Sunday, July 13, 2008

My Friend Amy

Her name was Amy, she was nine years old and she was my friend. And I want you to pray for her.

I can't believe what happened today in the space of just a few hours, how this beautiful Sunday could have turned so foul and how a lovely little girl could be so incredibly alive one moment and gone a short time later.

Amy was a little Chinese girl who recently moved to my block on Senator Street. There are many Chinese families here since the Chinese section of Sunset Park has pretty much run out of room.

I met Amy one morning a few weeks ago while I was walking up the street and she was standing on her front stoop.

"It's almost summer and it's almost my birthday, which is June 29," she said.

It sounded like a speech she had memorized and she was so cute I couldn't help but laugh. The next time I saw her, I asked her what she wanted for her birthday and she told me, "a Barbie doll."

I saw Amy on the block most weekends and today I saw her and two of her friends sitting on the stoop sucking on ice pops. It was such an iconic image of summer. I wanted to get an ice pop myself and sit down next to them.

Amy came by my house a few hours later holding a small pillow that she was using to sit on a bicycle and greeted me.

"You live here?" she asked. "I thought you live in other house."

"No," I said. "I live in this house."

She looked down at my flip-flops and nodded.

"You don't wear slippers outside," she said. "This your house."

I had the front door open so she walked up the steps and peered over my shoulder.

"Look a mess," she said, quite accurately.

"We're cleaning the place up so we can sell it," I said.

Amy started to talk and talk and talk about her family, her pet dog Bobo, her friends, her trip to China, her old apartment on Eighth Avenue in Sunset Park, which apparently had a lot of mice, and her friend, whom she claimed had several pet skunks.

I didn't follow all of what she was saying, but I was having such a great time listening to her voice and hearing about her child's vision of the world.

I'm not a parent and I think kids sense that I'm not the kind of adult that will tell them to eat their vegetables and do their homework. Or if I do tell to do those things, they feel it's safe to ignore me.

Kids often see me as a friend or a large playmate and that's fine with me.

At one point, I was watching Amy as she spoke and I tried to imagine what she would be like as a young woman.

I know from my experience with my nieces how quickly the days go by and how fast children grow.

I pictured her with glasses for some reason, wearing a business suit, and telling me about her law practice or other such important business.

I returned to reality as Amy told me that she preferred cats to dogs, like living here as a opposed to China and that Bobo had puppies, all of which she named. (I remember "Biscuit", but I can't think of the others.)

As she spoke, she'd wrap the pillow around her head, behind her back; she'd squat down and stand back up. And then she looked back into my house again.

"Look a mess," she repeated.

Again I explained that we were cleaning the place out, which I know is no excuse for the shape the house is in, but I had to say something.

"I'm tired," she said abruptly walked up the block.

"Take care," I said.

An hour or so later I was getting ready to go for a walk and then to the gym when I heard sirens. No big deal, I thought, and then I looked out the window and saw a fire truck and an ambulance halfway up the block.

There are some elderly people up that way and I assumed the response was for one of them. We dialed 911 a lot at my house when my parents got older.

And then I saw something I couldn't believe. An EMT charged out of Amy's house holding this little body, like a doll--I could see the legs dangling as he ran.

I raced up the block and saw a woman on the ground screaming and beating her breast while two older women spoke to her in Chinese and tried to get her to stand.

No around me could speak English and I stood there like a dummy until a man who lives nearby walked by me.

"Is it the little girl?" I asked. "Is it Amy?"

"Yes," he said, "it's Amy."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. That adorable little girl who had made herself at home on my stoop just a little while ago was now in the back of an ambulance on its way to Lutheran Medical Center.

"She was running around in the house," the man said, "and then she fell down. She got back up and collapsed."

I hung around for a little while, but I knew I was in the way. I came home, got on my knees and asked God to please spare Amy.

I went about my business after that, taking a long walk on Shore Road and the going to my gym for a workout.

As I walked by her house a second time, an older man told me "she's all right, thank you." I just didn't believe him for some reason. After years as a reporter, I know when I'm getting the brush-off.

I kept telling myself that Amy would be all right, that kids are resilient, they bounce back from just about anything.

After dinner I walked up to Amy's house and asked two young people how she was doing. The young woman started crying.

"She died," the young man said.

I just stood there staring at them for a few seconds. How could this be possible? How could this little girl just die?

George Carlin had a bit about the stupid things people say when they learn about someone's death, like, "I was just talking to him," and "If there's anything I can do, just ask."

Well, I found myself saying both those lines and now all of a sudden the Carlin routine doesn't seem so funny.

One man told me that the doctors aren't sure what happened yet. I wonder about the last thing she said to me--"I'm tired." Did those words meaning something more that just fatigue? It's all speculation now, all meaningless.

"While we were in the emergency room," he said, "her mother prayed to every god she could name to spare her daughter's life. Even I started crying then."

I was able to get to my house before I started crying, but it was close.

Amy's mother must have know how bad things were from the way she reacted. Something in her heart told her that she was losing her daughter.

People like to say there's a reason for everything, but I'll be goddamned if I can see any reason for this horrible thing, no reason whatsoever for us--her family, her neighbors, the world--to lose such a lovely child.

She should be playing with her friends right now, running up and down the block and giving joy to everyone who sees her. She should still be with us.

Amy will never grow up to be that young woman I imagined. She'll never come down to my house anymore or greet me as I walk up the street and that is such a goddamn shame.

This demented world needs more children like Amy; it needs more of her beauty, innocence, and sweetness, not less.

I don't know how I'll be able to walk by her house now. Even in the terribly short time I knew her, I always kept an eye out for Amy.

So it will always be summer for Amy now.

She's gone to a place that will be bright and sunny forever, where there's an endless supply of Barbie dolls, where anything is possible and every day is a glorious adventure.

Rest in peace, Amy. I'll miss you so much and I'm very proud to say you were--you are--my friend.


Paula said...


I'm so sorry to hear about Amy. I know what you're going through. I saw my Mom the day before she passed away. We were talking about a trip we were going to take together and all the other adventures we seem to get ourselves into. Three o'clock in the morning the next day, I received the bad news. I would have to go on these adventures by myself, but my Mom would be there in spirit. I say all this to emphasis that Amy's death is a reminder to us all that tomorrow is never guaranteed us, that we must live life to the fullest. Remember that Amy was playing and laughing before this terrible accident happened, and that this little angel also took the time to chat with you and you with her. You can honor Amy by living the life you're always wanted to live and continue to remember the joy she brought to you during your conversation.

Rob K said...

Thank so much, Paula, for your thoughts and for sharing your own experience.

BestViewInBrooklyn said...

Such a sad story. It's terrible when children are taken; it's always too early. Thank you for sharing this. It's always important for us to remember to treat our children (ours in the village sense) with respect and love always. It sounds like she really connected with you that day. Perhaps helping you to share this with others so we could all treat each other better.

Rob K said...

Yes, this shows how fragile life can be and how things can just turn in a second. Every day is a gift.

Anonymous said...

a few years ago, I was visiting a young mexican girl who lived on 5th Avenue to provide home instruction. i was so taken by her family - the love they shared, the happiness and the dedication to become successful. i was thrilled by how they "ignored" being poor, and how "rich" they were. her dad used the supports under the daughters upper bunk bed as a "filing" cabinet to keep important papers and records. poverty did not make them live poorly. the home was always busy with someone running from the shower and off to work. it was a busy house with everyone teasing each other in the nicest ways. there was so much loving interaction on the run. the girl had a mild illness, but understood that it made her too weak to clean homes or work in a factory like the rest of her family. she told her family she would work in an office some day. they all teased her, saying it was a dream she couldn't fulfill. I gave her an old laptop computer and strayed from my board of education curriculum to teach her to touch type. i arranged for her to work for one day in the office of the 5th Avenue BID so she could see what office work was like. I'll never forget the smile on her face as she walked in all dressed up, with a little square boxn shiny handbag. Less than a month later my supervisor told me not to go to her house, she was in the hospital. I went to Maimonides and she was asleep during my visit. the next day her brother called late at night to tell me, in broken english, that she was dead. I couldn't understand him, I didn't want to understand him.

of course i was saddened by her death, but i never think of her with saddness, i only think of her with the happiness she enjoyed.

to me, she will always represent the celebration of life.

Rob K said...

Thank you for sharing your story and I will try to view this terrible experience in the same way that you look at the death of the young Mexican girl.

Calamity Jen said...


Rob K said...

Merci beaucoup

Jennifer G. said...

What a tragedy. Do you know now what she died of?

Rob K said...

Not yet, Jen. I don't really don't know the family and there is a bit of a language barrier.