"Baby if you hold me, then all of this will go away.” ~ Budapest, George Ezra
I looked at my social media the other day and scrolled through more slogans than I could count. My feeds were overflowing with advice on everything from how to be happy to how to find love to how to be loved.
I even walked through Brooklyn on my visit last week and stepped on some sidewalk art that told me to protect my heart.
It seems, in every direction, people are looking for the right direction.
Some of us are lucky enough to give up the search. I think Jeff was one of those lucky ones. I think, by the time he met Alexandra, this young man had already grown into himself, and I think in her he found what he was searching for.
After their first date, Alexandra called me with her report. It was to the point, and it was short.
"Mom, he is just so alive,” she said.
And she proceeded to fall in love with the life force that was Jeff, and I continued to receive from Alexandra her reports. I heard how happy and energetic he always was. I heard how handsome he was. I heard how he always cared for her.
And I heard how he loved her. This report came by text.
“We were running on the West Side Highway,” she said. “And he said, ‘I’m happy I have you’. And I said, ‘I’m happy I have you, too.’ And then he said, ‘I love you.’ And I said, ‘I love you, too!’”
And in revealing his heart to her like this, Jeff made it okay for Alexandra to reveal her own heart, too. It was a first for Alexandra to let anyone that close. This young man who was Jeff earned a tremendous amount of trust from Alexandra, and he did it by being consistent, dependable and honest. But, really, I don’t think that he could have been any other way, because I think that was just his true nature. He made it safe for Alexandra to let herself be known and to see that she was still loved, and this was his most precious gift to her.
Jeff’s devotion and enormous love fostered in my daughter a peace and contentment for which only a mother could pray. I can’t really explain what I saw in my daughter during her years with him, except to say that he enabled her to grow into herself, too. The brightness in Jeff illuminated Alexandra, and I watched her become her best self by his side.
Most people think that Alexandra and Jeff met on a dating app, but she and her brother and I know otherwise. I’ve often asked her whether this young man whom she found so alive was aware that she had ordered him at the time she was five. For there’s no question that G-d sent this man with the curly hair and big heart, a man she would call Jeff Paul Bart.
Alexandra and Jeff not only found each other, but they also found Brooklyn. And there they set up a home. For whatever reason, their apartment building always reminded me of the television show, I Dream of Jeannie. I used to think that it was the building’s decor, but now I think that it was so much more. To me, their apartment was a genie’s bottle, cozy and with lots of magic inside, a home that the two of them created with pride.
And together they lived on hope and faith and trust, with plans for a future that weren’t supposed to combust.
And now my heart breaks at my daughter’s newest report. “He was so happy, Mom," she said. “He’d be so upset if he knew what happened. He wouldn’t like this at all. He had so much he wanted to do. He wanted a family. He wanted children. He wanted me. We were not supposed to grow old separately.”
I am very grateful that Jeff was so expressive. He was able to tell Alexandra how he felt about her. In fact, he was able to tell us all how he felt about us. He professed his love openly. There are no words left unsaid, because he was able to say them all, and so those of us around him were able to say them, too. This was the generous gift that was Jeff.
And I’m also very grateful that Jeff was so demonstrative. He was able to show Alexandra how he felt about her. In fact, he was able to show us all how he felt about us. He was uninhibited in his affection, and that made it easy for us to give that back to him. This was the other generous gift that was Jeff.
And how can I discuss Jeff without mentioning how much he meant to my son, Benjamin? I watched them form a quick and easy bond that wasn’t supposed to end. And now, in losing Jeff, my son has lost a brother.
I stayed at Alexandra and Jeff’s happy home just this past weekend. Before leaving, he made us breakfast and then served himself. I watched as he carefully spread avocado on his rice cake. Then he added just cut pieces of lox on top and then sprinkled some of the chives he’d just chopped. And as I watched him add the eggs, I couldn’t help but think how incredible it was that Alexandra had found this young man, a man who only wanted to be there with her and build their life in the same careful way that he was building his breakfast.
And then I looked at him again and saw that he had a slogan on his shirt, and I thought maybe that explained my joy. For there across his chest was the sentence, “Everyone loves a Jewish boy.”
After breakfast it was time for Alexandra and me to leave. Jeff would leave later in the day. I watched him wrap his arms around her, and I watched her step into his safe embrace. They kissed. She held him. He patted the back of her head and said, “Goodbye, Sweetie.”
It was a few days later when I returned, because he did not. I was back in Brooklyn and walking with my son. And I pointed out the sidewalk art, the one with the slogan that read, “Protect Your Heart”.
But we just kept on walking and passed it by, because it only made me wonder why. For how in the world could any of us have ever protected our hearts when it came to loving Jeff? How could we have loved him in any other way but in the big way that he loved us all, and in the even bigger way that he loved Alexandra.
There is just no slogan that can protect our hearts from being broken. There is only hope for the pain to cease. I know that Jeff would wish us peace.
In memory of Jeffrey Paul Bart, contributions may be made to Jewish Social Services Agency or The Make-A-Wish Foundation.