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Before You Were Born: A Fairytale of New York
Stories from our parents' surprisingly romantic youth: a French dancer learns that chivalry isn't dead from a Long Island Casanova.
By Colette McIntyre
My mother immigrated from France to New York City in 1981 to work as a dancer in Broadway shows like 42nd Street and Cats. My father was a Long Island Casanova, known for having a good time and wearing his heart on his sleeve. My parents seemed constantly elated to be in each other's presence; no one made my mother laugh like my father did. In 2009, after twenty-two years of marriage, my father was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died within six months. To celebrate my parents' remarkable love for one another, I decided to share their story with the world. Unfortunately, my father doesn't get a chance to speak, but try to imagine a few inappropriate puns and rhapsodic statements about my mother, and you'll get a decent sense of his side of the story.
So Mom, what was your dating life in New York like pre-Dad?
Well, I was surrounded by musicians so most of my boyfriends were musicians. Or actors or dancers. Totally inconsistent and not serious. Just fun.
Were you looking for a serious relationship?
No, no. Not whatsoever. I never expected to get married, ever. I didn't think it was my nature. I never met anybody who was interesting enough. I preferred my independence to everyone I met.
How did you meet Dad?
Most of us dancers needed to unwind when we came out of our show. One night, we decided to go dancing at the Hilton Hotel — since most of us were broke all the time, we needed a place that didn't have an entrance fee. The place was crowded, meaning that there were about fifteen people there, including my group of five. Then, I saw a young man — younger than me — dancing with an old lady. She must have been about sixty. I just thought that he was her son. Then I saw he was wearing a burgundy leather jacket and it was the summer. I thought that was ridiculous. He also had sunglasses on his head. I thought it was the funniest thing ever, but I also thought he was cute. I also thought it was nice of a young man to dance with his mother — I assumed that's who she was.
What kind of guy would bring his mom to a club? You have strange taste…
I don't know! I didn't know what to think! She clearly wasn't his girlfriend. He was holding her, but not tenderly. He wasn't hugging her or touching her. He was just holding her like you would somebody — how you say — you didn't want to be in a relationship with.
How did you end up talking to Dad?
I saw your Dad at the bar, getting himself a beer. I tapped him on his shoulder and I asked him if he could get a glass of water for me. I got my glass of water and your Dad told me that he noticed me and thought I danced very well. I thanked him, and then he asked me if I was there by myself. I told him no, that I was with my friends, and at that moment I turned around, and they all waved at me. They were leaving, but they all yelled at me to stay because I looked like I was having a good time.
Good move, girlfriends!
He asked me if I would like to sit down and talk with him. He told me he was twenty-five. I tried to tell him I was twenty-nine because I was ashamed of the fact that I was seven years older than him. I thought it was awkward but he couldn't care less. He said he always dated women who were older than him.
You were a cougar before that was a thing!
Yes, yes. We sat down around midnight and talked until four a.m. I realized I had to go home. He lived on Long Island, and I lived in Queens, so we decided to go to Penn Station together and split from there. When we got there, he said he would go with me to Queens because it was too late for me to go home on the train by myself. He said he would go back to Penn after dropping me off. So, he basically missed his train just to make sure I was safe. He took my phone number and he told me he would call me the next week.
Wait, you don't think that Dad was trying to get into your pants?
No! No! He knew that I lived at somebody else's house so I couldn't invite him up even if I had wanted to. Since I danced at night, I was a nanny during the day. I was living with the family and I told your father that. He was very gentlemanly. He didn't even give me a real kiss. He kissed me on the cheek. But when we talked about this night later on, when we were married, he told me that while we were talking, he had thought that I was a — how you say — "lady of the night."
He thought you were a prostitute?!
Because I had accosted him at the bar. But after listening to me and seeing how I behaved, he realized that he had made a mistake. It's because I'm the one who tapped him on the shoulder and I'm the one who picked him up. Let's be honest — I knew what I was doing. The glass of water was an excuse. In those days, that was considered very forward of a woman.
So what did you do for your second date?
He decided to take me out to Long Island, since I had never been there before. He picked me up at the train station with a huge teddy bear. I had told him during our conversation at the bar that I had never had any stuffed animals as a child. This time he was dressed sort of Wall Street-y, in a business suit. But, he was also wearing a Hawaiian necklace made out of… what did you call them?
Yes. I thought it was pretty silly but cute. When I asked him what it was, he told me that he had gotten it as a gift from his ex-fiance.