Ariel's Modern Love Submission
The Modern Love column in the Sunday New York Times has long been a favorite of mine. I even submitted a column once although it was rejected. Here’s my submission…
When we met the first time, I was a college intern and he was the music editor for the suburban newspaper chain where we both worked.
He had laughing blue eyes, long brown hair that curled angelically around his face and a wicked smile. I was used to preppy college boys. He wore tight jeans and distressed gray boots that looked vaguely European. He carried a man bag before they were called that and could get tickets for any concert in town. He seemed impossibly cool and mature, and worlds away from my previous boyfriends.
I had been the entertainment editor of my college newspaper and somehow thought this made us kindred spirits.
“I’d love to review George Thorogood when he comes to town,” I said, trying to make conversation as he strode through the newsroom one day. His look of polite disdain let me know that my request had branded me a classic rock lover and thus fatally uncool.
Three years later, we bumped into each other at a local nightclub. I was a full-fledged reporter by then while he had been named one of Washington D.C.’s Top Bachelors. Newsroom gossip said he’d just broken up with his live-in girlfriend and was dating a different woman every night. He oozed sex appeal. With confidence born of three cocktails, I walked up and re-introduced myself, playfully inviting him to buy me a shot.
He looked sheepish. “I’m out of cash,” he said. I bought the first round of tequila and then the second. He was flirtatious, I was smitten and we danced until late. The following day, as I took a long bubble bath, the song “Crazy,” Patsy Cline’s ode to hopeless love, came on the radio and I sang along knowing I had met the man I wanted to marry, but fearing I had no chance with him.
When he called and invited me to see a Warren Zevon show in Georgetown I was ecstatic. As we walked across the parking lot, he put his arm around me and said “You’re tall. You fit me.” Musically we fit together too, with a shared love for Fine Young Cannibals, XTC, the B52s and Hank Williams Sr. Despite the nine year age difference, he also fit in with my college friends and the running joke we had about our faux devotion to Elvis.
We had other things in common. We were both locals in a town where everyone had moved from somewhere else. We read the newspaper in bed with our coffee in the morning. We were journalists who dreamed of writing fiction. We loved music but could play no instruments. He made me laugh out loud before it was a thing.
I ignored the raised eyebrows and skeptical looks when people who knew him heard we were dating. Before long he said he was ready to be exclusive. But in the immortal words of the King, “Well that was just a lie.” A year into the relationship I discovered that he had never stopped seeing other women. The publicist at the local concert venue. The producer in New York. His “just a good friend” from college.
“Your cheating heart,” sang Hank, as I sobbed to my roommate about what a jerk he’d turned out to be.
We fought, broke up, made up, and then broke up again. Despite his betrayal and my heartbreak, we couldn’t quite seem to give each other up for good, and the ongoing drama made us the talk of the newsroom.
“I will survive!” I sang out, linking arms with my girlfriends in solidarity on the dance floor as I vowed to forget him.
Somehow, despite everything, our physical and emotional passion for one another remained strong. It took one final break up for him to decide he didn’t want to lose me forever and, to the surprise of everyone including me, he got down on one knee with a lovely diamond ring in hand.
We married a year later, with my parents looking doubtful and guests in the back of the reception making bets on how long it would last. Our wedding band was fronted by the lead guitarist from Commander Cody. Our wedding favors were Elvis magnets.
I moved into public relations while he continued writing—about movies, food, health and, of course, music. We attended shows every week, and went backstage everywhere, including Willie Nelson’s tour bus, fragrant with what I assume was cannabis air freshener. One day my husband picked up the phone to hear a familiar deep voice: “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” Morning sickness kept me queasy through a Rolling Stones concert, but I was determined not to be the boring wife who stopped going out after kids were born.
My job took us to Dallas and we found ourselves with a new baby in a new city where we had no friends and no backstage passes. While I worked to establish my PR career with a telecom company, he stayed home with little Samantha, steadily gaining a foothold writing about this music scene which was so richly different from what we had known back east.
Our son Luke was born, and with children in tow, we went to festivals and concerts, inviting more than one musician to come over for dinner or stay in our guest bedroom. Texas, which had once seemed so impossibly big, began to feel like home and we came to believe that our move had cemented our relationship as a couple in a way that might not have happened had we stayed in our hometown.
Our tastes weren’t always in synch. He grimly tolerated my Top 40 radio station pre-sets and grew impatient when forced to listen to earnest female singer-songwriters. I rolled my eyes when he wore a Mexican wrestling mask to go see Los Straitjackets and tried to ignore his bizarre love for Electric Light Orchestra. I wasn’t the only one in the family who liked classic rock as it turned out.
By the time we moved back to D.C. a few years later, music seemed to be losing its power to knit us together. He was reviewing bands for several publications, and seeing more shows than ever. But with two kids and a demanding job that kept me traveling, we were going out as a couple less and less. When Cheap Trick came to a nearby town, he took 12-year-old Samantha instead of me. Someone had to stay home with our son after all. He began coaching Little League and playing golf.
“You’d rather spend time with the kids than with me,” I complained.
“It’s hard to spend time with someone who is never home,” he shot back.
“Is it so much to ask that you keep the house clean?” I said upon returning from a business trip.
“I’m not a member of your staff,” he retorted.
In our marriage and our music, what had once seemed cute had become irritating. I cringed when he listened to Dusty Springfield, accusing him of being stuck in the past as I cranked up Arcade Fire. He deleted a Culture Club song from my iPad playlist putting me in a red hot fury. Our fight over what to play at our annual New Year’s Eve Party was just another symptom of an increasingly strained relationship.
Then came the financial meltdown, and nearly every one of the publications he’d been writing for either cut back on freelance assignments or shut down altogether. In a matter of months, the role that had defined him professionally and personally for nearly 30 years was gone for good. For the first time since I had known him, there were no CDs in the mailbox, no free tickets waiting at Will Call. He mourned the loss more stoically than I would have, telling people only half-jokingly, “I used to be somebody.”
Help for our marriage came from an unexpected place. A couple of Dallas musicians who we’d come to know and love back in our Texas days had a local gig and we decided to go for old time’s sake. As they started playing the songs dating back to the early years of our marriage, I felt something in me begin to ease, as the music and memories washed over my unhappy heart like a soothing balm. For the first time in a long while, I leaned into my husband, and he took my hand and we were that happy young couple once again.
The feeling didn’t last for long, and there came the summer when we talked seriously about whether our fairytale was over. Then he surprised me with tickets to see the singer Nick Cave, and in the middle of that show, the wonderful feeling of connection between us was suddenly back again. Just like my marriage, it was something I realized that I didn’t want to lose.
The next morning I proposed a new routine. We would make a commitment to see live music at least once a month. The location, genre and artist didn’t matter—it just had to be live music and we had to go together. No excuses. Our friends thought it was sweet and romantic, we knew it was serious. And so it began. Month after month, through good times and bad, the music always seemed to stoke up our marital mojo.
For our most recent anniversary we had made big plans for a party with friends, but had to cancel at the last minute when our son got sick.
Instead of drinking fine wine in the West Virginia mountains, we found ourselves in a small local dive bar listening to a cover band that calls itself The Melonheads because the three main players are bald. The guitar player had been one of our groomsmen on that clear September day when we married 22 years earlier. And as the band played the classic rock hits from ‘70s and ‘80s, we danced. There was no big name headliner, no backstage passes. It didn’t matter. It was live music. And it was magic.