Once the present turns to past, all we have left are memories. Yes, sometimes we can stand where we stood, see our ghost selves, and relive moments of our life. See the shadow of the man we loved. Of the friend we cherished. Of the mentor who made all the difference. Our memories turn specific. The terrier that played by the shoreline, joyously running in the sand. We can remember the smell of the roses. Look at the azure water and see the glimmer of the sun on the opposite shore and hear a fleeting few bars of jazz still lingering in the air.
If you were the only girl in the world...
Staring into the remains of what is left, I see ghosts of the gardens and woods, the gazebo, terraces, rooms ablaze with stained glass—everywhere we walked and talked and kissed and cried. With my eyes closed, I see it all in my mind, but when I open them, all of it is gone, up in flames.
Mr. Tiffany once told me that there is beauty even in broken things. Looking back, there is no question I would not be the artist I am if not for that lesson. But would he be able to salvage any beauty out of this destruction?
No, I never dreamed I'd come back to Laurelton Hall. The Xanadu where I came of age as both a woman and a painter. Where I found my heart's desire and my palette's power. Where depravity bloomed alongside beds and fields of flowers, where creativity and evil flowed with the water in the many fountains. Where the sun shone on the tranquil sea and the pool's treacherous rock crystals reflected rainbows onto the stone patio. Where the glorious light streaming from Mr. Tiffany's majestic stained glass illuminated the very deep darkness that had permeated my soul and lifted me out of despair. And where I found the love that sustained me and remained in my heart even after Oliver and I parted.
Standing here, smelling the acrid stench, looking at the felled trees with their charcoal bark, the carbon-coated stones and bent
metal frames that once held the master's windows, at the smoky, melting mess that was one of the greatest mansions on Long Island's Gold Coast, I know I never will see it again, not how it was that magical and awful summer of 1924.
The fire is still hot in spots, and a tree branch snaps. My reverie is broken.
Leaves rustle. Rubble falls. Glass crushes. Twigs crack. Then comes a whisper.
But it can't be. The wind howling through a hollow tree trunk is playing a trick. Fooling me into thinking I am hearing his sapphire voice, its deep velvet tone.
As I listen to the repeated whisper—Jenny
—I raise my hand to wipe at my tears and tell myself that it is the smoldering ash
making my eyes water. The charms on my bracelet jingle as I lower my arm. And again the whisper...and again my name—Jenny
March 20, 1924
New York, New York
I hadn't expected to find a waterfall in the middle of Central Park. Even there, so far away from home and the scene of the tragedy, the rushing water that pounded on the rocks made me shudder. The waterfalls in Ithaca and in Hamilton had been powerful, beautiful forces of nature, but I'd grown to hate them.
"Jenny, certainly this early-spring scenery is going to inspire you to use some color," Minx said, as we set up our easels.
A dozen of us from Professor Robert Pannell's class at the Art Students League of New York had scattered around the pond, preparing to spend the afternoon painting en plein air in the tradition of the impressionists. We'd walked from the school on West Fifty-seventh Street north into the park and then continued along manicured pathways into this untamed, romantic area.
"Your assignment is not to paint what you see but what you feel. Paint the atmosphere," Professor Pannell instructed. He always
pushed us to go beyond convention.
After a half hour, I was still struggling to get something worthwhile down on my canvas. The ceaseless noise of the water falling distracted me and made me anxious.