us and it will be a story for another day. But two and one half months later, I would be fired. The story behind that can also wait. I remember calling Billy from my soon-to-be former office and telling him the news.
"I'm coming home," he flatly stated knowing I would need some comfort.
"You don't have to do that," I said although I couldn't think of anything I wanted more.
"I'll see you at home," and he hung up.
I tried every agency in town and no one was hiring. I had only a few clients in my pocket as my former employer closed ranks and made certain I wasn't going to make off with their best clients. You're only as good as your client list in the talent representation game and I wasn't holding a straight flush. I wasn't entrenched in the New York community enough to call in the favors I needed to land somewhere. I fell into a depression that would last over a year.
Two months after my dismissal, Billy walked in shaken to the bone. He came over to the couch and sat next to me. I muted the television.
"What happened?" I was worried. My first thought was Oh no. He got fired too.
"I just saw someone die!" and then he started to cry. He wasn't looking at me but at some fixed point outside the huge windows that faced the World Trade Center.
"What happened?" I repeated.
"I was standing on the platform waiting for my train," he started.
"Where?" I interrupted.
"At Grand Central Station! I was just standing there and just as the train was pulling in, the man standing right next to me jumped in front of the train! He just jumped. I noticed him before. He was right next to me. The train hit him," and then he really started to cry. I put my arm around him and he laid his head on my lap.
"People started to scream. I didn't know what to do. I just backed away. I just walked away. I didn't know what to do. He just jumped," he sobbed as I petted his hair. "There was nothing I could do. I looked back and saw one of his shoes on the platform. People were all running around and screaming and I just stood there and looked at his shoe. I remember seeing his face while we were waiting. He seemed okay."
"Was he homeless?" I asked and I wasn't even sure why the question came up.
"I don't know. He looked okay. And then he just ran in front of the train as it was coming in," I saw a tearful wet spot had formed on my pants leg when he withdrew his head from my lap and looked at me. His eyes were pleading and confused.
"We have to get out of this fucking city, Billy, it's too much. Let's go back home," I said trying to find a solution to my Guyster's pain.
He looked at me for a moment and softly spoke, "Why would anyone do that?"
"I don't know, honey, I just don't know," I replied.
If someone were to ask me that same question today, I could easily come up with some answers.