They disagreed on a lot of things: She was a “bleeding-heart liberal”; he was a “conservative libertarian.” He “came from good Irish Catholic stock”; she called herself a “hopeful agnostic.”
When the firefighter chased her down the street to ask her out, she pinned him as “a bald, white, middle-aged New York City cliché.”
On their first date, no topic was off-limits. Not racism, not abortion, not substance abuse. With each date, another debate.
Today’s episode is about the space they found in each other — and the unexpected aftermath of their breakup.
- “‘Old Never Happened for Him,’” Kathryn Jarvis
- “Firefighter Chases Woman Down Street,” Marlena Brown
Marlena's story was narrated by Audm. To hear more audio stories from publishers like The New York Times, download Audm for iPhone or Android.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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Randy was a good jewish boy. Irish accent nevertheless we dated in college happy until the Vietnam WAR intervened. He served I went from sorority soon to protesting hippie time passed. We moved on The most of my wedding Randy called, asking me not to go through with it that night I got very drunk the wedding, Capland wife's progressed, my husband dies in my heart. I knew Randy and I would end up together when we were old, never happened before him
I still see him in my dreams, the guy. Thank you Katherine. Thank you. Bye, bye, bye, bye, oooh damn I mean how's it going care how about you. It's pretty good, except that there is some construction. It seems like a might put some books in between my mic. soundproofing. My pillow, your building. Do you have any seltzer any chance, do actually do eleven seltzer it open,
I love so I've been working on modern love since the very beginning, but mere you joined five or six years ago. What surprised you the most about what The content was what was coming em when she started reading submissions. I think biggest shock for me was actually how many submissions were about death and I think it makes sense, given the fact that you would want to. about once he lost or are losing, but I wasn't expecting to you open the inbox and come across all these new burrito
stories. But also very ubiquitous stories- and I think it serves for me Like a a reminder of what worthwhile in the world having these relationships. You know how we still have time, and I think that way it's it's kind of liberating and inspiring too It's such a reminder of how fleeting it can be in relationships and yeah hmm. To take a trauma for a lot of people, is losing someone they love and Sonny. They often sit down to sort that out. in words and to try to make sense of it and often to try to memorialize the person and honor the person
but yeah. It's it's! It's interesting challenge to figure out how to get that in in a way where that's, not the sole focus like it's going to involve depth, but it's not just about the fact that death is sad or has that part of the story and how's the story about something else really today's, I is firefighter chases woman down street published in February two thousand and twenty written by Marlena Brown. By January the boy. the firefighter, and I met on one of the rare days I decided to wear lipstick
If I had to guess at a reason for him chasing me down the street that day it was the lipstick It always does something to my face To be honest, I was so close to shutting it down. On my way, home from work, a block and a half from my Manhattan apartment already mentally. Having shed my shoes and broth, and here fire firefighter a bald why middle aged New York, city cliche, I had passed on the sidewalk with his buddies rush, to catch up. He stopped. My tracks and wasted no time, I think Europe. beautiful woman? When are you going to? Let me take you out not if he could, but when the I'm a sucker so I fell for it and to this I can't tell you why I decided to give him my phone number,
somewhere in the middle of being distracted by what I thought was. His lack of eyebrows I realize, that I neither wanted to lie to him. Nor could I find any real reason to say no. I figured he's a civil servant. How crazy can you be. Course not five minutes later, standing alone in my apartment. I convinced myself that this date would be a disaster. We hadn't in common, and he was going to be as dumb as a brick, I'm a snob. I accept this about myself, But your days later, during our first phone call, he broke out any box. I tried to put them in, an avid music fan he wanted to visit Macon Georgia because of the Allman brothers he shot By knowing Emory University, my alma mater saying that's where they got into the wild. He was a travel fiend. He hoped. I down through Gibraltar and his way in northern Africa doing volunteer work along the way.
He was a hell of a lot more interesting than I in my snobbery had given him To be one I was I was looking forward to dinner demented on our first date. We discovered that we both came from families of addiction. alcoholism, substance abuse. He hadn't managed. To escape that legacy. Telling me he was now eight years sober What is this about him before? He told me about any legacy He asked me how I knew I said he never looked at the drink menu. people say addicts can walk into a room and spot other addicts. I wonder if truth holds for those like me, teeter on the edge of that slippery slope how not to fall well, wondering, isn't it easier to give in we also that spirituality served as an anchor for us. Both he came
from good Irish Catholic Stock, but had been a bit of a prodigal son. and was slowly making his way back through daily prayer, Bible reading and meditation. I am a hopeful agnostic in a wrestling match with the God of my childhood The Lord may eventually pin me down, but he will need to pop out my hip to do so. Six were another story after seeing an ad somewhere in our two of our first date, conservative Craterian him is bleeding heart. Liberal me after dinner, strolled through the center of Tarrytown jabbering nonstop He was an unstoppable force, while I arms crossed, eyebrow cocked remain an immovable object. back in the car varsity city bound with abortion, the topic he said his castle. System kept him from viewing the act is anything but murder
as a recovering evangelical, I get it. I believe that too, long time until I thought I was perfect and after a night of being drunk in my twenties, liked abortion was a right. I would readily claim and could not in good conscience, declare myself anti abortion if I was so ready to choose it for myself. and the Crossing into Manhattan, he let it fly that he didn't think racism in New York City was as bad as people claimed Roots are in the south. I am a descendant of slaves and I'm always looking for somebody to say something stupid about racism. So I can lose my mind. I didn't with him instead,
pointing out that racism is not only about extreme acts. Like burning crosses racism exists on a spectrum and those micro aggressions. I've experienced being asked Why are we look so angrier? Finding out? A man has stopped seeing me because his family doesn't want to dating a black. Batman may seem minuscule to him, but cut me deep after a while enough small slices to cut off a limb he went and then I would later understand to be him seriously, considering what I had said because, yes, happily. There were more dates and even more debates, each one digging deeper into controversial issues, but don't you think he would start? knowing good and well, I didn't think whatever was about to come out of his mouth. I would dive into a debate that should have been contentious and belligerent, but never was
never had an off limit topic include police interactions with people of color. When he let loose about how officers have a hard job and sometimes unfortunate things happen. Call of my hard earned southern charm to answer diplomatically unlike mental illness or even abortion. I had living breathing skin in this particular game. My father was, In southern Georgia, in the nineteen fifties and like a lot of men of his generation, he struggled with addiction. He has six feet for dark. HAWK eyed and curmudgeonly He wants to do is sit on a porch, drink beer and watch the flash, I think do our country's legacy of racism. His very being is perceived as a threat.
I worry about him every time he makes a three hour drive from Atlanta all many Georgia where I was born. I'm scared that some state patrol officer will see my father's big hands and long limbs. I think he has to fear for his own life ooh. What I needed was context for the firefighters point of view, which I got one warm summer evening when we met in central park for a concert as we watch the summer stage entrance. We passed two patrol officers who were eyeing everyone's comings and goings, and he said my dad and uncle used to work out of the precinct. A few blocks away and boom. That one sentence. casually as he let it slip created. A huge Shift, in my perspective, his defensive,
police officers made sense because these were no longer abstract issues. This was personal, this was life. Can I carry the weight of our fathers. His a cop. Mine, a black man in America,. every day we each worried about our own father's safety. I never asked him much about growing up with a father who was a cop. I wish I had. Instead, we drifted apart because he, as he put it, was like Jack Nicholson's character in as good as it gets, for a long term, commitment and unsure. He would ever be ready. I later learned the truth was afraid of having a marriage like his parents, often strained union that broke my heart the
So imagine my shock when seven months after we stopped seeing each other google him and found it. obituary he had died suddenly on vacation Circumstances unexplained the reality of it discovered in a casual way broke, my heart, a second time, even though we hadn't lasted the way we bridge the political and cultural divide was refreshing. It was love world seem darker without him, after his death, while sitting in my apartment. I asked him he could hear me and when let outside in search of escape, there were two fire. Trucks I knew he was none either rig, but their present
at that moment, made me think yeah he heard me just as he always did. I the. If you haven't met Elizabeth, yet what are you waiting for chemist. an accidental cooking show host she's the star of lessons in chemistry. The must read debut novel by Bonnie garments set in Sixty California laugh out loud funny, shrewdly observant and studied. a dazzling cast of supporting character is lessons in mystery is as a regional and vibrant as its protagonist. Great sir.
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I love spelling bee my boyfriend and I often play spelling bee together by together I mean sitting next to each other playing individually and not cheating. Sometimes when I open up spelling bee- and I see- but you have completed a few words on your own, I feel a little betrayed in sorry. It may have happened again today. I have one friend who I will send screenshots from spelling bee of inappropriate words that I always get nervous that I sent it to my parents or something like that when my dad was like the first time together and I was out- I think I got it- see it J, a c k, P, o g jack. We hit the jackpot panicked, yeah, Elrond nice, I'm same as earth's sky. The digital pulses editor for the New York Times. You can try spelling bee in all our games at n, one times dot com, slash games.
Hmm hmm hmm hmm It's Marlena, I'm seeing you for the first time. I think normally do my calls on video. So I now yeah. So I want to ask you about the morning, the peace with life and the Times website could, in hours we started getting. He mails from people who recognized this firefighter Someone emailed me this article at first I glanced at the title and thought. Oh it's another fireman story. I'm married to a New York City firefighter, and my brother was also want I get by
Fraid of stories all the time. The next day I open the article For what reason I dont know, I only have to read the first sentence or two before I knew the fire fighter in this story of my brother. He died, as the other says. Suddenly, last year, I know he touched so many lives and was special. There are so many stories I wish. I at the time and patience to write a book of those stories thanks for bringing back a piece of my brother to me We didn't even identify him by name in the piece that really wasn't what it was about. And I sent all of those along to you. What was that
for you to receive almost instantly upon already dealing with the peace coming out with these really revealing and emotional emails from people who knew him so well. I was hearing There's some about leaving by yourself. That's really hard because by that me passed away. We had broken up and I just I found it so hard grieving. and not having anyone around me understand how you loss, it was as they just didn't know something think I have been waiting for, for almost a year was just being able to connect with people who knew him and be able to grieve with them. So, started getting some of your emails. I was getting a haircut Oh really
style of move like you, if you're reading them on your phone and reading them on my phone, and I just started trying to respond to every single one of them. Oh, my god! to let them know that I understand how huge of a loss this was because eat just. He really was in one of those types of people that you just don't meet every day. Wake bitterly try to leave every place that he entered a better space in the that he found at interest. We are now one of my brothers friends just intact, of mere link to it without any information, just a link to the article that morning, my phone, only just started blowing not known for five text. Different people who I used to work with in the fire department from the firehouse and I laughed and I opened it.
and then I cried after I read as I was reading, I was just like. Oh my god, this is the game. I know it was him from the first sentence: the fact that he was a firefighter the fact that he did that forget it will Manhattan, then, which talk about his lack of eyebrows. That's Did it in his passing. We found so many aspects of his life that he kind of kept private body at his wake, was kind of coming forward, with a different story of how all of us even know he was a hospice volunteer stayed with my mother was passing. He called me off the off the ledge. When I thought I was at rock bottom with my grandkids, and everything was just site. Shock of you thought you knew the guy, but they were million different pieces to him and then
I hear you're a and change after he passed. Have him pop up in of all places the romance column of the New York Times. Just like one last surprise from him. He had his own opinions that were very strong, and I think that created some friction between him and a lot of other people in it. I agreed on a lot of things. Politics was not one of them free traditionally conservatives, but he did his reading, which is why I respected. When he had an opinion. That's what I thought was so beautiful about her story was their relationship is very thing, because I am glad that my Lena was able to get sleeve the chance. You know. Twenty two open up, I think a lot of people might have been turned off on Fourchan. Get turned off in those situations and I think
Carolina probably has a lot of strength to tell she must be very special Steve, because She got to know him very well which wasn't an easy thing for a lot of people. So this was back in February, so much has happened since then. We've had the protests, a lot of violence, There are so many raw feelings lately do you feel like he would be a good Listen to be talking to now, I would it be twitter conversation now. Oh. it would be a hard conversation, but it We are a hard conversation worth having, because a thing good
like this. It's so easy and I think, and certain measures is kind of necessary, like you want to bond with but who feel the same, and you want to make sure that your feelings are being affirmed, I feel a certain sort of way about police relationships with african american people, particularly hot men here in the US and then that's real and having other people who think that is in a way healing. that's a foaming for me, but at this, time too much of that it becomes an echo chamber where you can get so caught up And again, thinking that you're right in thinking that this is the only point of view that sometimes stepping over and kind of talking to someone from the other side as long as it's respect as long as you are recognizing that we're both comp somewhere nuanced and things are complicated, that back healing as well. I'm curious what since so many of your conversations with him were about police
yes and about race, I'm wondering what kind of recessions, you would be having fewer together Great question: about that. A lot often I can. Him falling on the side of you. No police officers always in the back of my husband that he had he always managed to prize me on some of his opinions or things that he was willing to kind of accept and listen to, and I remember one particular conversation we had about police actions, and it was something that I I've gotten riled up about. It had happened in Georgia. others, young boy who was ten was why His father get arrested and the police Officers were away white and the boy was black. They through on the ground in the hands of them. That was Immediate response, I was like that's his impression about police he's going to bat through the rest of his life, going to think about this moment, and they had a chance to.
show him something different. I might be It was wrong. and What would behold he is like yeah, you're right and I was like what but going my brain didn't even know what to do with that home. So he'd, he didn't act defensive when you would. Upstairs stories that people will not merely be defensive about now and he would be like if you know what I hear you. I think at the end of the day, what made it work or why we were able to have productive conversations. Is that we, both when it came to our core values, like the things that we thought were important, we were actually coming from the same place. We both
I felt really strongly about things being just and things being fair and leveling the ground for people who need it and like we were just coming at it from two different points of view, because I remember, like just kind of listening to him, talk about his involvement in in it's like union at work or like in town councils, and it just struck me how much he actually cared about people. that, even though, unlike we're political, this sets, I get that and I'm like have you ever considered running for office, because that is what people actually need. They need someone who goes in there and cares. of like we'd, be politicians like you. He never took my suggestion by their side, so much Marlena I appreciate it
and thank you for having me. The
Modern love is produced by Kelly Prime and HANS Peter and edited by Wendy, dour, music by Dan Powell. This week's essay was written by Marlene Brown and written by January. The void are tiny. Love story was written and read by Katherine Jarvis special thanks to Julia Simon Nord, Color Mahima Blondie, Laura Campbell Bonnie were on yesterday me and SAM Dolnick and Corey Seca, and also provide Wagner and Kelly Rogers at autumn the executive producer of New York Times Audio is LISA Tobin. I'm merely an I'm Dan Jones. Thanks for listening.
Transcript generated on 2022-04-15.