I met Laurea for the first time more or less exactly twenty years ago, which I wrote about more or less exactly ten years ago, which was about four and a half years before Kina was born, which is to say that everything is a whole lot different this time around.
To set the context for the uninformed: Laurea was visiting New York on June 8th, 2002, not thinking particularly of spending the rest of the summer here, or with me, let alone for the next two decades of her life. You can read the post linked above for a brief play-by-play of the ensuing decade, but I want to reflect here for a little bit on the happy accident of somebody I almost randomly encountered twenty years ago now sharing with me a child, a home, and a considerable portion of her taste in music.
I could have stayed at home that night, but I didn’t. I don’t know what happens to me in the alternate universe in which I do stay home, but I’ve never dwelled on that universe with any real curiosity. I do not want to contemplate that universe any more that I like to contemplate the ones where I am not born, or where cheeseburgers do not exist, or where I never get the apartment I have lived in also for the last twenty years.
I sometimes tell people that Laurea and I have lived in the same apartment for twenty years, and they audibly gasp. I can see the gears turning in their heads as they imagine what it must be like not to have to pack your dishes, not to change addresses, to have the same living room year after year—it is either a blessing or a curse, but substantially so, in either case. Why is it not equally shocking that I’ve lived with the same person for twenty years?
I like to tell myself that people look at us and say, “well, right, that makes sense.”
We’ve put in the work, let me tell you.
I got the apartment a few weeks after Laurea went back to California that summer. It is one floor up from the apartment I brought her back to in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 9th, having stayed up long past June 8th, when we first shook hands, went to a party, ate pierogies at Veselka, played records at my friend Justin’s apartment, parted ways, decided instead not to part ways, took a cab back to Brooklyn, and promptly fell asleep. After an entire summer in which Laurea effectively moved into my tiny bedroom, my old roommate got sick of me and made me pester the landlord for the next available apartment.
That was also a happy accident. Thank you, former roommate.
There was a moment that summer, very near the end of Laurea’s trip to New York, when we sat on the wrought iron stairs outside what eventually became Roebling Tea Room and talked about the possibility that what we had was really a summer fling, and maybe it’s best not to enter into a serious relationship when one of you is a university student in California and the other is a striving but mediocre DJ in New York, but neither of us saw fit to make an arbitrary break, and we decided to proceed instead with patience, and now our relationship has outlived that staircase, my mediocre DJ career, her college degree, and the Roebling Tea Room itself.
Like I said, everything is a whole lot different this time around—much of it by our own design. We often disagree about that design, but we’ve never been disappointed with our decisions; given enough patience and conversation, everything works out in a way that has us seeing eye to eye. We argue not infrequently, but we argue productively. One year into our long-distance relationship, Laurea called me to tell me very firmly that she had no intention of dating a DJ, and that I needed to have a plan. I replied that I did have a plan, and that I knew I was a mediocre DJ, and did we need to talk about it at three in the morning on a Thursday.
We did, and I’m grateful, because boy did I not actually have a plan.
We learned to work together: We went back and forth about marriage, then we got married. We went back and forth about kids, then we had a kid. We went back and forth about buying a house, then we didn’t buy a house.1
We orbit each other at the perfect distance. We dance. I tend to scoff at the idea that a couple, with enough time, becomes one person—Laurea and I are vigorously and decisively our own people, and we’re both glad for that, but we do make a good team. We are a fun machine to watch, the two of us. Laurea pushes, I pull.
In Tamil Nadu, there is a hotel restaurant where one of the cooks frantically rolls paratha dough out into discs and tosses them blindly across the room to another cook, who throws them into the oven. I am telling you this mostly because I love this video, but also because it is one way I think about the couple that Laurea and I have become: Collaborative. Effective. Impressive.
Earlier this evening, I went looking for photos of us from twenty years ago; there aren’t a lot2, but I have one in mind that I think Laurea has on a hard drive somewhere: Maybe a week or two after we met, Laurea and I are standing in the good light under the awning of the Marcy Street J train platform; she is wearing a cherry-red headband and I am standing behind her with my head pressed to hers; she is staring directly into the camera with pursed lips and taking a selfie. We are clearly happy with each other and have absolutely no idea that we will be standing on that same platform twenty years later with our daughter, facing that same good light.
It is a happy accident, I want to tell those people, that you have stumbled into. I’d like to think that I knew it even then, but the accident has unfolded moment by moment, each time in a slightly different direction, and with ferocious intent. Twenty years from now, she will be in Austin converting a random bar into a high-end ping-pong tournament venue, and he will be typing out a newsletter about that time your daughter laughed so hard that she puked in the tub, but then he’ll erase it all and write about THE TWO OF YOU instead.
Because you have been together this entire time.
And he loves you so much that he is literally afraid of the alternate reality in which he sleeps in and never meets you.
And you’ve become entirely different people from the ones you are today, but you still orbit each other at the same distance.
And you live in the same building, but upstairs.
The rent is reasonable.
The patience pays off.
See above re: apartment we can now never leave
I do have this one, from six months after we met, in which I appear to have very impressive cheekbones and jet-black hair: