Love Story – A Modern Love Story – Vogue

When I was 18, my dad was outed as a serial cheater, and my mother fashioned into a martyr of a cast many generations out of date. This took all of two minutes, when she called me at boarding school to say that he was leaving. And he’d already siphoned off money to buy a house on the other side of the tracks in our tiny Montana town. I hung up the phone feeling marked. I wished, like a hermit crab, I could shed this tacky, suffocating shell for something placid and pink, with smooth edges.

I don’t remember crying. I do remember sitting down and writing an email to my best friend, a very serious Quaker and a virgin like myself, a letter of which I remember nothing, but she’s assured me it was in caps lock, thousands of words long, and began: “MY LIFE HAS TAKEN A BAROQUE AND GARISH TURN.” Baroque was a word I learned not in my AP art history class, but AP English, where it was more clearly defined: “A disinherited American girl learns that men are monsters and finds herself shored up on an unfamiliar moral plane as flimsy as a communion wafer.”

Four years later, my Barnard therapist—a towering bald man with a single earring in his right ear and an office inside a private gym—suggested that I hated my father more than my siblings hated him because, as a writer, I was sensitive to the fact that he’d ruined all my stories. It was the revelation I had been paying him for. I did hate my dad for marring my childhood memories! He was like a massive oil spill polluting the bluest ocean in the world. Like the time my mother drove us 15 hours each way, screaming and sticky, to stay at my grandparents’ century farm in South Dakota, which turned out to be a huge ruse so that we could come home to a brand-new tree house in the yard! Built by my dad! (I immediately got stuck, so much so that he had to nail extra steps into the tree while I sobbed facedown on the plywood floor, refusing to even peek out the trapdoor, whereas, my sister just jumped and broke her arm.)

“It isn’t the same story,” I whined to my therapist. “Because he was actually with his painter mistress the first time I got to drive the combine and dropped that popsicle in my lap!”

Bald therapist spent years gently encouraging me to share positive stories about my father with my friends without castrating him. I will tell you the only story about my father that I like, my favorite story of prelapsarian bliss in the whole world!

It was 1986, the middle of July in the high country. My mother—a tan 5-foot-5 with curly black hair cascading out of her head every which way—was bundled in a rust-color Patagonia puffer, cagoule, and Norwegian sweater combo, furiously throwing wood on the fire. A snowstorm was whipping up and slamming into double-plated windows at a pack-it-in-pack-it-out backcountry chalet on the Continental Divide. All the lights, and the oven, run on temperamentally dangerous propane. There’s no road. My mother—a native South Dakotan who drove across the country after graduate school answering help wanted ads in newspapers in towns she liked—had ended up managing this quasi-bed-and-breakfast populated mainly by hikers hearty enough to struggle seven miles to sleep on a ratty mattress and listen to their neighbors have sex through paper-thin walls. She insisted only that the place hire an all-women crew. This was her 10th season; she’d seen it all, which might explain why she was single.

The park service had sent a fire lookout over to issue a warning against leaving. My mother was becoming increasingly wary of the stir-crazy shoptalk from a group of 40-year-old guys who were three trail beers away from skiing down the mountain to their deaths. (This literally entails crossing a tree-covered area so loved by wild animals they call it “bear valley.”) She once told me there’s more to fear from men than the elements. Perhaps that’s why she proposed a plan to detain them: a chalet-wide country luau–themed song competition. The winner got a huckleberry pie, baked by my mother. It was the sort of fully baked plan that would only occur to an associate pastor in charge of youth programming, which is what she was in the off-season.

My father was one of these problematic guests at the chalet. He was at this time either a projectionist at the first “truly independent” movie theater in Helena, Montana, or a bus driver for the public schools. True to his personality, he was mostly just keen on entertaining his newfound audience, and my mother in particular. His friend Rick—a thin-lipped geologist who would become my brother’s godfather—had handily strapped a banjo to his backpack, and my father spent the afternoon ripping down all the floral curtains, fashioning local Hawaiian garb, and penning an ode to the “Cha-ladies of Granite Park,” with special focus on their intrepid leader. That the singers were all over six feet and the curtains were dainty did not daunt my father, who to his credit is still a class-A entertainer of women. He insisted for “authenticity purposes” that no one wear any other clothes. My mother thought he was “funny.” He ate the pie straight from the tin with a fork . . .

It’s hard to elucidate how weird it was that my father—a wayward atheist the “same height as Lincoln” who worked only to save enough money to go sell blue jeans in Berlin—pair-bonded with a plucky woman half his size with a yen for the kind community organizing that translates well to coordinating children’s doctors appointments. My dad used to say it didn’t matter, because they were in love. In fact, he was in love and spent the entire summer sending her pages upon pages of letters, all of which just said I love you at the top and the bottom, and had them transported by mule from the trailhead, explaining how they should spend the rest of their lives together, starting with him going to law school, which is, to be fair, a promise he kept.

They were married six months later, having never so much as lived in the same city.


When I turned 26, a no-nonsense lawyer pointedly gave me a children’s book called Are You My Boyfriend? A cartoon blonde, in pigtails, leaves her house and approaches a series of men, and breathlessly asks them all, “Are you my boyfriend? Are you my boyfriend?” Pie-eyed at first, she gets more and more disheartened as she down-cycles through male archetypes, facing rejection from the tough guy, the rich cad, and the average guy. Had I written this book, she would have walked around her living room questioning inanimate objects, like a cuckoo clock or a salt shaker shaped like a turkey. “Are we involved?” Or I’d have set it outside, where any number of male specimens might have the free time to gaslight her into thinking they shared a sexual history.

When I received this children’s book, I was “writing” in Los Angeles for two months, where I was “involved” with the keyboardist in Sting’s daughter’s band, who I’d met peeing in a parking lot behind a gallery; a married television writer, who I met at the house party of an actor from Girls (the actor tried to physically restrain me from going home with the writer, telling me to “stop ruining lives”); and the writer of some ’90s films, who used to be married to a thin, sophisticated friend of my mentor.

No one, in the five years I’d been sexually active, had said, “This is my girlfriend!” But I didn’t care! I saw all the time I spent downtown in New York amassing formative sexual experiences as a weeding-out process that would stop the second I met someone worth marrying. (I was hoping my most formative experience—the one where I lost my virginity to a plumber in an open relationship in Montana—wasn’t a harbinger.)

I flew back to New York in the fall looking for a fresh start, and a poster for my apartment. “There’s nothing like New York in the fall!” I DM’d an Internet stranger, this guy who designed the posters for the 2003 film The Brown Bunny. I wanted the one of the blow job scene, to give my apartment a NSFW vibe, and explained how I couldn’t pay for it, but . . . I loved his work! He agreed to give me his last copy for free as long as I met him in “a public place.” I went to his art opening, where he was encouraging everyone to eat a massive book he’d made out of gum. I have a permanent retainer, so I handily made a gum crown and put it in my hair. From far away, in pink camo pants and gauged ears, he looked too political to sleep with me.

That he realized I was in distress before I did, and spent the next 10 minutes quietly threading the gum out of my hair, while I cried, was not the kind of first impression I planned on making. I also didn’t plan, the next day, to break my charger on deadline, and call him asking to borrow an extra of his. (“You’re a hacker, right? You have . . . boxes of Internet cords lying around.”) Nor did I think I would spend the next three months flat broke, having smartly—I thought!—sunk the book advance I received for ghostwriting a YA book into last year’s worth of rent on a too-expensive apartment, forgetting that I needed petty cash, and a place to live for the rest of my life. Or that a man who designed a blow job poster would be a workaholic who left the studio to eat dinner at 4:15 a.m., which, as it happened, was also right about the time I fell out of the club every morning—and that he’d want to watch me sober up at diners all over the city.

It’s difficult to elucidate how unnatural it seemed that I could pair-bond with this man. Me, a woman who refused to stay in a job longer than a year, or go underground, and was that fall living on her best friend’s living room couch in an apartment with only one key. Here was an anarchist who bought his own apartment at the age I am now, because he sold a painting to the guy who cracked the human genome; someone who had strong feelings about Palestine and eating meat, who had never had a sip of alcohol despite growing up in New York; who seemingly couldn’t unroll one of his pants because he’s a biker but could handily break into your apartment when you lost your keys. “He can fix anything, and I break everything!” I crowed to my friends.

“But are you dating?” They said.

I wasn’t sure we ever would, and “I didn’t care!” I said, over and over for two months like a broken record. I say two months because that’s when my life took a baroque and garish turn, and Brown Bunny poster guy received a phone call from a banker at six in the morning, politely but maybe a little frantically trying to explain what had happened to me, which was that I had fallen down a flight of stairs out of a house party on Wooster and hit my head on his door—I mean that he heard a bang and then found me crumpled outside, passed out. Banker boy laughed nervously, trying to establish his innocence. He’d just touched me enough to prop me up at his kitchen table, and got me to unlock my phone.

I vaguely remember the conversation going something like this:

“We’re just going to call someone you trust. Who do you trust?” Says Banker boy.

“I DON’T TRUST ANYONE!” Sobs.

“It’s okay, there’s gotta be someone you can call. Just tell me his name.”

Ten minutes later, Brown Bunny poster guy is kneeling in the grass in Washington Square Park, putting deli store ice on my knees and head as the sun comes up. “Are you my boyfriend?” I want to know. He patted me on the head, laughing, and said, “I guess I am.” We celebrated by eating latkes at Veselka, and then he went back to work.

And I knew right away I’d found him, and it—the perfect story.

Love Stories is a series about love in all its forms, with one new essay appearing each day for the first two weeks of February, until Valentine’s Day.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

SpeedDating brings you all the best news and advice on everything from Relationship Advice for singles & Couples, how-tos, love quotes, sex advices, to dating trends and so much more.