A Modern Marriage
A maroon velvet curtain.
That’s what first caught my eye.
A thick maroon velvet curtain hanging down in the back of a loft apartment, preventing me from seeing into the room or rooms behind. What was that doing there? A curtain so heavy that no light penetrated it from behind, signaling that whatever was back there must have been really taboo. I thought this was supposed to be a regular open-door New Year’s Eve party. Why was part of it sectioned off?
The ad in Time Out New York had been straightforward enough: a hundred-dollar entrance fee for a festive all-you-could-drink New Year’s Eve bash. True, there was kind of a hush-hush vibe to it, a secret password that we had to speak into the intercom outside the door to be buzzed in. The location was a little sketchy, too, come to
think of it: two floors of a loft in the Garment District, which after business hours is one of the darker and more abandoned sections of Midtown. And the party itself definitely had an edge, no question about it—a skeazy, red-light sort of edge, sexy in a good way, though we couldn’t say exactly why.
But I didn’t need this. Mark and I were feeling lonely enough without finding ourselves on the wrong side of a velvet curtain. We were still relatively new to New York. We didn’t need a reminder that we weren’t seriously part of any scene or group. Two babes in the wood, that’s how we sometimes felt, left to our own devices in the Big Apple. Which is why we had scanned the ads, looking for a chance to explore the New York scene and hang with some like-minded locals. So what was a velvet curtain doing there, with a black-suited guard standing in front of it?
Mark had gone to the bathroom—nerves, most likely—so I sauntered over to the curtain alone. I felt confident that night in my formfitting, black sequined dress that was striking against my blond hair and new vermilion red lipstick.
I approached the sentry, or bouncer, or whatever he
was. Asked what he was being so exclusive about, or wasn’t he going to tell me?
“No one’s allowed inside . . . unless they’re with their partner,” he said with a wink.
A wink? What was that supposed to mean? Mark strode back from the bathroom and I remembered suddenly why I was still so attracted to him. He was dressed simply: dark denim jeans, black T-shirt, and blazer. I filled him in about the mysterious wink and we stood there discussing a minute. Here we were, as I said, virtually alone in the big city.
Alone. Free. We didn’t have to report to anyone, didn’t have to get anyone’s approval. Sharing our Dr Pepper as usual to remind us of our roots, we realized that we were alone in the best sense of the word, with all the adventurous possibilities that entailed. No one knew us. No one could tattle on us. We were as anonymous as anyone could be in a city of eight million people. And anonymity could be our engine to explore. We were responsible adults, holding down responsible jobs, but we were also young and charged. Eager and hungry. Ready for anything NYC had in store for us. No curtain could hold us back—not even a dark velvet one.
Instinctually, we took each other’s hands.
And that’s probably the main thing you need to know about us, about this book, about this lifestyle. We held each other’s hands.
Whatever was beyond that curtain, it would not distract us from each other. It would focus us on each other.
It would not destroy us as a couple. It would strengthen us as a couple.
That was the plan, anyway, as we approached the curtain. The hope and intention. Could we manage it, after five years of marriage? Could we pass through that curtain, start down that path, whatever dangers lay ahead, and keep our union intact?
The curtain opened . . .
A Modern Marriage
I’m Christy Kidd. I’ve been happily married for fourteen years, and we’ve never lost our passion for each other. On the one hand, there’s the me that lives by routine. Monday night is taco night—ordering from our favorite Mexican place down the street every week. Friday night is date night—pizza and a movie. Every other Saturday morning is volunteer work with the kittens at the nearby animal shelter.
On the other hand, there’s the me that’s enthralled by that velvet curtain and the promise of the forbidden.
By day, I’m a hardworking, superconscientious accountant. By night . . . Well, you’ll find out.
Some people may refer to me as a southern belle, so genuinely sweet and innocent that no one would ever imagine there was another side to me. Like if I say a curse word at work, people stop and say, “That sounds so cute coming from you!”
And here’s a surprise. You know what made me this way? In one word: Texas.
Before there was even the hint of a velvet curtain in my life, there was Texas. I’ve often thought that the only way anyone would ever start to understand what I’m like—deeply conventional but also drawn to the illicit side of things—was if I could explain the unique phenomenon of growing up Texas. It’s like nothing else this planet has to offer.
Texas in the 1940s—a long time ago and a faraway place.
My mother, Carol, was born in 1947 on the outskirts of Dallas, the youngest of six children. She herself says she was unexpected. She lived with her parents and loved them both dearly. Her daddy, Olin Willoughby, was a janitor for the local school district and later at a Woolworth’s in downtown Dallas. Bessie was a stay-at-home housewife. Mom didn’t go to college, but worked as a teacher and babysitter at a nearby religious day care center. She was brought up Baptist, and the Lord’s word always counted high up in her list of things to be reverent about.
Mom’s first marriage at the age of nineteen lasted
a grand total of two weeks. It wasn’t what you’d call a fancy wedding—just a hit-and-run at the local justice of the peace. Her husband’s name was David, and he showed his true colors right off the bat. On the drive back from their honeymoon in Oklahoma he snapped and tried to run their car off the road. Both of them were naive virgins on the wedding night, as far as I know. A fact that taught me something pretty important: Traditional morality may tell you to safeguard your virtue, but offers no guarantees. Look how it worked for my mom and her guy!
In any event, bride and groom got back to his parents’ house and David announced he wanted an annulment. Everyone was very respectful to each other, saying they were sorry it hadn’t worked out, but Olin was glad to have his baby girl back safe and sound. The next marriage came up real sudden, and it didn’t last much longer, maybe a month or so before Mom realized she’d made a mistake. It wasn’t anything traumatic; he was a family friend and she just realized he was more friend than husband material.
So Mom was just nineteen and already twice divorced. Time to find the man of her dreams! Dallas was a dry county then (no alcohol could be bought or sold), so she and her
older sister would cross the county line on weekends and go over to Fort Worth, where there were a couple of honky-tonks side by side: the Golden Saddle and the Silver Buckle. Mom would have a beer or sometimes a Salty Dog, a highball of vodka and grapefruit juice with salt on the rim, and hit the floor dancing to the country-and-western songs. Eventually she danced with a man who caught her eye, James Alfred, aka husband number three. But they didn’t stay married for long. James turned out to be a very controlling individual. When they went grocery shopping he’d buy whatever he wanted her to make for him, paying no mind to what she wanted. The breaking point was when she said she wanted to buy bananas and he refused.
That was the last straw for my mom with James Alfred. She left him after a year without telling him she was pregnant—with me!
Now she was in her early twenties, thrice divorced and with a baby on board. It was really time to find Mr. Right! Mom moved back in with her parents and resumed going out to dances with her older sister. And not incidentally raising this little child in blond pigtails named Christy.
I had a great childhood living with my beautiful mother and old-fashioned, wonderful grandparents. I took violin
lessons at school and was content to practice “Amazing Grace” after dinner every night. We had no washing machine, so every Saturday Grandpa, Mom, and I drove to the Laundromat down the street. I used to love that routine. Other families were there, too, and the kids always had a lot of fun, pushing the carts around and playing hide-and-seek around the washers. I loved how warm and velvety the bedsheets were, so cozy and good to hug fresh out of the dryer.
These were not only family bonding experiences at the Laundromat, giving us all a chance to enjoy being with each other, but also a chance to have fun with the other kids. It gave me the ability to make fun for myself wherever I was. Folding towels was my favorite thing to do. That and cadging quarters from the older folks and secretly trading candies at the vending machines in back with the other kids. That was the kind of enterprising group spirit that was to come in handy later, in the offices of corporate America and . . . hah! . . . behind that velvet curtain.
Anyway, about my mom’s fourth marriage. Had to happen. She was still young and outgoing. Sometimes the naval clubs near where we lived would open up to civilians and Mom would go there to kick up her heels. It was
at one of these clubs that she met the navy man Charlie. He courted her pretty hard, taking her on dates to dinner and drive-ins, which were a big deal back then. Sometimes I went with them to the drive-in, sitting in the backseat spellbound by The Exorcist, which I saw six times and gave me my love of horror movies.
But once they tied the knot, home life with Charlie’s family was distinctly not a treat. Charlie’s mom was Native American, Cherokee, and a very strong matriarch. Everyone did what they were told, and they still lived in fear of her. She wasn’t overly fond of me—never accepted me as a full grandchild because I was a stepdaughter to her son Charlie. And Charlie himself was no piece of cake, either. He was a military man, strict and not overly jolly. He flew planes for the navy, transporting nuclear weapons, or at least the parts for nuclear weapons, and corpses back from Vietnam. Not exactly cheerful duties. He insisted that my mom keep his uniforms ironed crisp and his dress whites so bright you’d have to squint. He’d expect dinner waiting for him when he got home from work at 4:30 p.m. sharp. Yes, sir! He wanted chicken-fried steak, dumplings, and a green salad every time, with the same slippery orange French dressing. (This was before
the amazing invention of ranch dressing.) No frivolous stuff like dessert. No, sir!
He grounded me every chance he got for doing absolutely nothing. Every time I opened my mouth to speak, it was “talking back.” I actually got straight A’s from kindergarten all the way through my senior year in high school, graduating tenth in a class of 306, and managed to play first violin in the high school orchestra, but I always seemed to find myself grounded. For a person who didn’t like to feel penned in, being grounded was a killer. I vowed to avoid that feeling as much as possible when I got old enough to fly the coop.
So I spent a lot of time daydreaming of moving beyond Texas and getting a job teaching English in Paris. I kept my nose down, and eventually Charlie got transferred to Pennsylvania, and later to Washington State. Luckily I was able to stay in Dallas with my grandparents. I never had my own bedroom in their small house, had to sleep on a foldout couch in the living room through all of high school. Nevertheless I was glad for the chance to live with the people I loved.
I met my real father only once, when I was eighteen years old. He had found out where I worked, at a local
auto-parts store, and showed up unexpectedly one evening. We agreed to meet later at a nearby diner for coffee. James Alfred was driving a brand-new truck, a four-door decked out with a dualie. (That’s two rear tires on each side, for those of you who missed out on a Lone Star upbringing.) He had his very nice wife with him and a sweet seven-year-old son I kind of felt sorry for. I was so nervous I just stared into my coffee, unsure of how to act or what to say. It didn’t take me long to put two and two together. Buying and tricking out a late-model truck is what you do in Texas when you come into new money. He wanted to be sure I wouldn’t come after him for any of it. How shitty was that? He was acting super nice, but his intentions were not honorable. He was covering his ass, basically. I assured him I was fine and didn’t need anything. I had recently received a two-thousand-dollar scholarship from the local Chevrolet dealer to help me pay for junior college; I didn’t need anything from him or anyone else. He wrote his number down on a paper napkin in case I ever needed to reach him, but I stuck it in some random high school mug and waited for it to lose itself in the general ebb and flow of life.
After high school, I moved to an apartment in Addi
son, Texas, with a high school friend named Cinnamon Maples—only in Texas—and continued working as a parts specialist while taking my basic college courses. I ultimately transferred to Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos (thirty miles south of Austin) to get a degree in Finance. It had the reputation of being a party school, but aside from playing tennis and being on the pep squad, I pretty much kept my nose to the grindstone. All in all, an ordinary upbringing: kind of sad, kind of fun, and kind of neither. It’s like everyone else, I guess: we lived our lives the best we could.
Just one thing I want to add, because it nails something down about who I am and where I come from. I’m the daughter of a woman who married five times (Charlie twice), yet I still enjoyed a stable family structure. For all the parade of men traipsing in and out of my mom’s life, my grandparents always provided a loving home with strong, deep-rooted family values. In fact, they celebrated their fiftieth anniversary with a special-order grocery store cake—white cake and white frosting—and streamers and Grandma’s best tablecloth. How sweet is that? It’s like all of this peculiar history gave me the values of a traditional family life, with some latitude thrown in to bend the rules
the way I saw fit. It might help explain how my marriage to Mark is the most important thing to me ever, even while allowing the possibility to have an arrangement that introduces strangers into the most intimate part of our lives.
Mark was also born and raised in Texas, and it colored his life as much as it did mine. Although some might criticize it for being an overly conservative state with too many people on death row, Mark sees Texas as a place where people have so much pride they believe it should become its own country. A place whose dignity comes from the sacrifices made at the Alamo, where you see more state flags than U.S. flags.
His family background is uncannily similar to mine. Also lower-middle class. My mother, Carol, married five times, his mother, Karen, four. Mark’s birth parents divorced before he was five, so for most of his childhood he moved back and forth between Amarillo, where his dad, Gene, and his stepmother, Carolyn, lived, and the little city of Harlingen, thirty miles from the Mexican border, where his mom lived.
His folks were opposites. His dad, an electrician for the Santa Fe Railroad, had a giant brown ZZ Top beard,
mostly bikers for friends, and taught Mark to think for himself. Unlike the fathers of Mark’s friends who taught them to think about sports, Mark’s dad encouraged him to think about science and religion, to form his own opinion rather than blindly accept the more conventional opinions of his classmates and friends.
His mom was more of a straight arrow with a strong religious bent. They married when she was seventeen, when she dropped out of school and took a bunch of minimum-wage jobs like a grocery checker or bank teller. Religion was a big part of both of our lives, especially Mark’s. During her next three marriages, his mom got progressively more religious, becoming a hard-core Jehovah’s Witness. She had Mark knocking on people’s doors Saturday mornings, going to Bible study Tuesday evenings, and going to church or Kingdom Hall every Thursday and Sunday.
In the end, he claims religion gave him a solid set of values: honesty, respect for others, the good sense not to lie or cheat or steal—to be an upright human being. Just the fact that he would see the good in that situation tells you a lot about who he is. He went on to get a degree in Finance at the University of Texas in Austin and never looked back.
There’s one childhood memory that still sort of flips Mark out, however. One time his mom sent him to be with his dad for the summer, and when he got back she’d married a neighbor from down the street whom he didn’t even know she was dating. “Oh, Mark, by the way you need to know something . . .” So the guy’s kids, who had just been distant neighborhood pals, were suddenly his step-siblings living in his bedroom, a whole clan of virtual strangers going through his stuff, doing whatever they wanted. I mean, strangers in his bedroom! But to take the long view, it gave both Mark and me the overriding impulse to cherish one particular person above all else.
I’ve gone out of my way to tell you about our Texas upbringings because they were a combination of crazy and not-crazy, gregarious and loner, conventionally normal and altogether not. It totally formed who we are. Between the religious dimension and the military presence, between the curfews and the strict table manners, we took in old-fashioned values with our mothers’ milk, as it were—values both to live by and also to rebel against. If not for Texas, we both would have been completely different people. It taught us to think for ourselves, not to take anyone’s word on how things ought to be. We could
go forth from Texas and experiment with life as much as we chose, setting our own course with no fear of losing our bearings.
Mark and I met when I was part of a group of auditors conducting an internal audit of a bank in Victoria, Texas. It’s a humid little burg known for housing the Texas Zoo, with more than two hundred species of animals and plants indigenous to Texas, and not much else. I was twenty-four years old and engaged to this guy named David, about whom I had severe second thoughts. David was half Portuguese and half Mexican, and we’d been going together since graduating from the same college about two years earlier. He was pretty well off—family money—but I didn’t like the way he flashed his wealth around. On my finger was the 1.1-carat diamond ring he’d given me. None of that mattered to me in the slightest. The relationship wasn’t going well.
One morning I came into the bank after a short trip to Laredo and saw this cute new guy. Mark was wearing khakis and a striped blue button-down polo shirt, sitting at a cubicle right by the door. It was like instant chemistry
between us. I didn’t know then that he’d been involved for two years with a woman he intended to marry, but I liked everything I saw about him. He was joking with people, but I could tell he was also a loner, like me. Don’t ask me how I got that; I just did. I guess he took to me instantly, too. (Much later, Mark told me his first impression of me was that I was “very vibrant and bubbly.”)
My job entailed making sure this little savings and loan had the proper controls and procedures in place before its sale to a larger bank could be completed. It was pretty involved for three weeks, so the whole group of us auditors stayed there in the Fairfield Hotel because it was too long a commute back to the home office in San Antonio every day. The hotel was next to a Western-type saloon where they had country dancing some nights. Well, like my mother before me, dancing sometimes gets me in trouble. After one particularly fun night, I decided to call Mark in his room and invite him up to mine. I had some random work-related question, but my muscles ached after a long day and pretty soon I asked him if he wouldn’t mind giving me a massage.
And then, you know how these things go. One thing led to another, and pretty soon we were kissing, and soon
after that we were lying down, gradually shedding our clothes. But I made him work for it. And then . . . it was spectacular. Let’s just say that for a series of acts taking place in Victoria, Texas, it was the opposite of Victorian.
But where had the time gone? We were late for the auditors’ van to get to the bank. Mark dashed down to his room to put on fresh clothes and we met up in the van like nothing had happened. We were determined to keep it secret from everyone else. But it was hard to keep my hands off him because something amazing had transpired between us during that long night. We had bonded in a way neither of us expected, even beyond the wonderful sex. We went from being coworkers to being something much deeper without even knowing how or why. We’d actually done quite a bit of talking, I realized, and tons of laughing. It had been very warm and comfortable and natural.
Something had clicked. Something indefinable and fun. But beneath the fun I could tell that we shared the same set of conservative values—a genuine respect for people that showed up as being sincerely nice. Like me, he’d been raised to believe that if you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all. It was important to me
that he was totally unlike my unreliable creep of a father. Mark was a rock. Reliable and steady. Bottom line was we kept good company together. Also, that loner thing continued to work for us both—not that we didn’t like being with people, because we did, but mostly what we liked was the two of us doing things by ourselves. We were kind of outgoing introverts, becoming more and more of a solid unit in the midst of other people. The upshot was we felt safe with each other—safe and sexy—more than with anyone in the world.
We’d work together all day, taking pains to make sure no one picked up on anything, and then we’d go at it all night, coming in the next morning after getting no sleep as if nothing had happened, trying to keep our eyes open wide enough to get our work done, and also to keep our hands off each other. I guess our appetites for each other were pretty amazing, because in addition to our nighttime activities we also started having regular hookups back at the hotel at lunch.
After our gig in Victoria was finished, it didn’t take us long to break up with our old partners. We moved to separate apartments in San Antonio one block from each other and resumed our relationship there. I discovered I liked
Mark more and more in this new environment. So when a gigantic opportunity came up pretty much out of the blue, I went for it only because I hoped and believed it wouldn’t break us up. I was offered a job at a copy company based in Atlanta that involved performing audits of their branch offices all over the world. As a kid from such humble beginnings, I couldn’t pass up this experience. Soon I was traveling business class and staying in gorgeous executive suites worldwide.
But it hit Mark like a ton of bricks. Not that I was moving away, because he also believed we’d manage to keep our relationship alive, but that such a job was possible. Maybe he, too, could bust the hell out of Texas! Soon enough he found a job with Kimberly Clark based in Wisconsin that had him traveling all over the globe. Between the two of us, we found ourselves living the next two years in China, Thailand, Israel, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Peru, Honduras, the Czech Republic, Nova Scotia, El Salvador, Australia, Italy, Chile, Switzerland, Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, Norway, and Holland. If that sounds like a dizzying array, it was—a full-fledged globe-trotting immersion in the world beyond the confines of the Lone Star State. But I wouldn’t say it made our heads spin. It
made our heads open to how many different ways there were to go about living your life. People lived in a vivid diversity of styles. There was less a straight-arrow way of going about things—it was much more complicated and flexible than we’d ever realized before. It was less a question of right or wrong than a seemingly infinite series of choices and possibilities.
During this flurry of travel, we continued hooking up with each other whenever we could. One time Mark was posted to Honduras and I was in nearby El Salvador. We spent a weekend at an isolated beach resort nearby (“nearby” had become a relative term) with sand dollars crawling around the black volcanic sand. Simple Texans that we were, we’d always thought sand dollars were these dead, petrified things on display between picture frames . . . but here they were wanting to crawl up our arms! Later that night we watched a herd of wild horses stampede up the beach where we’d been lying only hours before. It felt romantic and a little bit dangerous at the same time.
We learned a lot. We learned that people all over the world were basically the same. That they may have a million ways of doing things, but that if Mark made one of his silly jokes in an elevator, they’d laugh at it in Santiago
pretty much the same way they’d laugh at it in Shanghai. Mark had never actually seen anyone wearing a yarmulke before, and here he was on the streets of Jerusalem rubbing shoulders with a Hasid from Cracow. It made us both more accepting of the differences between people, and at the same time more appreciative of our commonality. We were all just people, no matter how differently we went about our business. It made us more adaptable, more independent thinking, and way more open-minded. It also gave us an appetite for even more novelty in our lives, even more exotic adventures, wherever they might present themselves.
Honestly, we were not the same people after our two years of world travel. It cut the umbilical cord, detaching us from our old Texas ways. We never would have been ready to accept where our lives would take us in the future if we didn’t have this great big exploration in our past.
It may sound odd, but the whole time we’d been flung far apart from one another in these various world capitals, we managed to grow closer. Neither of us ever had an experience that didn’t seem better once we’d relayed it to each other. It was as if no experience was complete until we’d shared it together. We found ourselves continuing to grow at the same pace, not away from each other, but
along with each other. Maybe because of our similar roots, we were like one person, changing but staying basically the same. Evolving together.
But as all things do, the travel started to pale after a while. Mostly the kind of people we were meeting were businessmen from America, and it wasn’t always scintillating. I was on the road 90 percent of the time, and it started wearing me down. We became a little bored and a lot exhausted, feeling that maybe we wouldn’t be missing that much if we returned to a more settled-down lifestyle. We were both coming to the same recognition at the same time that deep down we were homebodies, and each of us yearned to get cozy someplace where we could reestablish some routine in our lives. Boy, did that sound good: Thursday-night burgers, Sunday-afternoon matinees.
When it finally came time to come home, it was almost inevitable that “home” had come to mean a new thing to both of us. Home didn’t have to be Dallas or Fort Worth; home was wherever we were together. For the first time, we moved in under the same roof. Mark took a job near his home office in Wisconsin and I followed soon after. It almost didn’t even matter where it happened to be, after
all that constant travel. We were just happy finally to be together.
No, scratch that. Turns out it did matter where we happened to be. Wisconsin was cold. I had never felt such cold in my life. And Mark had to keep traveling for a while. There was one weekend when he was basking on a beach in Thailand and I was stuck in subfreezing Appleton, Wisconsin. I felt stranded. Mark felt guilty. Time for a fresh start on equal footing. Where to go? It was like a spin of the roulette wheel or a toss of the dice. We were young and free, and spontaneity had always seemed to work for us as a couple. How about the most challenging scene on the planet? Were we actually ready to take on New York City?
Enter my best friend from tenth grade. Kevin was this wonderful character who’d always been a bit different from the other guys in high school: smart, witty, into the same music I was. We’d gone to both junior and senior proms together without him once putting the moves on me. Which made me really question myself. Wasn’t I attractive enough? Did he think we needed to have more in common, even beyond our wine coolers? And then the answer came
floating out one day, like a silver key that unlocks the party door. Kevin was gay!
Kevin had moved to the Big Apple a couple of years earlier to take a job as a controller in the airline industry, and he urged us to take the plunge. Hey, at least we’d know one person in New York, right? Believe me, we would never have dared to try if we hadn’t just had this completely immersive experience in world travel.
So we went for it. Mark set up an interview for a job in Manhattan. With his heart in his throat he made his way east. I stayed in Wisconsin, sending out job feelers to New York through recruiters and email. It was November 1999, and Mark had never been to New York other than passing through JFK airport a couple of times.
He aced the job interview, despite his cheap suit, and proceeded to spend a month at Kevin’s place that could only be described as . . . interesting. Kevin was still early in the coming-out process—specifically, that part that involves a lot of wild drugs and new faces around the breakfast table every morning. After a month on the couch, Mark was motivated to find a place of his own ASAP. What he found was a co-op one subway stop farther from Manhattan, in the Forest Hills section of Queens. With mirrored walls
everywhere, like in a bachelor pad. But one thing made the mirror question moot: It had 1,100 square feet of living space—huge by New York City standards.
I had received several job offers in New York by this point and was only too happy to relocate to a climate that had to be warmer than Wisconsin. We threw everything into a U-Haul and drove nine hundred miles across the ice-covered tundra with two cats shedding hair and freaking out the whole way. But I think I shed even more hair at my first sight of Queens Boulevard. The graffiti! The grime! There didn’t seem to be a whole heck of a lot of color—black and gray was the principal palette. When I saw a homeless guy peeing in a telephone booth, I confess I broke down. I may have even uttered that timeless, last-resort phrase of pure panic: “My God, what have you gotten us into?” We had just left silos and dairy cows and here were things I couldn’t even put a name to. Huddled shapes. Architecture that was soaring and oppressive, both at once.
And those eleven hundred square feet of living space? They didn’t exactly expand my vocabulary, either—unless you count the sound uh-uh. Not uh-huh for yes! great! but uh-uh for this will not fly. I walked around the apartment
literally unable to make my mouth say anything but uh-uh. Pink toilet in the pink bathroom. Avocado walls. Carpeting with the sort of fiber that gives off a scent you don’t want to name. Even after you’ve scrubbed it and scrubbed it, even after you’ve cut out what you think is the offending portion, it continues to put out the same stink as what was emanating from the hollow of the subway entrance nearby—a combination of old urine, garbage, and rats. The apartment was triple the rent of our place in Wisconsin and it was a piece of shit—pink and avocado shit. I wasn’t scared, exactly. More like stunned. We weren’t visiting this apartment, this neighborhood, this city. We were residing here. There was no going back. Nothing in all my world travel had prepared me for the shock. We had to bribe our super (superintendent—the live-in manager of the building) a hundred dollars to get a parking spot. Everyone and everything had a price. Welcome to the greatest city on earth.
We had no family for thousands of miles around. We didn’t know a soul except for a high school friend who was tripping his brains out on Ecstasy. Our two beloved cats looked like they’d put their claws deep inside an electric socket. But it was a lucky thing, as it turned out. Because
as we were to discover in due time, New York wasn’t only uh-uh. New York also had the best uh-huh in the whole world.
Happy New Year!
Flash forward six years to a happier new year. It’s now 2005 and a lot of great things had happened. For starters, we’d gotten married in Hawaii the following summer. Yes, after surviving our first winter in Queens, we saw how well we were getting along—how we shared the same old-fashioned values but were willing to put a new spin on them together, always together—and we decided to make it a lock. We used frequent flyer miles that were about to expire and flew first class to Maui, where Mark pestered me to wake up every dawn and watch the sun rise with him. He knew I wasn’t a morning person but he kept going at me every day until finally I walked out there with him to see the damn sunrise and there was a glass of champagne waiting for me with a diamond ring in it. And Mark was down on both knees—not just one knee but both. So unabashedly sweet! We got matching Hawaiian outfits (a shirt for Mark and matching dress for me) and
went snorkeling for six hours, happy as clams . . . and then got married that same evening. We had officially eloped.
By that time we’d also moved a couple of times within New York: East Village, Upper East Side, and then to that section of Manhattan near Third Avenue called Kips Bay. We were both savers, another by-product of our frugal upbringing, and we’d managed to purchase an apartment in a prewar building with nice little amenities like herringbone wood parquet floors. Basically your traditional New York living room and one-bedroom apartment, warm and inviting rather than superchic. No frills, really, except for Mark’s pride and joy: a Rush lithograph we hung on the wall, number forty-six out of only fifty made, signed by all three members of the great rock group.
Anyway, it was from here that we conducted our lives in a steady fashion. We both got promotions in our jobs and were making decent money. Mark switched careers from auditor to financial analyst at a prominent fashion design company. Thanks to crazy Kevin, I got a job as a controller in the airline industry as well, then became controller at WNYC in the city. That’s the radio station that airs that fabulous interviewer Leonard Lopate. Our cats Felix and Max had finally adjusted to city life, and so had
we. We went out to bars and clubs with friends from work or we socialized with neighbors. People seemed to like us because we were easy to talk to—but basically we preferred to hang by ourselves. I swear you’d say we were an old married couple by the way we lived with routines, coming home from work and putting a cat on our laps, not all that different from the people we grew up with in south-central Texas, despite being in the heart of downtown NYC.
But although we successfully kept up the appearance of doing things by the book, in truth we were itching to break out and live by our own rules. Live life to its fullest, and if that meant busting the status quo, then bust it we would!
And so it happened that we found ourselves alone on New Year’s Eve 2005. We’d decided not to go back to Texas for the holidays as we usually did. We called some New York friends, but everyone had flown off to be with their families. We were feeling both a little stir-crazy and out of it, to boot—for all the city savvy we’d amassed in the last few years, we were still just a couple of hick transplants at heart. We didn’t want to drive anywhere, what with so much drinking, so Mark looked online to see if there were any parties nearby. All the ads were pretty much alike: loft apartment . . . multiple rooms . . . opportunity to mix and meet. But there was one ad that intrigued us because it didn’t give a physical address, just a neighborhood not far from us, and it wouldn’t give us the password until we paid the party fee online and committed to the reservation. Our interest was piqued. Password for a party! It seemed kind of edgy, and we were in the right kind of mood, so before we knew it . . .