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After Trauma and Loss, How Delia Ephron Is Moving on in a COVID-Fractured World

'I have had so much trauma during the last years.'

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illustration of neighborhood with closed empty retail spaces, covid, pandemic, loss
Paige Vickers
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Join us for our conversation with beloved author Delia Ephron during our next FREE Ethel Empower Hour on May 11 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET. You won't want to miss it!

Every day, while walking my dog in Greenwich Village, I pass a coffee/sandwich/takeout place on a nearby street. It’s a small place — local, not a chain. Because, when I pass, there are always folks sitting outside at the small metal tables, I think, This place is popular. It must be good. Didn’t I used to go there?

I have had so much trauma during the last years, what I used to do before is kind of a blur. I talk about all of it in my new book Left on Tenth.

First, my sister Nora died. Then my husband died. There was the year before while he failed slowly, when my heart and brain were overwhelmed by that expectation. Then, there was a year alone after 35 years together; a powerful feeling of grief and dislocation.

Then, I fell in love. We were both 72 — it was entirely unexpected. I was in a heady daze.  Four months later,  I got AML, acute myelogenous leukemia, and my new love (soon my husband) and I began doing almost nothing but fight off this deadly disease.

After undergoing a stem cell transplant, I miraculously survived. I was two years post-transplant, in February 2020, when my doctor said, “You have as much chance of getting leukemia again as I did, and I’ve never had it.”

The next month, the world shut down from COVID.
I’m a writer, so I survived that year by doing what I do. I knew life had given me an amazing story of loss, love again, illness, cure, the power of friendship, and so many strange confluences it made me wonder about things like miracles. I wrote it. My memoir, just published this April, is called Left on Tenth, as I live on Tenth Street.

Author Delia Ephron with husband Peter Rutter and their dog Charlotte in NYC.
Ephron with husband Peter Rutter and their dog Charlotte in NYC.
Naima Green/The New York Times/Redux

I love my neighborhood. But when I survived, got vaccinated and looked around, I saw that COVID, this new trauma for all of us, had fractured my external world.

The most wonderful part of living in Greenwich Village is that it is a village — a cozy, friendly collection of streets in the middle of lower Manhattan. Lovely brownstones, old apartment buildings, beautiful trees, intimate scale, and everything you could want or need within a block of your home.

The obvious changes from the pandemic are these. The laundry/dry cleaner around the corner closed. Ms. Lee left a sweet note on the window, saying goodbye to us all. When my husband died, she came out of the store onto the street to give me a hug.

The lingerie shop, three doors down from Ms. Lee, also closed.  The women working there (one of them owned it) were sisters. They had my sizes in their store computer. What are they and Ms. Lee doing now?  What has happened to them?

There were, ridiculously, two gelato shops directly across the street from each other. Now there is one. The wonderful grocery store is gone, too — with its fresh mozzarella and delicious Nova Scotia salmon; an excellent butcher counter; and Torres potato chips, a fantastic brand. In fact, the store is not just gone but the entire building has been flattened and in its place will be a hideous glass structure — a modern building with floors shooting out at different angles.

I sometimes think about how much I hate this building (and it’s not even built yet); the architect for wanting to put his or her big, fat paw print on our beautiful street with no respect for its history;  and the developer, who must be so pleased.

My life, my needs, were all satisfied and cheered by these stores. These aren’t just retail losses, but emotional ones.

The antique jewelry shop, Fichera & Perkins, has always been open sporadically. Now it is open even more sporadically. My late husband bought me two rings from there that I cherish, so this place is especially dear to me. Every time that I’m lucky — that is, my being outside coincides with its being open — I stop in. Ron, the owner, and I used to talk about theater.

Now he tells me he’s closing — I believe it is a threat that will probably happen. The neighborhood is no longer safe, he says, and his shop traffic is lessened. I buy earrings for my friend Deena. I have to do my part to keep him in business.

COVID moved in and deranged our brains, our hearts and our landscapes.

Il Cantinori, my beloved Italian restaurant, is open, and Frank, the owner, is still of good cheer, trying to figure out how his kitchen can handle the outdoors in addition to the indoors. That it’s prospering is a comfort. There is a new vegetarian place and a new bakery. So,  I guess I have to let go of what’s gone. We all have to. Like the city I live in, I have to get with the new.

But about this coffee/sandwich place. It was here before, and now I can’t remember — did I used to go there? I mean, I know I used to go there, but the actual experience is slightly beyond reach. I think, Yes, they were really good at soup.

I will start going there again.

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