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Hello. Hey. OK, so if you could just read it and. Yeah, it's really a nice piece. Oh thank you. Yes, I'm going to try it. OK, cost. We broke up all over New York City. No one block could see us through. I saw our split coming on Astor Place in Greenpoint Avenue one night, we cried until our eyes were off on the steps of an empty storefront in Williamsburg. The end was near, we knew.
A few years and many failed first dates later and noticed a frozen yogurt shop had moved into that empty storefront. So up the stairs, I crossed the threshold of our heartbreak and I savored all of those flavors inside. It was a sweet reminder of just how one can never get enough. So you did eat a lot of frozen yogurt, you tried many different flavors of love. Well, it's like a 16 handle, so you can just go in and, like, fill up your little cup at all the stations.
It was just like a funny only kind of like New York thing, you know, where it's like only New York. Do you cry in public so frequently? And then to have it become a frozen yogurt shop and you go inside, I'm just sitting there by myself one afternoon just eating frozen yogurt and just kind of laughing at this moment I'm having that was the scene of something that felt so big at the time. And now is the scene of, you know, coconut and chocolate raspberry.
It's awesome. Yeah. Ah, thank you so much. All right. Thank you. Have a good night and a good week, OK? Bye bye, Meg. Now, if you fall in love with love show because you never loved anyone for the love of my love. Today's essay is The Holiday of My Dreams was just that, published in December 2007. It's written by Paul MacLane and read by Samantha Des. The Sunday after Thanksgiving found my exhausted family on the interstate and one of thousands of minivans pointed home with Hello Kitty on the portable DVD player and goldfish crackers and sippy cups on demand.
At one point, my husband smiled Mark grimly and said, Look, honey, we have the American dream. Strangely, I had just had the same thought, but without the irony, I had seen a station wagon whiz by in the other direction, an enormous Christmas tree strapped to its top, then another similarly burdened and another dozens of trees slashed to dozens of cars. The Christmas season had begun. And for perhaps the first time in my life.
I didn't read it. Having grown up in foster care, I had learned to tailor my expectations of the bells and whistles of childhood. For me, there would be no birthday parties, summer camp or ballet lessons. And no Christmas, that wasn't nine tenths disappointment. By age nine, I had been in four foster homes and as many years it was during the holidays that I most longed for my real family, not the parents who had abandoned me and my sisters or the biological aunts, uncles and grandparents who had done what they could before passing us along to our social worker.
But the idyllic mother and father who would rescue my sisters and me and make everything better, maybe they would bring along a Barbie beach house or a lavender huffy bicycle with a white basket. I hadn't exactly worked out how these parents would find us and the phone book using telepathy, I focused on the things I could control being good, brushing my teeth with extra care. Crying less. I had learned that Christmas, the most once plagued time of year, was survivable if I didn't sit on Santa's lap or write a Christmas wish list.
But the wishing happened against my control, against all good sense. Come late November, I would find myself watching a commercial on TV with extra attention, my mouth open, eyeballs goggling.
Surely my foster parents would notice such longing and understand how my life would change for the better if I just had those purple hip huggers and that game of clue. They never did and I continue to be clobbered by desire year after year. When I aged out of the system at 18, I believed I had aged out of Christmas, too, and all the yearning it provoked. As an adult, I was supposedly able to make my own choices, but by then I had already galvanized myself against disappointment by expecting little.
So that's what I got. This was true not just of things, but also love. I had a boyfriend, Michael, who cheated repeatedly, but I forgave him and hung on thinking he was the best I could do. When I was nearly 21 and broke, I took a job as a cashier for a Christmas tree lot, I wanted nothing more to do with Christmas. But the fact that the job would last only three weeks and take all of my free time made it a holiday winner.
I could make extra cash and avoid Christmas by being essentially on the inside of the operation like one of Santa's elves.
Of Christmas, but not absorbed by it.
I was a prisoner and my wooden hut, but I didn't mind, it was like being in a portable wilderness, glowing under blinking swags of white lights.
Customers were cheerful, filing past with their twenty dollar bills and pink noses trailed by kids. The salesman on the lot had a fire, a roaring barrel with licking flames. When they weren't busy, they got to stand around it and knock their faces glowing like tangerines.
This is where I first saw Jeff and his blue Patagonia ski jacket, his shoulders square, his blue gloved hands crossed behind him and a fan like a peacock.
As I watched him, he looked up and noticed me. He was cute enough with pale skin and the piggish nose ahlborn curls crushed under his ski cap. When he came over to talk, I was primarily happy for the opportunity to say something besides Happy Holidays. He was prelaw at Berkeley home on winter break as the days passed, he came to my hut more and more. Do you want to see the diamond earrings? I'm buying my girlfriend, he asked one night, holding up a rumpled rectangle of paper cut from a catalog.
I reached for the picture and held it up to the nearest string of lights squinting. A boyfriend with the means to buy diamonds was as foreign and murky a concept to me is Reagonomics. Jeff explained that his girlfriend Sonia was sick in bed, recovering from an adenoid ectomy. He was on his way to visit her after work. Unless you're free to grab a beer, he added. His voice was so casual, his face, such a study of nonchalance that it took me several seconds to register that he was coming on to me.
A family approached my booth and he waited while I rang them up. But in a detached way, his cool, perfect and profound. When the family left, I said, sure sounds good without giving a thought to my boyfriend or to poor Sonja and her adenoids.
We didn't have beer, we shared a bottle of peppermint schnapps and Jeff's Volkswagen in the parking lot, he kissed as if he had been doing it all his life.
He tasted like a junior mint. Jeff and I spent time together only after work and never before 10 p.m., I saw Michael some nights too, so as not to make him suspicious.
But as the weeks passed, I started to think that maybe I did want him to find out if for no other reason than to level the playing field. You deserve better, Jeff said, when I told him about Michael. He stroked my hair, ran his thumbs along my jawline as he gazed into my face. It was like a narcotic. You need someone who will take care of you. I nodded, drugged. He couldn't know the effect those words had on me, how they careened through my deepest and most complex desires, overwhelming the familiar voice of warning in my head.
Careful how lonely disappoint you. On Christmas Eve, we circled Millington Lake, the closest thing Fresno has to a romantic drive. When he pulled over, he cut the lights, but left the engine running for warmth while we make our way into Schnaps tinged sex, charged insensibility and oldies station began playing.
You are just too good to be true. And he began to sing in my ear. It was one of the most romantic moments in my life up to then. I can't believe I'll be back at Berkeley in a few weeks, Jeff said against my cheek. I know I hate to think about it. You should come with me. Wouldn't that be amazing? I kissed him then and I knew I was done for my caution. Dissolved within seconds, I had constructed a full fantasy of our life together that gained size and force the way a pea sized chunk of snow becomes an unstoppable village crushing avalanche.
And in this fantasy, I was wearing diamond earrings. Sonja's diamond earrings, the more I let myself think it, the more true it seemed that those earrings were destined for me. Jeff couldn't say such things and still love Sonia Kutty. The next week, Jeff invited me to spend the night with him and his friends at a cabin on the lake. His friends were all taller or thinner or squatter versions of him wearing candy colored golf shirts, expensive jeans and deck shoes with knotted laces and no socks.
They went to great schools, USC, UC, Santa Barbara, Pepperdine. I went to Fresno City College, where I was in year three of a deeply inefficient course of study. I felt conspicuously proletarian around them and braced myself for the inevitable question that would force me to count myself as the working class below average student I was, but they never asked. The day was brilliant with packed snow, we flew down a steep hill on sleds, and I thought that when Jeff and I were a couple for good, we would do this kind of thing all the time.
But that night, it became clear nothing was further from the truth. We played drinking games that turned goofy then mean. I thought I was having fun until I realized I was the butt of every one of Jeff's friends off color jokes. They talk to me as if I were a cold girl along for the night, and though I kept waiting for Jeff to stand up for me, he never did.
I drank myself into a stupor and woke up the next morning remembering little, hoping I hadn't slept with him. After he didn't call me and I didn't call him, there would be no fantasy life, no earrings, and I grieved more for those perfect diamond studs than I ever had for any undeceived gift in my childhood. I had let myself believe fully in Jeff in the shiny new possibility of him for only a moment, but I had believed. And coming down from that height was like spiraling back to earth from outer space.
That was my mistake, surrendering to that desire and not one I planned to make again. When Michael headed back to school, he asked if I wanted to go along and stay a few days, I said yes, at least I knew what I was getting with him. And anyway, wasn't he exactly what I deserved? We took a nap, curled up on his couch, and when we awoke, it was raining, but we were warm and dry.
I snuggled tightly into him, feeling like a lost sheep who had returned home to the embrace of her very own wolf. He and I lasted a few more months, and then that was it for us to. Twenty years later, that annual collision of desire and disappointment is here again, but now I'm forty two with a solid marriage, three children and a house with a whopping mortgage, a middle class cliche to some, but an embarrassment of riches to me.
And in getting to this place, I've also become the keeper of a hard earned Christmas lesson, a gift really, that I hope to pass on to my children. Allow yourself to want things no matter the risk of disappointment. Desire is never the mistake. Shopping for home and auto insurance can seem like a daunting task, but protecting the things you've worked hard for is important. The trick is knowing where to find the right coverage at the best possible price.
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It's nice to get it right.
My name is Frances Robles. I'm a national and foreign correspondent for The New York Times. When you read an investigation that I wrote, there's a lot of things that you don't see. I might have spent hours driving around in circles making sure I wasn't being tailed. I don't give away the location of someone in hiding. I might have spent an entire day crisscrossing the county, knocking on a dozen people's doors, looking for exactly the source who will help me expose government corruption.
I might have read through 500 pages of documents looking for a single sentence, but that's what it takes to tell these stories. Right. And I'm proud to do it. If this kind of journalism is important to you, journalism that holds power to account, that gives voice to the voiceless, then you can support it by becoming a New York Times subscriber. Go to NY Times dot com subscribe. Hi, Paula. Hi, Dad. Johns, how are you?
I'm wonderful. How are you? I'm so glad to hear it. It's nice to connect with you.
It was published in 2007, which is staggering to me, really.
That's where I want to begin, because 2007 was 13 years ago. Part of that may be to believe and at that time, the present of the essay was you living the American Dream with your three children and your marriage and your whopping mortgage.
Where can you catch me up on where all that stands now? What's happened over the past 13 years?
Yeah, so now my kids are 14, 16 and twenty seven.
So I guess the other catching up to do in the present is that essay was published right before my first novel was about to be released. And since then I've had substantial success. That was really very much beyond me when I wrote that essay. Like I could not imagine a present where I would just be writing full time and I was teaching three adjunct jobs where they would give me like a buck fifty and some cat food to teach, to teach like one hundred and twenty five students and to work all the time.
And and I'm divorced now. When did you get divorced. You knew that it's ten years ago.
So three years after this I said, yeah, again, I could not have imagined that present when I was barreling down the highway. Yeah, because you talk about the solid marriage and that feeling of like you, you sort of made it.
Yeah, I really thought I, I thought I had it and I was sort of past that point of fragility or uncertainty. Yeah, that was a sudden thing I thought was, you know, gradual thing.
I feel like a lot of couples can't survive, like being parents together. Mm. I thought we were really well matched. You know, we shared the same politics and the same worldview. And, you know, he had this joke when we were dating that I was a giver and he was a taker.
And that turned out to be like less funny as our kids got older.
And I just sort of bore everything, like, you know, like all the cleaning off the shop that I paid all the bills. And then I, you know, I was working, too. And I took care of the kids and he would come home. And the first thing he would do is jump in his recliner with The New Yorker and a glass of scotch.
But how did you how did you get to a point where you felt you deserved better?
Because I know the theme of your essay is that you didn't you got what you deserved and you didn't deserve much.
So in this marriage, you must have come to a conclusion that you deserved more. How did that happen?
You know, I think there was something to that I realized I was a bigger person than the marriage was letting me be. And that was really it. It was it was much more than not liking him.
Was it frightening then to then sort of jettison the security again?
Oh, my God, yes. When I left that marriage, it was because I realized like. Yes, that I wanted something bigger. I decided that I was going to work on this career. And I I did that like it was a career.
And the children shazam. Right. You know, I had written the Paris wife and it had sold, but it hadn't launched when I split with him.
And the at the Paris wife became a huge bestseller that really became. Yeah. It's like almost two million in print and thirty seven languages and. Wow. And honestly, once I left that marriage Dan, I got bigger like that voice that had been whispering to me. He never loads the dishwasher. Right.
That's everything. That was the small you person that was so kind of twisted back on disappointment and it's the same whispered promise. If you do X you'll get X, right.
What what is your dating or relationship life like these days?
So a year and a half ago, I took a vow of celibacy. Hmm.
That like not religious, but like I couldn't. How do you take a vow of celibacy? You just decide that.
You just decide that one day you just decide that, like my latest relationship had ended and I realized that all the ways that I still was doing that thing, I was still sort of twisted back on myself and trying to solve for X that kind of deep love and acceptance that would finally obliterate the pain of the past.
And I'm not saying I'll not be in a relationship again that I kind of made a deal with myself, that I wouldn't do it if I still thought. That I could solve for X by finding the love that's not the way you had to find a way to stop looking in that way.
Yeah. I want to ask you a little bit about your own childhood. What did love feel like to you as a child? Oh, well, it felt like electricity in a negative way, like the lab mice that have the lever that gets them food, but it also gives them a shock.
Oh, explain how that worked in your life.
So none of the people who raised me were my actual family members. So my mother left when I was four. She said she was going to the movies with a boyfriend and dropped my sisters. I have a younger and an older sister and she dropped us at my grandmother's house and never came back.
And my father was in prison at the time, a heroin addict, super violent. And then from then on, for the next 14 years, we bounced in and out of various foster homes. But the most difficult part was right at the beginning. The social worker kind of takes you to his house with these strangers and drops you off with your clothes and garbage bags. And like, this is your mother and father are like, these are the people who will take care of you.
But it doesn't feel like love. It's not love. Right. It's like everything is bent on trying to figure out these people just to make sure they don't give you away again. So if adults were maps of difficult terrain, the thing I was trying to figure out was the kind of child they could tolerate. Right. And then to bend myself into that person, I'm being polite and saying please and thank you for not turning back food that I didn't like, even though it made me gag.
I'm not asking for anything being good. Like whatever the rules were, they were in my head. They were spinning on a loop in my head. But safety's on top like love wanting the love was super, super dangerous because it didn't seem like that was on the menu. In the essay, you're looking back at a younger you, and I'm curious how you would look back at the person who wrote that essay.
You know, I'm learning to have a lot of tenderness for that person.
I think the person who wrote that essay, I had just built a different scenario that was supposed to deliver in the same way as those diamond earrings. Right. It's just another fantasy. The minivan, you know, hello kitty, goldfish crackers.
Right. The mortgage, like all of those things are supposed to deliver. Right. Security. But what is security? I mean, security is only like being able to live with yourself as you are, like all the parts of yourself, and not to turn away from any of it. Well, thanks so much for talking to me today. Yeah, I really enjoyed it. Thanks a lot, Dan. Modern Love is produced by Kelly Prime and Butoh and edited by Sarah Sarasohn and Wendy Dawg, music by Dan Powell, special thanks to Julia Simon, Nora Keller, Mahima Khemlani, Laura Kim, Bonnie Wertheim on your Streamy and Sam Dolnick, Corica, and also to Ryan Wagner and Kelly Rogers at Autum.
The executive producer of New York Times audio is Lisa Tobin. I'm really. I'm Dan Jones. See you next week.