On Gay Modern Love (Me, My Daughter and Them)

01Mar08

In which The Gay Recluse provides an alternative to this week’s more tedious and stereotypical Modern Love offering in The Times.

“Me, My Daughter and Them”

By Heidi Wendel and The Gay Recluse

MY newest girlfriend, vintage four weeks, was spending her first overnight at our Upper West Side apartment en famille and didn’t know the drill.

“I think I’ll watch a movie in the bedroom,” she said innocently, browsing through our movie collection like a tourist.

“But we’re reading out here,” I said, not caring that it sounded kinda bitchy. “Sophie’s doing homework.”

Sophie and I sat in our respective comfy chairs in the living room, feet up on the same ottoman. She was highlighting passages from her ninth-grade history text about the fight for women’s suffrage, while I kept her company, mulling the complications of a fraud case I was preparing for trial. A cozy frigid silence filled the room.

“I know,” my girlfriend said dismally. “You’ll have to turn the pages quietly or you might disturb me.”

She went out to the movies and we didn’t expect her back, at least not for the long term. But she stuck around for another six months before leaving for good. We were in love — or at least she was, ha ha — and it took a while for her to grow disenchanted with a situation in which she would always be secondary to my daughter’s priorities, her well being and her education.

It was more or less the same with the other girls who came and went over the years.

The first one, after Sophie and I struck out on our own 12 years ago, when she was starting kindergarten, was a perfect fit. She was a rock musician who often stayed up all night composing, and barely noticed that Sophie still slept with me. We never had sex anyway. Far from complaining that we never went out alone together, she considered himself lucky I didn’t give her grief for spending so many nights out playing bars and clubs. On weekends she was too tied up with rehearsals to notice our plans never included her.

But one night around 18 months after we met, under the romantic influence of a song she was writing about me and her and sometimes Sophie, it occurred to her that something was missing.

She crawled into bed humming a line from the song: “Not just now but forever, we’ll share a home together, baby.” It was only a half rhyme.

Swimming up from the sleepy underworld and sensing her next to me, I whispered: “Where are your pajamas? You feel like an animal.” I knew this sounded pretty bitchy, but I didn’t care.

“Oh, right, I forgot. But Sophie’s out cold over there anyway. And even with my shorts on I’d be naked for what I have to say, which is, how about I move in here and we get married next year in Massachusetts?”

I woke up fast then, as though fire trucks had shot down Broadway with their sirens blaring.

“Sure, let’s get married in Massachusetts next year,” I said slowly, playing along for the moment.

She broke into a verbal instrumental with percussive kisses, then cut it off as if she had been unplugged. “And we would obviously live together,” she said. “Right?”

Looking at Sophie, and thinking of our perfect life together, I couldn’t do it, not even for a great girl like her, a girl I sort of liked, a rock star. The next day she took her boxers out of the bottom drawer of the bureau and moved on.

The next girl caught on faster. At first she threw herself into us, introducing us to her parents and siblings, buying presents for our apartment, teaching Sophie chess. She stored her custom-made shirts in the closet and kept her single malts in the liquor cabinet. Of course I was a huge bitch, but it didn’t seem to bother her!

Sophie was the half-a-child she had always wanted. Without having to raise her, she had the benefit of her pleasant company over sushi and tapas. She never complained that my life didn’t revolve around her. She appreciated having a relationship that didn’t require her to reduce her billable hours. She liked being ordered around outside of the office.

The tide turned a few months later when we went on vacation without her. This trip was to be for Sophie and me only, and to avoid feeling pressured about it — and huge bitch that I am — I purposely didn’t tell her of our plans until about a week before our departure, at which point she seemed most offended that she hadn’t been consulted about where we would go and what we would see.

As a partner at a prominent law firm, she was used to being consulted about major decisions by everyone she knew. Had she known we were planning a trip to Tuscany, she — only slightly less of a bitch than me — would have advised us to stay in Lucca, which is less crowded and has better food than Siena. She would have warned us to make reservations to see the David and the Uffizi Gallery so we wouldn’t have had to wait in long lines. What a bitch! I kind of admired her.

On top of that, she was hurt that I hadn’t wanted her to go with us. Stupid bitch. Granted, she probably wouldn’t have been able to, because of her work schedule. But never before had she been excluded from a vacation by someone she loved and who had pretended to love her back.

When we called her from Pisa on the last day, she cross-examined me about my plans for our future and found my answers nonresponsive. I talked around the issues, trying to avoid admitting anything directly on point. Finally, though, she managed to pin me down.

“Look, isn’t it true you have no intention of moving in with me in the foreseeable future?” she asked. “Just answer the question.”

She had me cold. At her request, I put Sophie on the phone so she could say goodbye to her, too.

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Sophie tried to change the conversation. “This Duomo in Pisa is the most beautiful anywhere,” she said. “You really should see it some time.”

“Better than the ones in Florence and Siena?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, “To be honest, I don’t remember those anymore.”

“Sure, because that’s how it is with you girls,” she said. “Here today, gone tomorrow.”

The years rolled by in the same vein until Sophie was in high school and I began to confront the fact that our long sleepover party would soon end. I knew the transition to an empty nest might be less painful if there were someone else around the house, but it was hard to imagine making that a reality when Sophie’s and my life together had grown even less conducive to sharing with a woman.

Who would be willing to put up with our monklike silence on nights and weekends while Sophie did homework? Who would tolerate my need to drop plans on a moment’s notice to spend whatever free time I could with her during the few years I had left?

But as her junior year was ending, a candidate presented herself.

She was a partner in a public relations firm who conveniently lived five hours away in Washington. Every other week or so she came up on business, hung out for a few days with interruptions to attend meetings and dinners, and then headed back. For months we were perfectly happy.

Like many of my romances, though, it seemed its very success would be its undoing. She was so happy, she wanted more. Soon she was researching public relations firms in New York and asking what a two-bedroom apartment cost in our neighborhood. For my part, I started researching reasons why the relationship should quickly end.

I thought I had my answer when she announced she was going on her annual weeklong hunting trip in West Virginia. Maybe she seemed like a good, kind woman, I thought, the type any woman would want to hang on to. But in fact she was the sort who killed animals for fun. While she blithely related her excitement at seeing her hometown and her brothers and cousins, I plotted my exit.

On our last evening together, before she was to set off in camouflage with her guns, she said happily, “I’ll bring you back a nice chunk of venison and a six pack of my hometown brew and mix you and Sophie up a venison stew like you never ate.”

“We don’t eat venison. We couldn’t eat a murdered deer.”

I hoped she would become angry, go off on her trip in a huff, complain about me to her brothers, and get some advice to get rid of me fast.

Instead, ever the P.R. woman, she changed her pitch to suit the client. “What makes you think I’ll shoot a deer?”

“You’re going to deer-hunting camp. You’re going to shoot a deer.”

“I may shoot a deer,” she said, smiling, “if one breaks into the camp and pulls a knife on me.”

“I’m serious,” I said.

“I am, too. If I shoot a deer, she’ll have left a suicide note. I only go there to hang out and shoot beer cans.”

Two months later she was still around and had started reading the real estate ads to me.

“Look at this nice two-bedroom with a balcony on Riverside Drive,” she said one Sunday while we sat entwined on the couch. “Why don’t we take a look at it with Sophie?”

I sat up. “Sophie couldn’t move now while she’s so busy with school and applying for college.” I tried to sound as bitchy as I could.

Undefeated, she looked around the apartment.

“Then maybe we could talk to an architect about making some modifications to this place to add a room.”

“I don’t think we could deal with having architects and designers in here doing renovations,” I said.

“But you subscribe to Architectural Digest,” she pointed out reasonably. “You’ve got three years of back issues on the bookshelf.”

“Not because we ever planned to renovate,” I said. “That stuff’s just porn for New York City apartment dwellers.”

I ASSUMED that would end it, but when she saw she wasn’t getting any traction, she reconcepted. The next time she was in town, she told me she was pitching some new clients in New York and it was important for her to have a New York address so the clients would feel more at home with her. How would I feel about sharing a mailbox with her? Just a mailbox, a 3-by-8-inch box. All I had to do was put a piece of tape with her name on it alongside my name and Sophie’s on the inside edge of the box where the mail carrier could see it.

That didn’t seem like much to ask. I added her name to the inside of the box and gave her a key.

It wasn’t until years later, when she and I were living together in a two-bedroom apartment with a balcony on Riverside Drive, that I found out she hadn’t been pitching any new clients in New York at all — none, that is, except for a certain stubborn one who lived with her daughter in an apartment on the Upper West Side.

In case it wasn’t obvious, Heidi Wendel is a lawyer.

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