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The Leap

Teddy's things, including the backpack he left on the eleventh floor.  

“You have to understand who we women are,” says Seave, referring to her colleagues in the consultancy. “We’re really efficient. We kick ass and take names. We’re not ‘nice.’ It’s not easy for this sort of woman. Carla was set up with a guy; his report after one date was that she wasn’t supportive enough. On a first date! What did that guy need: his napkin tucked in? We are not those people.”

And so, with the happiest memories of her own childhood in suburban New Jersey, Carla decided to go it alone. She quit smoking, moved back to New York, turned down high-prestige, full-time jobs in favor of consulting work that would give her more flexibility. She visited a shrink “to be sure I was going to do this for the right reasons, not because I was lonely or as a substitute for a boyfriend or to have a pet.” She concluded that her motives were in order and that she was ready. “I tested it and found I could earn a living and support a family. I had enough savings so I could hire a nanny. I didn’t want to be a frazzled mom who had no life. I wanted being a mother to be the biggest thing in my life, but not the only thing.”

The doctor who performed the in vitro fertilization had picked what he thought would be a good match from his roster of anonymous donors, all of whom were married medical interns with children. After a first attempt that miscarried, Carla got pregnant on Valentine’s Day 1991. She was 42. Nine months of unremitting nausea followed, complicated by an unusual form of arthritis that had plagued her since college and fused part of her spine. But when Teddy was born that November, the nausea disappeared, and with it whatever doubts that may have lingered. “Without overdramatizing, I feel I was reborn the day Teddy was born,” Carla says. “I found who I was the day I became a mother.”

At the Graubard apartment, a few blocks from Dalton, thousands of photographs, school art projects, athletic honors, and vacation souvenirs cover every surface. If there was ever any tendency toward spareness here, it has been overwhelmed by an aggressive demonstration of family love. Even Carla’s office, once situated in a back bedroom, had to give way. After she adopted another son, Clay, in 1996, she turned that space over to him. Her professional life is now corralled within the confines of a small desk in the living room.

Not that her professional life is booming. For the first few months after Teddy died she could not work at all. Then, when she felt she had to try, if only to provide normalcy for Clay, she found that the economy refused to cooperate. Where once she was well remunerated to advise Hearst and Reader’s Digest on the development of brand strategies, and to organize digital marketing initiatives for clients like Condé Nast, now she is living off savings. And the savings, while adequate, aren’t what they were; her father, a Bear Stearns broker, left her a major inheritance of the company’s stock, which turned to dust in 2008.

The energy and attention she formerly trained on clients’ publishing dilemmas and on supporting her kids’ every endeavor are now lavished on the possibly unending project of understanding what happened to Teddy. During the course of a long conversation recently—which she agreed to on the condition that the topic be confined to “Teddy’s life and the life of the Graubard family”—Carla, now 61, frequently illustrated her comments with documents drawn from neatly organized piles and portfolios: fulsome report cards, grade-school essays, a compilation of eulogies offered in Teddy’s memory.

Discussing the wonders of young Teddy seemed momentarily to lift Carla’s spirits. A calm and happy baby, he walked at 9 months. His unusual intelligence was also evident early. He would ask peculiar, probing questions (“How does the sound of a voice travel?”) and not accept answers without working them through for himself (“I found what infinity times three is! And it’s not three!”). For the much-loved boy, math and metaphysics had not yet diverged, and when he insisted that you could “avoid the rain” by how you paced your steps, the joy of discovery must have seemed almost like poetry.

But as he grew, as his blond floss turned to brown wool and he shot up in height, his thinking became more concrete. Math was easy; poetry was hard. When family friends ran into the Graubards getting burgers at Sassy’s Sliders on 86th Street, they’d find Teddy furiously flipping through pages of massive textbooks. Drew Heuman-Gutman, a preschool classmate who stayed close after they moved on to different schools, was sometimes baffled by his riddles and arcane interests. “He stayed up late reading almanacs,” he says. If there were signs of anything odder than that, Carla missed them. “Maybe sometimes he didn’t know the names of everyone in his class,” she recalls. “And his handwriting was the worst I’ve ever seen.” But when your son teaches himself the theory of relativity by the time he is 12, you mostly want to celebrate your luck.