In for the Night

By Susan Winget

For a period of ten years, while my son was young, I lived on the top of the Chelsea Hotel, in a big gorgeous apartment with huge windows. At twilight, it would fill with the most glorious pink light of the setting sun. In that place I was the happiest and the saddest person I have ever been.

I would be finishing a long work day in my home office, and my neighbor from downstairs would knock on the door in a beautiful dress and bare feet, to invite me to have a glass of something bubbly and review the day. My son spent any free moment scrambling between our two apartments, with her small army of kids, so spending dinner prep hour, and often dinner, in this conspiracy was a perfect way to end the day.

She had a disarming jumble of an apartment. Piles of books, colorful art, artifacts of her unique career, plates and vases, figurines, things her kids had made, tall stacks of skateboards and photos of her family taken by famous photographers all cohabited in a happy crisis of shrinking space. On her walls, silvery swans swam. Candles in the shape of Napoleon and Margiela shoes and fancy cakes crammed her mantel with a steady supply of thank you flowers. A large, ancient and hobbled Aga stove held down the far end of the living room which defined the kitchen. Aside the small counter was a beautiful brass card table whose constantly filled top had some faintly visible hand etched motifs, as if Picasso had doodled there.

At this table, every imaginable turn of life's screw was managed and discussed by not just me, but a regular parade of her extraordinary array of friends. Conversations could be spirited, heated, kind, empathetic and hilarious. A silent engine of commissary, fueled by humor and intellect, pushed us through challenges with partners, school troubles with the children, flus, tutors, lovers, heartbreak, joy, you name it. Cards would be played and read, bits of salad or goat cheese would be nibbled. Around nine, when children needed to bathe, we would say our goodbyes, often leaving a friend or two at that table still chatting, as we moseyed home, rebalanced from the happy night with people we loved.

Now, a couple of years out from that decade, I count the blessing of that communal way of life at the Chelsea as a grand lesson in living luxuriously. What is more luxurious than an evening spent with a friend or two, and your collective of kids, talking and eating, two flights of stairs from home? That we were both nearly-gowned, she with fingers dusted with rings and whispery necklaces of gold with the odd chubby pearl or charm dangling, manicured and shoeless, makes total sense. It was event dressing in a way, after all, for the very special event of ordinary days.