“Where did you meet?”
When you’re in a relationship for a long time, you hear this question a lot. When this relationship is also seemingly successful, inquiring minds are often pulling for the ‘once upon a time’ of your story.
My boyfriend and I have been together over 4 years. We recite the story similarly when we’re apart, but when we’re together, he always tags me. “I like the way you tell it,” he says. I romanticize – and he’s a hopeless romantic. It fits.
This is how I tell the story.
I start by saying “we met at a birthday party.” Then I pause for effect.
“A children’s birthday party.”
Then I begin with the details of the actual meet.
My almost 3-year-old son was invited to his first Manhattan birthday party. I stress the Manhattan aspect because children’s birthday parties here are unlike any normal place on earth. Nonetheless, he was invited to the Upper West Side apartment – and we went.
I got to the apartment and was the only one who came without a spouse; this was not the norm – but this was an intimate gathering. I was about a decade younger than anyone there. I made small talk with the ‘adults’ but felt vastly out of place. I played on the floor with the kids.
Chatter started of the impending arrival of Looney Lenny.
Thank goodness – someone crazier than me to liven things up. I thought Looney Lenny must be the crazy uncle or something.
This was before I got familiar with the birthday party circuit. Before I discovered that Looney Lenny (THE CLOWN) was Elvis to these kids. Before I learned that he has visited sick kids in hospitals twice a week for the last 10 years. Before I realized that Looney Lenny was just an alter ego for a dynamic artist; he was just a small character of the man that epitomizes happiness. This was before I knew all that.
When he arrived, the clown was frazzled; he was about half an hour late.
In retrospect, I may have seemed a bit forward, but I assaulted the clown as soon as he came in.
“So YOU’RE Looney Lenny!” I started in. “I thought you were the crazy uncle.”
I don’t remember what he said; most likely I didn’t give him a second to answer.
The party hostess was eager to have him begin the show; the kids were rowdy with anticipation. Looney Lenny said he needed nothing other than a chair. He set his over-sized navy blue backpack on the fancy dining room chair in the front of the living room. The children formed a half circle audience on the floor.
I warned the clown to not be offended because my kid, pointing to the boy playing with books in the corner, would have no interest in a clown. “He’s a nerd,” I told him. “But I’ll watch.”
And I watched.
I sat front and center and was engaged, enthralled and entertained. The clown made magic for the kids and the adults. Under the guise of a purple hat, rainbow suspenders and a painted on red nose he captivated young and old.
Our eyes locked on several occasions; I remember the look clearly. It’s the same look I get now – when he sees me – and stops to look into my eyes. His face awakens and his eyes seem to pose into the perfect look; like a scene in a movie where they have a long hold over the man looking at the woman.
After the 45 minute show was over, Looney Lenny lingered. I remember asking him how he did this weekend after weekend. The children were clinging to him like he was a preschool Jonas Miley Hannah creature. We made small talk. We sang happy birthday to the birthday girl, who I had never seen before that day. We got our goody bags and left. He left at the same time as me. I left the same time as him.
And this is where it gets very When Harry Met Sally.
It was a cold February. We were on 89th Street; I lived on 62nd Street. There were some avenues too. He walked me home the whole way.
Our noses were dripping and my son was running in front of us, around us. He was dressed as a clown the whole way we walked down Broadway. I didn’t notice.
We chatted – friendly, platonic. But as we spoke, there was a familiarity we both felt. There was no lightning but there was warmth; there was chemistry. It was a mix of excitement and comfort. I knew I was going to know him, but I didn’t know how or why.
It was like we had known about each other and were finally meeting.
We both went to NYU – but didn’t know each other then. We also both lived on 27th Street, the same place he lives now – but never ran into each other.
When we reached LaGuardia High School, we were a block from my house. He was going to get on the bus. We lingered for another hour. He gave me a heart balloon and told me it would mostly likely deflate tomorrow. It lasted 6 months; way after I had moved out of my debilitating marriage.
We exchanged many emails before we decided to meet for lunch – as friends. He invited me to his studio. In one of the emails, he said “are you ready to meet the man behind the clown?” But I think I always saw him.
Whenever I think about difficult times in life. Whenever I’m at a stand still, in a painful transition or in chaos. Whenever it seems like I just can’t – not one more thing. Not one more minute. Not one more drop of strength left in me. I think back to the day I met Andrew.
I was in no place to get involved with someone. I wanted the opposite. But there was a magnetism; there was magic. It was one day – but it changed the course of my life.
Any one day can shift your life’s gears. Any one moment. Any one person. These transforming moments happen – but it’s up to us to recognize them.
In retrospect they always seem much clearer, these moments, like plot points on a line graph of our lives.