My Dad’s Ex Girlfriend

I want to talk about my boyfriend, but first I want to talk about my dad’s ex girlfriend. Once upon a time one fall afternoon, Roberta Fox asked Richard Lawrence Whelan to walk her home from school.  Roberta and Larry lived about 9 minutes away from one another, but had not met until this day in September, 1971.  Soon after that, Roberta and Larry became steadies at Valley Stream High.

Fast forward 40 years to a Saturday afternoon in April 2011; Larry Whelan and his daughter, Olivia Whelan, are in a car driving to Valley Stream, Long Island, to meet his ex-girlfriend, Roberta Fox. I went with Dad to meet Roberta and the Foxes the day after I had had a first date with a boy I liked.  During this Whelan fam road trip Dad briefed me on the names I should know and shared some stories I hadn’t heard and then some stories I had.

Whilst being prepped for this unconventional gathering, I resisted the urge to go through the dreamy night I had had a few hours ago.  Often, those chemistry evenings are one night and one night only so I tried to keep my hopes at bay.  My first act in diminishing expectations was to ignore my cell phone.  I did not want to be waiting for a text that might not come, so I put my phone on silent and burried my cellular at the bottom of my overpopulated girl-tote.

“Laurie is the name of Roberta’s sister.  She will be there today, too.  How was your date, kiddo?”  Dad inquired.  “It was fine!  He seems nice.  We’ll see what happens.”

We entered Valley Stream.  I took in the ‘burbs.  Having grown up in a city, the suburbs have always hit me as cool and exotic.  Eventually we drove into Richard’s old neighborhood, and parked near Richard’s old house.

The house had changed since my Dad lived there.  The cornfields behind the house were gone (replaced by more families and their homes), and the tree and tree house in the front lawn were no more.

Back in the ‘60s, when my Dad was growing up, the Whelan home was unconventional in a lot of ways.  Dad’s parents, theatre people, kept odd hours.  Grandma’s guests were her dancer friends, flamboyant types “screaming across the lawn” as Dad put it.

But right now it was very quiet.  Cold air seemed to waft up from the pavement, like in fall.  This weather always gets me romantic and sentimental.   I breathed in deeply and longed.

The bad thing about a good date is that you start to care, and then you become vulnerable.  In the past, I have let myself be vulnerable to the wrong people for the wrong reasons.  As you get wiser and more cautious, you build up walls and fortresses that protect you from getting hurt.  Once you’ve matured a bit, you have to learn to let people  (the right people) in again.  Corey was my friend, and a kind person.  I had already let him past some of those internal defenses I talked about.  He was also closer to me than I would have liked to admit.  I was worried about getting hurt.

In Dad’s later teenage years, Dad dealt with his own share of hurt.  His folks got divorced, and his father moved out.   Dad’s mother went back to college and was often out of the house.   Susan, his, sister left Valley Stream to live in New York.  Sean, the broseph, left  suburbia to do Woodstock etc., and my Dad was usually alone.  I think the Fox’s provided regularity in my father’s life.  Dad found a fortress with the Foxes.

We kept walking until Dad said “That’s it.”  We stopped in front of a house with red bricks.  While Dad’s home had changed under new management, the Foxes continued to live in the home they had raised their kids in.  “Looks exactly the same,” Richard said with an emotion I could not read.

We walked up to their doorway and rang the bell.  The door opened, and Mother and Father Fox hugged my father and then me.  Mr. Fox sat down to hear Dad’s stories as if it were still 1974.  And he listened to mine as if I’d dated his daughter, too.  Roberta arrived a few hours later, with her son, Burt.  Roberta and Richard sat across from one another and caught up.  In a very strange way, it was like watching my dad on a date.

“O, could you give Mom a call and let her know we arrived safe?”
sure dad.  I unearthed my phone from my bag.  No text from the guy. Cool!  (shit.)

Everyone continued retell stories I had heard but had not participated in.  It only took this moment of boredom for me to retreat to last night.

I was impressed with how long I waited to approach Corey (usually I rush heartfirst into romances).  After two months of considering things, not asking Corey out was no longer an option.  So I asked Corey out, and he said yes, and we met a Friday evening at a bar.  I spilled my water, and we both laughed.  I performed in an improv show, and was totally self-conscious.  Later on there was a glass of wine.  Then there was an ironic fake fire, in front of which a two or three hour conversation took place.  At some point, I was asked on a second date and at some point I admitted to liking my date and then we closed the bar making out.  Then a goodbye near the G train station.  Then a solo cab ride from Queens to my apartment.  With all the wine had and all the sleep not had from the previous week, I was unreserved with myself and just happy.  My head dipped back onto the head support and I woke up in front of my apartment, smiling.

But a few hours later, it was a bright morning with the light everywhere.   Daydreams (nightdreams) had vacated the premises.  And now that all the wine had drained from my system,  I was filled with combination elation and dread of getting involved with a friend.   Corey and I have an improv community in common.  If things didn’t work out, it would suck for awhile.  I was so enamored by Corey, and how he looked when he performed.  And how he laughed when he coached my team in practice.  And how he looked at me when I spilled water all over myself.  My faults and imperfections and unfunny moments felt at home with him.  I did not check myself at the door when we met up at the bar.  I didn’t feel the need to be someone I wasn’t.  Corey had never tried to use me when I was naive and easy; he never took  advantage of my loneliness.   I had opened my eyes and mind to a nice person.   And now I was terrified of disappointing this nice person, and thereby being disappointed.

When I brought myself back Valley Stream, Richard, Roberta and Roberta’s son had decided we should go check out Valley Stream high, where Dad and Roberta met.  I made a point of leaving my phone behind.

The four of us played 4 man baseball, and each rotated as catcher, pitcher, batter, and then all-field man.  My dad, his daughter, his ex, and her kid all on a team. I thought about how strange this was for me, and then realized it must have been even stranger for my Dad.  How many years and events had lead to this bizarre and poignant inning.  The hurt of losing a high school girlfriend, the joy of finding someone new, the surprise of having a daughter.  He had opened himself up to this beautiful family, and received a surrogate home when he most desparately needed one.  Even though he had to leave it at some point, and say goodbye to the possibility of a lifetime with Roberta, there was still room for love and happiness and joy in such a strange reunion as this one.  Letting yourself open up to someone doesn’t guarantee “forever”, but the gains can still be so much greater than your losses.  I decided it was okay for me to want something more to come of me and Corey, even if it didn’t.

I was up to bat, and literally hit every ball out of the park.  Corey likes softball.  I smiled – he would have been impressed.

Before Dad and I left for home, I got a text.  And 6 months into what has indeed become a relationship, I am so in love.   And I feel safe.  And I am continually awed by what healthy love can do to you.   For all the ways that I love Corey, and there are many, loving Corey has helped me realize it’s okay to be afraid, and it’s okay to let go of fear.  And while I still worry and plot and catastrophize, I know those actions are not real and that’s what’s going on presently could silence all that.   To have found someone who does improv and enjoys LOTR is more than I’ve ever known to ask for.  To get to plod along in life with my match and my challenger makes me luckier than anyone I know.  Regardless of the timespan of this relationship, whether it’s a moment in my life, or if it’s forever (which I hope is the case), my fortresses don’t need to be up anymore.

Once upon a time, on a nondescript April Monday, Olivia Whelan asked Corey Brown out on a date.  Corey said yes.  Six months later, neither are afraid.


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