Love & Sex

Before You Were Born: A Fairytale of New York

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Stories from our parents' surprisingly romantic youth: a French dancer learns that chivalry isn't dead from a Long Island Casanova. 

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?

Puka shells.
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. 

Why would he tell you that? Why would he still be wearing that?
He was very honest! He never lied about himself in any way — he used to tell me that he couldn't lie to me. That night we danced again, and while I was dancing, I lost my balance. I tried to grab onto his shoulder to keep from falling but I missed and got hold of the necklace and I broke it. Your dad always thought that I did that on purpose because it was from his ex-fiance. He was laughing and kept asking me if I was jealous, but I really did break it by accident! I tried to pick up the little seashells from the ground and he thought it was hilarious. 

He said that you breaking the necklace was a way to get you to agree to another date. 
We ate and danced all night and then I had to go home. It must've been about one or two in the morning. He took me to the train station and again he decided I couldn't go home by myself. I said, "You're not going to come with me!" and he said he was. He went all the way to the Jamaica train station with me and then got me a cab, which he paid for. That was the first time he kissed me. He gave me a long kiss and told me he would call me again soon. A few days later, when we met again, he told me that he was stuck at the station until 4:30 in the morning or so, waiting for a connection back to Long Island. That's how I knew he was special. 

I would say so! How did the relationship move forward?
He courted me for nine months by sending me a card every day. On the cards he would write about his feelings, his life, how happy he was to have met me, and that he wished to see me as soon as possible. Usually the earliest we could get together was on Thursday — my day off. We would go out together and then separate at the train station.

You didn't always separate! Come on now! 
No, we always separated. I'm telling you, we always separated. He was a gentleman — I know it's amazing to think about it, but yes. 

Maybe he was a gentleman or maybe you just weren't giving up the goods…
No! That was his way! He didn't want physical relations with me until he knew that I knew that he loved me. Then, after nine months, he basically asked me to marry him — it was that fast. He had moved into his own place on Long Island — a tiny little dive of a studio. He brought me to see it and he said, "Okay. This is where I live. Would you like to stay here with me?" And I thought, "Okay." But, before I said anything, he said, "Before you say you do, I want you to know that I'm going to marry you." I thought it was sudden, but I was getting old. I wasn’t really going anywhere on Broadway and I had been dancing since I was three years old. I was tired — I wanted to have a family. I never thought of it before but I realized it was a great idea.

So, he didn't really propose. He just said he was going to marry you and you said "Okay." 
Yup. He told me that he didn't see his life without me and he knew, somehow, that I felt the same way. 

He didn't even give you a ring?
No. It was quick, but love is an adventure, so I accepted his proposal and moved in with him. I quit my nannying job and left Cats, which was the show I was dancing in at the time. I called my mother and she was very excited. She said it was a miracle because she never thought I would get married — she was very happy for me. 

Were you afraid it wouldn't work out?
No, because after two weeks, I realized I was very happy. Christmas came around and he got a little tree for the kitchen table — I told you, our place was tiny. He had put my shoes on the table, which I thought was strange. Inside one of my shoes was a little box. Inside of that box was my engagement ring. It was a claddagh ring. We met in '86 and got married in '87 in front of a judge. A few months later, I found out I was pregnant with your brother and sister. 

And then two years later, you had me, the best child ever! 
The biggest surprise child ever. 

Was Dad your soulmate?
Absolutely. I never felt anything like that for anybody ever. When I met your dad I thought, "Thank God I didn't get married before!" I know that I will never get married again. I will never meet another person who can make me as contented or as happy as your father did. I miss him every day.