RioGringa asked in the comments a while back about how me and the husband met. Really it isn’t such an interesting story. We met through friends. But now that isn’t much of a post, is it?
I only meant to write a little about how C and I met. But once I got rolling the story just got longer and longer and I found I couldn't stop. Really, it's ridiculous how carried away I can get. You'd think I've got nothing better to do. (Do I?)
I originally published this in two sections and then got sick of seeing it taking up all that space at the top of my blog, so I buried it down here in the archives.
So if you're up for it, here it is - the story of how we met in all of its self-important minutiae. Pull up a chair, maybe get yourself some coffee. You'll be reading for a while!
I might as well just come out and admit it here. I’m a Barnard girl. I don’t know why that embarrasses me to say. Maybe because of the expectations that go along with it. You know, that I should be president of a bank by now, or provost at another Seven Sisters, or at the very least be finishing up my third Pulitzer winning novel. I never have done very well with expectations.
But I am, and now before you go imagining me all white-gloved and penny-loafered attending socials with the boys at Columbia, I should point out that Barnard was known for breeding a pretty rag-tag bunch of smoking, drinking, my-clothes-are-blacker-than-yours, head shaving, Camille Paglia quoting, extremely smart over-achievers who challenged everything from Freud to sexual orientation to the intellectual acumen of the comely sorority material girls who had chosen Columbia over Barnard.
At least half of us, that is. The other half were orthodox Jewish girls who were already engaged to boyfriends studying at the yeshiva a few blocks away. Anyway, we didn’t exactly blend well with the born-to-the-manor boys across the street.
I had a boyfriend at the time, a bass player in a rock band. I thought he was the coolest thing ever for a while. He played at CBGB’s and the Nightingale and took me to the Village Idiot back before the hipsters discovered Hush Puppies, when it was still in the East Village and the bartender would crack cans of PBR on his head and chase out yuppies for ordering Rolling Rock Lite. He even licked my armpit on my 19th birthday. But things started to fall apart when I could no longer look away from my boyfriend’s deepening substance abuse problems. He made it to 90 days once, got his token and next night stole my debit card and $300 bucks and went on a bender. I clearly needed to re-invent my social life.
Enter MK, my Barnard roommate and best friend (still is). She was from Minnesota and had a friend attending the Berkley Conservatory in Boston who had a friend attending Brooklyn College in, well, Brooklyn. One Friday night she asked me if I’d like to get on the subway and go meet the Minnesota connection, once removed. That subway ride opened up a whole new world of friends all somehow tied to that time and place, who have been with me ever since, and whom I carry around (as one of them once beautifully said) like a crowd in my heart.
That first night I met the Minnesota friend, who I’ll call Rd, we sat around the table listening to Steely Dan in the sprawling apartment littered with books and cassette tapes, coffee stains and rolling papers, festooned with Christmas lights and mismatched furniture and random art installations in the corners. Rd asked if we’d like to go downstairs to the music room one of his roommates had set-up and mess around on his new keyboard synthesizer. A few hours later that roommate came in, a handsome Brazilian boy with a head of dark curly hair and a very pretty girl by his side. That boy was C and he and the girl were on their first date. She would become his girlfriend for the next 5 years and the music room would transform into a popular recording studio. Not much later, Rd and I would start dating.
That first night in Brooklyn, MK and I crashed on the couch and over breakfast the next morning, we sat with C who, in his adorably accented English, fretted over the conversation he now had to have with his good friend who happened to be the ex-boyfriend of the girl he had brought home the night before. (I’ll call her Fran, even though I’d like to call her something less pleasant.) In a funny, full circle connection, that good friend would later officiate our wedding.
C does not remember this moment. His memory of our first meeting was at a music club in the Village where he was running the sound. He claims it was there that he saw me for the first time, standing by the bar with the Brooklyn gang, MK and Rd and others, and he swears it was love at first sight. But I don’t quiet believe him – Fran was pretty bewitching and hovering somewhere nearby.
A few months later MK left to study a semester abroad in France and I was in the final stages of break-up with the bass player. She told Rd and the Brooklyn gang to keep me away from him and out of trouble. I don’t think her plane had even landed in Paris before Rd and I had tumbled into bed together.
And thus began my full-time entry into the circle that incubated that group of friends creatively and emotionally out of adolescence and into something akin to adulthood. The physical structure of that incubator was the apartment, a huge, inexpensive three bedroom with a living room big enough to roller skate around, a block from the Gowanus Canal. This was long before the neighborhood became overrun with hip restaurants and stroller pushing Manhattenites scrambling to buy up the brownstones. It was the early 90’s and packs of wild dogs still roamed the streets at night and the rotting canal with its long broken pumps had two feet of sulfury green sludge on top and stories were quietly whispered that it was where the mob dumped their hits. There was a chop-shop in a warehouse down the street. Sometimes late at night we would peer out from between the blinds and see a door suddenly open and a stream of 15 or so freshly painted, identical cars move out and disappear into the night. It was an odd, scrappy place, perfectly suited to the revolving cast of characters that moved through its doors.
There was JB, the beautiful, charmed brother of Rd, with his long dread-locks, love for herbal cigarettes and a brilliant head for history. He’s now a father, looks amazing in a tie and holds a prestigious position with the UN. There was Ana. C and her found the apartment together. She was a force of nature, with energy and ideas to spare, learning Spanish one day and Urdu the next. C still considers her one of his best friends. There was Dz, the bohemian child of the city, an impossibly bright star, whose quiet powers of accomplishment drew people to her. She came to the apartment by answering an ad on the NYU housing board. The morning she showed up to see it, she was greeted at the door by Rd, naked to the waist and wearing his sister’s floor-length black gypsy skirt, smoking a hand rolled cigarette and she said "I think I'm home." Rd’s sister was a sultry actress with full lips and a smoky voice. She and Ana would set up the video camera and film themselves singing torch songs and acting out monologues. Once they got drunk and danced naked on the roof. The neighbors and the landlord made a big fuss over that incident and the roof became strictly off-limits.
There were others, many who just passed through, and others who stayed on a while. Some who came later and some, like the Pre-Raphaelite beauty Rsa, who never lived there at all but who will forever be tied in my mind to that place and moment in time.
And of course there was C. He moved out of the apartment for several years and in with Fran who had a tidy, respectable place in a brownstone a few blocks away. But he was always a presence, a bit in the background, keeping an eye on things as it was still his name on the lease and his livelihood and career being built in the studio on the ground floor.
After we graduated, MK moved into the apartment and Rd and I moved in together in another, nearby apartment just off Smith Street, a few years before it exploded as the hip restaurant row of Brooklyn. At the time every morning found its sidewalks freshly littered with crack vials that sparkled like prisms in the sun. The Puerto Ricans who played dominos on cardboard tables on the corner were routinely shaken down by the police for dealing. The owner of the dry cleaner kept a rooster in a box on the window ledge and the Chinese take-out with graffiti and bulletproof glass had not yet been transformed into an overpriced French restaurant.
I loved our little apartment even though it was falling apart and the landlady’s heroin addicted son kept random bits of scrap metal in the hall. I called it the tree house because it was on the top floor and had very low ceilings. Anything you dropped on the floor would immediately roll towards the center of the sinking building. But Rd and I had a wonderful time. We played house, pretending to be grown-ups, buying our first computer and a French press, mixing gin and tonic for friends on hot summer nights, and growing basil in the window boxes.
We were great friends, but never should have become lovers. We tortured each other, fought loudly and passionately over politics and ideas, and things that never would have escalated to the breaking point had they not carried the burden of love and its desperate need for validation. He taught me a lot in those years. How to understand cinema, how to ride a bike in the city, and more about how to question authority than all those Barnard years ever did. He never fully taught me to believe in myself, although it wasn’t for lack of trying.
A few years went by, we fought, we made up, we made each other miserable and didn’t know how to let go. Eventually he moved out. It was early spring, there was still snow and we tried to look at it as though we were just getting a little time and space. I even went to Ikea with him to help him shop for his new apartment.
Later that summer, Rsa came to stay with me. She had just returned from studying in Spain and couldn’t return to her apartment until the summer subleter had moved out. One night she was fishing around for something to do and started calling up people from the old apartment. She left me a note under a jar of homemade salsa telling me she’d be at the Brooklyn Inn. I met her there when I got home from work and found her sitting at the bar with C.
Fran and him had broken up the previous fall. She hadn’t been treating him right for a long time and Rd and I often talked about them, and how bad we felt for C and what a miserable thing it was to be in love with someone when you can’t even see how wrong they are for you. Of course we were probably talking more about ourselves than them. It finally ended when she moved her patrician little butt back to Massachusetts and C, for the first time in a long time, was once again residing at the old Gowanus apartment.
That night, we had a few beers at the Brooklyn Inn and then C suggested we head into Manhattan. A band he knew was playing at Café Wha? in the Village and he could get us in for free. We hopped in his car and went to the club and a few hours later C and I found ourselves making out in his car parked in front of my apartment. We realized we were drunk and decided to call it a night. He smiled at me and said, “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
I remember the date, July 11, 1998, because the next day Brazil would loose to France in the World Cup finals. C had invited a group of people over to the apartment to watch the game and Rd was one of them. He had planned to talk to him about me, to see how he would feel if he asked me out on a proper date. But before C could even bring it up, Rd started in, talking about our relationship, about what a difficult break up it was. About how he missed me. C never called.
Rd and I were still very much up in each other’s business and would be for a while to come. We just couldn’t leave well enough alone and continued to test each other’s limits as friends and lovers. Dz once described our extended break-up like a single tooth extraction that took place over several years. Mostly it just hurt, especially when one of us started dating someone else. I remember once he was dating this girl I couldn’t stand. Because we thought we were so modern and hip, we pretended it was okay and that we could all hang out together. But I purposely kept calling the girl by the wrong name all night in my sweetest, most maternal voice. He would break up with someone, I would break up with someone and eventually we’d start testing each other out again. There was always this lingering doubt – was this just temporary? Or would we get back together and continue to make each other miserable?
Well a year and change later it was answered definitively. I had seen C occasionally after than night at Café Wha?, at a party, once on the street. We never discussed that night or the fact that he never called. I dated a few other people, changed jobs, started to get desperate to get out of the crumbling apartment, started to feel like I would never settle down and move on from my perpetual dissatisfaction.
Thanksgiving rolled around. Dz’s parents were famous for throwing eclectic Thanksgiving parties in their wonderfully kooky Village brownstone. Usually a handful of people somehow connected to that Gowanus apartment would show up. I’d been coming for several years already and would for many more to come. I think for me the warmth and meaning of Thanksgiving will forever be connected to that family and those yearly wine-soaked events, all of us gathered around the piano while Dz’s dad played old Broadway songs. That year, 1999, I found myself sitting across the table from C and later involved an epic, anything goes, sudden death championship ping pong match against him. We called it Help-Yourself because the room was small and anywhere the ball struck (walls, ceiling, bookshelf) was considered fair and in play. And later still, we found ourselves sitting on the porch outside, talking.
After the party he offered to give a ride home to everyone who lived in Brooklyn. I boldly hopped into the front seat and then suggested to him that he take the Manhattan Bridge, thinking, that because I lived closest to the Brooklyn Bridge that he would have to drop everyone else off first and I could stay until last and spend more time with him. But clearly he did not get the hint, saying, “Oh no, the Manhattan Bridge is too far and too difficult to get to.” The debate between the Manhattan versus the Brooklyn Bridge and which was the easiest way to get home would become an ongoing theme in our lives together.
Disappointed, I got out first. As I was saying good night to everyone in front of my apartment, I looked over at C and he winked at me. It was quick, but it was there. Excitedly I raced up the stairs and turned every light on in the apartment so in case, after dropping everyone else off, he decided to swing back down my street, he would see that I was still up. About 20 minutes later the phone rang.
It was him. He said he really liked our conversation that night and would like to continue it and could he take me out to dinner? I crawled into bed that night grinning from ear to ear. The following weekend we went out for dinner and when he kissed me goodnight on my doorstep I knew without a doubt that this was the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with.
Six months later we moved into together and two years later, we were married.
It’s funny you know, I started out wanting to write about C and I and how we met. I thought it would be quick. I mean really, we did meet through friends, end of story. But once I started digging around in the memories of that time and revisiting them, the more I missed my old friends and the more I wanted to hang out with them on the page. We’ve since been scattered to the four corners, quite literally. Anyway, the heart of the story isn’t even about C and I. It’s impossible to distill it to just that and not bring in the people and places that are indelibly inked onto our history.
I don’t necessarily believe that that there is a single defining moment or time in our lives that shapes us forever. I think it is a constantly evolving give and take. Those people are always there, that place is always shaping us, growing us up, reminding us of who we are. I also don’t believe in that old saying that “you can’t go home again.” Because you are home. It becomes you. You’re always there. The experiences and memories flow in your veins, the people are written on your skin and weaved in your hair forever, gathering again and again, like a crowd in your heart.
(I miss you guys.)