Laura Schroff’s memoir, An Invisible Thread, tells the story of her unlikely friendship with Maurice Mazyck, an 11-year-old New York City panhandler whose life intersects hers one day in the mid-1980s on a Manhattan street corner.
Mazyck tells Schroff he’s hungry and asks if she can spare some change, but instead of giving him money for a meal, Schroff, a successful sales executive, offers to take him out to lunch. After a meal at McDonalds and a stroll around midtown, Schroff and Mazyck arrange to meet for lunch again the next week, and then the next, and the next. Schroff’s memoir traces the arc of their developing friendship as they become an essential part of each other’s lives, despite their overwhelming differences. These differences range from the minor to the substantial. Despite residing within a few blocks of each other, they live in different worlds: Mazyck has grown up in a series of dangerous shelters and dingy apartments in New York City’s underbelly, surrounded by crime and drug abuse. All five of his uncles, for instance, are drug dealers, while Schroff grew up in a leafy, middle class town on Long Island, and at the time of her story, lives in a roomy apartment in a doorman building in a neighborhood full of upscale restaurants and posh stores. On one of their early meetings, she takes Mazyck to the Hard Rock Café, which at the time seemed as alien to him as another planet. On a more mundane level, Schroff observes that, unlike any other 11-year-old she had ever met, Mazyck has never been taught how to blow his nose or even the proper way to use a fork and a knife.
As their friendship develops, however, Schroff and Mazyck come to see that there are important similarities between them as well. In learning more about Mazyck’s extremely difficult childhood, Schroff begins to come to terms with her own troubled youth and this awareness helps her to create a bridge between the very different worlds in which they live.
Along with the portrait of her friendship with Mazyck, Schroff also gives us a detailed and stunning portrait of New York City in the ’80s, a time when crime was rampant, and the crack epidemic was at its peak. Schroff’s portrayal of the city is not just local color, but essential to the story she tells. It is necessary to understand the prevalence of these social ills in order to understand the influences that shaped Mazyck, who grew up surrounded by the crime and violence of the drug trade.
Schroff tells the story of her friendship with Maurice beautifully, and though the narrative lags at some points, is filled throughout with amazing honesty and poignant observations. When I first began to read An Invisible Thread, I found the characters somewhat two-dimensional and lacking emotional depth. Their story seemed too pat and unbelievable. And while the book was intriguing and heartwarming, the plot, at first, seemed to hold very little conflict. As I read on, however, my reservations were quickly erased, for through illuminating, and often unsettling forays into the pasts of both herself and Mazyck, Schroff shows us their true depth, and the plot quickly develops without overwhelming the beauty and simplicity of the story.
Over the course of their relationship Schroff and Mazyck discover that despite their myriad differences, they are, at the core, simply two people trying to build a decent life for themselves in New York City. And, to their mutual surprise, they find that they need each other. Schroff has always wanted a child but her relationships with men always ended in failure. In Mazyck she finds a surrogate son. Mazyck has never had an adult in his life he could rely on, never mind look up to, and Schroff fills this role for him. The essential story Schroff tells in this book is how the yawning gulf between their worlds — they have, on the surface, virtually nothing in common — is bridged by something so seemingly insignificant as their need and affection for each other. The result of all this is not only an insightful portrait of New York in the ‘80s but also a beautiful and touching story of the way in which friendship can transcend the boundaries, of class, race, and age.