Francine, an elegant older Caucasian woman sitting on her couch.

Francine has lived in the same apartment building in midtown Manhattan for over 50 years. She first moved in when she was in her early twenties and was just starting out in her career. Since then, she’s moved three times, downgrading to smaller, more affordable units each time. The walls of her living room are decorated with art she’s carefully curated, along with photos and souvenirs from her many travels. The only thing she regrets is not buying her apartment when she could have afforded it.

A lifelong New Yorker, Francine was born in Manhattan and grew up in Long Beach. She got a job in the city’s Garment District right after high school, going on to become a clothing buyer, seller and stylist. She worked in the fashion industry for over 35 years. A career woman, her job once took her around the world. But these days, she doesn’t go anywhere.

Francine was diagnosed in 2018 with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the nerves in the arms and legs. At first, Francine didn’t think anything was wrong — she was just stumbling more often. But it quickly developed into full paralysis. Francine was hospitalized for three weeks. It took her two months in a rehabilitation facility to relearn how to walk.

I had a great life! I can’t complain. I don’t complain.

Now, at 82 years old, she wears leg braces and relies on a wheeling walker to get around. “I can’t do stairs,” she says. She’s thankful her building has an elevator. Still, she struggles to make it to the store and carry back groceries. Most days, just standing in the kitchen is too much. “I don’t cook anymore, unfortunately,” she says. It’s why the deliveries she receives from Citymeals are so crucial. She especially appreciates the emergency food packages, which ensure she always has something in her pantry.

As a young woman in the 1970s, she loved to dance. Francine and her friends would go out to clubs like Régine’s, Salvation and the infamous Studio 54 when it was in its heyday. In the summer, they would share a beach house together. Francine has fond memories of those times — dinner parties and nights spent on the dance floor surrounded by her friends. Most of them have passed away. Others have moved out of the city, some as far as Florida. Francine still keeps in touch with them over the phone, but it’s not the same.

These days, she says her best friend is the TV. She often keeps it on for the background noise. Francine never married or had children. It’s not something she was ever interested in and, even now, she doesn’t regret those choices. “I had a great life!” she says. “I can’t complain. I don’t complain.” 

When Francine left the fashion world, she began a second career as a real estate agent. Francine worked until she got sick and was forced to retire. Nowadays, paying rent is a concern, especially on a fixed income. Between the rising cost of living and Francine’s medications — just one of which costs $160 a month — she may have to leave the place she’s called home for five decades. When it comes to moving into an assisted living facility in the future, Francine isn’t crazy about the idea, but as she acknowledges: “I might not have a choice.”