Born and raised in Williamsburg, 83-year-old Marilyn grew up in the tumultuous years of the Great Depression and World War II. Surrounded by extended family, she often escaped to the vacant floor of her parents’ brownstone to roller-skate down the empty hallways. Her mother hated the noise, but was grateful Marilyn wasn’t getting into real trouble.
At school, Marilyn distinguished herself as a star student, always sitting in the front row. She’ll never forget the day when Henry, the boy seated behind her, pulled her ponytail. “I think his eyes are still open from how loudly I screamed at him,” she jokes. It was the beginning of a deep friendship – and eventually 60 years of marriage.
After high school, Marilyn and Henry married and immediately enlisted in the Navy, both working in military intelligence. Four years later, the young couple returned New York City and moved into an apartment in Stuyvesant Town – the same apartment Marilyn still calls home.
Henry opened a small grocery store while Marilyn went back to school and became a social worker. For 25 years, she worked in the geriatric department at Bellevue Hospital, caring for elderly New Yorkers with the same dedication to service that led her to enlist.
One of her fondest memories was a cross-country bus trip the couple took after Henry retired. For $200, they traveled from New York City, down to Kentucky, out to San Francisco and up to Seattle. Each night, they would take out their thermos for late-night tea time on the bus. “We were extremely happy, while everyone else was getting divorced,” Marilyn confides.
Sadly, Marilyn lost her constant companion three years ago. With Henry’s health declining, she chose to take care of him at home where he would be most comfortable. They began receiving home-delivered meals then, to help sustain them during the biggest challenge they’d faced in their many years together. Henry so loved the food that Marilyn admits she often gave her share to him.
Now I can’t even get out without someone opening the door for me.
Today, Marilyn is in frail health herself, using a wheeling walker to get around the apartment. Just in the past few months, she has been admitted to the hospital three times. Surgery to fix her pacemaker left her arm so swollen she couldn’t move her hand. And a recent mini-stroke caused her to fall to the ground and break four teeth. Constant pain has made a trip to the dentist impossible. With each new illness, Marilyn has become increasingly despondent. Everything would be different, Marilyn says, if Henry were still around to look out for her. “Now I can’t even get out without someone opening the door for me.”
With no support network nearby, Marilyn relies on a check-in each day from her Citymeals deliverer Warren. If Marilyn’s not well enough to get up, Warren leaves a meal for her on a table just next to the door. On the days when she’s feeling better they’ll chat briefly about how the Yankees are doing. In these few minutes, Marilyn’s face brightens as she feels a sense of connection to the outside world she can no longer experience.