MARCY: We both agreed that we didn't want to see each other and do that until we could actually hug each other and see each other's faces and look into each other's eyes. Honestly, I don't know what's going to happen.
This is Death, Sex & Money.
The show from WNYC about the things we think about a lot and need to talk about more.
I'm Anna Sale. And here with me is the host of the NPR podcast It's Been a Minute, Sam Sanders.
SAM SANDERS: Hi, Anna Sale. How are you?
ANNA SALE: I'm good. I'm really excited to get to work with It's Been a Minute. It has been a minute since life has been normal.
SS: It has.
AS: Something I have been thinking about is the way in which I have, for most of these months, thought about it as a time when everything is different than it used to be. But something I have been thinking about since we started talking is the way in which things are not changing because of how our lives are right now. All of the momentum that creates evolution and change in our lives is not there. So, so much is just staying the same, stuck in place.
SS: Staying the same. Yeah. And when I think of stuck in place, a lot of this year has been people stuck in their physical spaces, stuck at home, can't be with folks you love, or you're tied up and living with folks who you have been coming to hate.
AS: So this week on Death, Sex & Money and over on It's Been a Minute, we're offering up two very different takes on being stuck, together and apart.
SS: Your story that you're going to share in your episode is quite romantic. The two that I have to bring to our listeners are not at all romantic. [Laughs] One is this group of friends who have a friend pod, and they're worried that they're just being too mean to each other. And then this other pod story, oh my God, it is a doozy. It involves a dispute over real estate. That's all I'll say.
AS: Well, I'm really glad we got to do something together. I love your show, Sam. After you listen to this episode, listen to It's Been a Minute's episode about being stuck, and hit subscribe while you're there. Here's our show.
AS: Before Coronavirus and before the pandemic, what was your love life like?
MARCY: Pretty much non-existent. [Laughs]
AS: Was that okay? Did that feel just fine?
MARCY: Yes. It was great.
This is Marcy. She's 69 years old and lives in the Bay Area in California. She hasn't done much dating since her third marriage ended about 10 years ago.
MARCY: I was pretty devastated. I didn't want to get divorced. I spent many evenings on the couch watching Seinfeld and just laughing and being a little bit hysterical, I think. But as time went on, I could see that it was really the best thing for me. I was loving being a single person. It was the most freeing time in my whole life.
Marcy is an artist, and in the past few years, she's spent a lot of solitary time in her studio painting and drawing. But she wasn't opposed to the idea of finding love again. Her daughter and her friends encouraged her to try to meet someone, maybe go on a dating app.
MARCY: I kept saying, I think if I meet somebody, it's either going to be because somebody - like friends introduces me to somebody, or it's somebody from my past.
AS: What made you start thinking back about your high school days?
MARCY: Well, you know, I've been thinking about this person for most of my life. Over the years off and on, I would think about him and I'd remember how sweet it was when we were kids. He kept coming up in my brain like, "I wonder whatever happened to him" It seems like he's always been with me.
The person Marcy couldn't stop thinking about was a boy she met in her senior year of high school, in the spring of 1969. We'll call him Joe. That's not his real name. He went to another high school where he was student body president and one of the only Black students. Marcy's white. Through a mutual friend, he asked Marcy to his prom.
MARCY: So, we met. He definitely came to my house. We'd go for walks. I barely remember that, but I remember the feeling of walking around, this was in Southern California, walking around our neighborhood and just talking and talking. He was just such a good listener and really interesting. It was just a very sweet time. We were both 18. So young, right? I made a dress, red velvet dress. We went out to dinner, which was really awkward because we were these young kids in some fancy restaurant, all dressed up, and then we went to the prom. My memory of it is that when we got there, all of a sudden, he just shut down. He sat down at a table, put his head in his hand. Wouldn't talk to me, wouldn't dance with me. I kept trying to see what was going on. He was just completely shut down from me.
Marcy was upset. She remembers crying to another friend of hers who was there and spent most of the prom with her and another boy named Scott.
MARCY: And at the end of the prom, I ended up with Scott. And spent the summer with him, dating and, you know, having a lot of fun.
AS: And Scott's white.
AS: Did you say goodbye to your date?
MARCY: I don't remember. I think he probably got the message. I was very upset and hurt.
Marcy's fling with Scott ended when that summer was over. And Marcy never knew what had upset her prom date, Joe. She doesn't remember talking with him after that. But as the years went by, she often thought back on Joe and the short time they spent together.
MARCY: There was some really like heart connection, I guess I would say.
AS: When you remember those walks before prom with Joe, do you remember feeling like he really liked you?
MARCY: Yeah. Yeah. The memory I have is a feeling of, this guy is really special and smart and knows so much. And he wasn't like an 18-year-old boy that would force himself on me.
AS: Were you dating? Did you remember kissing?
MARCY: No. No. I think we probably held hands, but no.
AS: When you think of your teenage self, was that like in keeping? When you had boyfriends, was it about holding hands and walking around and not -?
MARCY: Oh, I didn't have boyfriends. No, I did not have boyfriends. I was tall and really thin, and had glasses and curly hair, and so awkward and self-conscious, and had no idea how beautiful I was. In Southern California, the blonde surfer girl, short, curvy, and cute, that was the style back then. I always think that I was just like the outsider.
AS: You didn't fit in like a Beach Boys song.
MARCY: Oh my God, no, not even Gidget. [Laughs]
51 years, and marriages, divorces, and a move to Northern California later, Marcy still felt unsettled about what had happened on her prom night. Early this year, she decided to track down Joe. She'd looked for him before but hadn't had any success finding him. Her sister suggested looking for him on his high school's alumni Facebook page.
MARCY: This was so weird because the first time I went on that Facebook page, the administrator guy had put up a newspaper article about Joe.
AS: About Joe in the 21st century or in high school?
MARCY: In high school.
AS: So you see his teenage self. You are looking for him and then there is his teenage face.
MARCY: Yes! There he is! So I thought okay, "This is a sign."
The Facebook page administrator gave Marcy Joe's email address, and also told her that Joe lived not far from her, just across the bridge in San Francisco. So Marcy decided to write to him.
MARCY: I just, very carefully and very kindly said, this is who I am. I hope you've had a really good life. You've been on my mind all these years. I just felt I wanted to reach out and apologize for whatever happened when we went to the prom. If you're interested at all in saying hello or connecting or something, that would be really cool.
Marcy sent that email in February of 2020 and then heard nothing. And as the months went by, and the pandemic took hold, and Marcy stopped leaving her house, still, no reply from Joe. Until August.
MARCY: August 11th, I wake up and I look at my email and there's an email from him. I couldn't believe it. I remember just going, "Oh, no. Oh, no, what do I do now?" I sat with it for a while. It was a really nice email. It was just like, "Oh, thanks for connecting. Of course, it's great to hear from you." Very chill, not like, "Oh, thank God, you finally got in touch with me." [Laughs]
AS: How long did you wait before replying?
MARCY: Probably a day, not very long because, of course, I was the one trying to find him.
AS: Did you wait a day and not just email him back in a few hours, just to not seem overeager? Were you aware of that?
MARCY: No. It was more about, what do I say? How do I say that I'm so excited that he's written back? In his email, he never said, "You horrible person," or, "Look what you did to me, you ruined my life." It was like, his life has been great, it's been a wonderful life, and I felt so relieved. I felt like I had to be really careful how I wrote things, so I just sat with it. Of course, I called all my friends and told them, "Oh my God, he finally wrote back." [Laughs] So I wrote back and we started writing these very friendly emails like, here's what I've been doing. And we were writing back and forth and I said, "Hey, would it be crazy to talk on the phone?" We ended up talking for almost three hours.
AS: Sounds like what a teenager does.
MARCY: Yes. Well, and I hate talking on the phone. I much prefer to be with people, but of course, that is not how life is anymore. We just had so many - and we just laughed. When he called, we both couldn't believe it. Like, "Is this real? Am I really talking to this person?"
Coming up, Marcy tells me how their relationship has progressed, and how it hasn't.
MARCY: The idea of trying to plan something where we would have to be wearing masks, and he lives in an area where there's lots of people. I think the idea of trying to coordinate all that just seems too stressful for me.
Speaking of great stories from later in life, we are working away on our episode about getting older, with guest host Jo Ann Allen. It has been so cool to watch your emails and voice memos about being over 60 right now, come into our inbox.
LISTENER: I'm a 74-year-old woman.
LISTENER: I just turned 65.
LISTENER: I turned 66 last May.
LISTENER: I've been around the sun 75 times.
LISTENER: I'm calling from Nashville.
LISTENER: Cody, Wyoming.
LISTENER: I live in Louisville.
LISTENER: A very rural area in central Nevada.
LISTENER: Wanted to share a bit of my experience.
You're telling us about the parts of getting older that are bringing up big questions.
LISTENER: I have noticed a lot of changes in my sexuality in the last few years.
LISTENER: I hate the way my body looks.
LISTENER: I have gotten in touch with a lawyer about a will.
LISTENER: The just-in-case-ness of it all.
LISTENER: I don't have children of my own. It's like, "Who's going to miss me."
And, the parts of later life that are really great.
LISTENER: I just became a grandmother for the first time.
LISTENER: My husband and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary.
LISTENER: I've acquired some wisdom and I'm still young enough to use some of it.
We are really excited to share more of these conversations with you soon. And just a quick request, if you are not over 60, please send our episode with Jo Ann, Getting Real About Getting Older, to someone in your life who is. We've heard from a lot of older listeners that were introduced to the show by a younger friend or family member, which is very cool. We think they'll like this next episode we're working on too. Help us keep spreading the word. Send them to deathsexmoney.org/aging.
On the next episode, we are looking back at this year and what it has taken from us.
LISTENER: There’s been a lot of good things that happened this year, too. Like, if I just told you about the good things, you’d assume I had a good year. But unfortunately it feels like the things I lost are eventually going to define my future.
This is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC. I'm Anna Sale.
Early on in their reconnection, Marcy told Joe about her marriage history, but he didn't volunteer any information about his relationship status.
MARCY: And so I finally, during a conversation, said, "Oh, are you with somebody?" and he wasn't. And I remember going, "Oh! That's interesting that we're both single at this point in our lives."
AS: Do you remember feeling attracted to him?
MARCY: Yeah, to some degree. I think I really had a lot of protective walls up around me because of the last experience. In some ways, I felt like, well I don't know this guy. I was very cautious, probably overly cautious.
AS: Did that shift?
MARCY: Yes, because we started talking on the phone almost every night for at least a couple of hours. I paint a lot of what is going on in my life, so I kind of work through things. And I sent him some pictures of my artwork and I sent him a few little pieces of artwork. And he - it was almost like he knew - like he was there when I was painting. Nobody has ever looked at my artwork the way he has. He is just in it and really sees it. He's very sensitive and he's funny, he just makes me laugh. It's like the first person that I really feel I can trust. I'll say the first man in a long, long, long time. We say that we love each other.
AS: Wow. When did that happen?
MARCY: I'm going to say sometime either late September or early October. There was a time where he said, "I love you." I was like, "Oh my God!" He has brought so much love into my life and so much joy. And, um, I just, yeah, just saying that is so it's so powerful because in the past, I, I would say I, I take great joy in my sorrow. Because it's, it's so real and it's a feeling and it's such a, um, it's - it's okay. Like I'm okay with my sorrow. And, um, now I, I have so much joy. I mean, he'll, we'll be talking and he'll say, I just see your face smiling. And I, and I say, well, I'm, as I'm talking to you, I am smiling the whole time because he just, you know, it's like such an amazing connection to this person.
But still, despite only living about 15 minutes apart, Marcy and Joe have not actually seen each other, aside from trading a few photos.
MARCY: I sent a picture of myself, from when I was, I think I was 32 and I had finished art school.
AS: You're catching each other up in increments.
MARCY: I said, "This is who I am inside. If I don't look in the mirror, that's the person I see." Then I had my daughter take a real picture of me out in my backyard so that he could see what I look like now. Later on, he sent me a picture of when he was in his 40s. It was from a newspaper. I don't know. It wasn't a very good picture, but oh my God, so gorgeous. Then another picture from this movie that he participated in, and he tells me that he looks just like the picture when he was in his 40s except he's older. I don't know what that means. [Laughs] That's as far as we've gotten.
AS: So you've traded photos, and why not FaceTime or Zoom?
MARCY: Because I don't want to see him that way and he's not super computer, whatever. He doesn't even have a cell phone. [Laughs]
AS: Oh, man, that's sexy. That's very sexy. [Laughs]
MARCY: I know. I hate to say romantic, but in a way, it's so romantic that we mail things to each other and email. I mean, he's not trying to push it either. We both feel like we want to be able to - if we actually see each other, we want to see each other's faces. We want to hug each other. We want to not have to be cautious, or get tested first. I'm very nervous about getting the virus. I know people who've gotten it. I have lots of friends that go all over the place and do all sorts of things, and I'm horrified.
AS: It sounds like when you see him physically, you don't want to have restraint. You want to be able to just do what you want to do without caution.
MARCY: Yes. I want it to be like, I've had this vision of us sitting on my couch just cozy and talking and having a cup of tea. He couldn't come in my house. I wouldn't let him come in my house if we got together, and I wouldn't go in his house. Where do we go? To a park, and this is the first time we're going to see each other in 51 years? It seems completely impossible to do that. Then I think really the other part of it is that all of this that we've been doing is so much and so intense that seeing each other is going to be - I don't even know. [Laughs] It's going to be way too much to handle.
AS: Huh. Have you talked about different fantasies about what it'll be like when you do see each other?
MARCY: A little bit, yes. That's been kind of fun. Mmhm. [Laughs]
AS: Have you talked about sex?
MARCY: A very little bit. A very little bit. It's definitely an underlying sense. Because, I mean, part of it is that the way he sees me - not sees me, but sees me and thinks about me, he always thought I was stunning. That's how he saw me back then. He didn't see me as that awkward person with glasses and weird hair and stuff. He saw me as stunning.
AS: There are a lot of things that are important that don't include how you look, but to hear someone say that you look stunning is, what a way to feel adored. That's really nice.
MARCY: Oh yeah. Yeah.
AS: Do you think this romance - when you think about if this would have happened a year ago or in a time when there was not a pandemic, do you wish for that?
MARCY: I don't think either of us were ready until when it happened. I think the timing was, the timing was right. I'm just really enjoying this and enjoying how - I mean, you know, there's so many things when you're actually physically close to somebody that creates a whole level of greatness and issues.
MARCY: Complications. Yes.
AS: Because you've described how much you really enjoyed your life as a single person, and that you get to have this intense love and connection without having to change anything about your life.
MARCY: Exactly. I don't have to make room in my house or my closet or my bed, or who's going to cook dinner, all those things when you're actually living with somebody that you have to work out.
AS: Does it feel scary to think about something about your connection changing when you are in person?
MARCY: I wouldn't say scary, I would say I'm curious. I think that when we actually see each other and we actually hug each other, that will tell us everything we need to know. If it means that we fall madly in love and want to be together, that's great. If we look at each other and say we love each other and we're going to be friends forever, that's great too. I'm trying not to have any expectations. I'm not afraid, because I know that we will always be connected now. That to me is the most important thing.
AS: Have you talked about how your connection might be different when you're physically together and it's very plain that you're a white woman and he's a Black man, just that you will relate in a different way than when it's just your voices?
MARCY: I don't think so. I don't think that will affect anything. We'll see what we really look like, so that'll affect something, but the fact that we have different color skin, I don't believe it's going to have any bearing on anything.
AS: Just thinking about the timeline, I'm not sure if this is how you were thinking about it, but like between February and August this year, there was a lot of conversation about racism and history and each part that each of us have played and the history of racism in this country. For you thinking back on that prom night, when you arrived with a Black date and left with a white date, were you thinking about that against the backdrop of just, what part of I played in this?
MARCY: Well, in the beginning of us reconnecting, I wasn't thinking about it so much in what's happening and what's been happening with like Black Lives Matter. It was more just who we had been in our past and how we were catching up with all those 51 years of our lives. But of course, that subject came up because we'd be talking about a subject and he would say something like, "Yeah, if I was in that situation, I probably would be dead by now." He'd throw these little things out. So taht - you know, racism definitely came up in our conversations, and it was really good.
AS: Does he have any memory of why he shut down at prom and seemed upset?
MARCY: What he remembered recently was that he couldn't find me and he didn't know what had happened. Then he was just devastated when he realized that I was with that guy.
AS: You felt hurt by him and he felt hurt by you?
AS: Did you apologize? Have you apologized?
MARCY: Oh, yes. Many times.
AS: What did you say?
MARCY: I think we were talking about what life was like back then and how hurt he was. At some moment, I just felt like I had to say I want to apologize for whatever role I had in hurting him or making him feel bad.
AS: Did it feel good to hear her apologize?
JOE: It felt good just to hear her voice and talk to her.
This is Joe. He's pretty private but agreed to get on the phone with me and Marcy last week.
JOE: I let it go a long time ago. It became an interesting story. "Man, you know what happened to me, man? Yeah, man. I got left." [Laughs]
AS: [Laughs] "She left me! My prom date left me! Went home with another boy!"
JOE: At the prom, man! [Laughs]
AS: Now, I, I, um, I just want to ask you, Joe, I had a really wonderful long conversation with Marcy about what it's been like to get to know you again during these last several months. Can you tell me what it's been like for you?
JOE: Well, it's been revolutionary, I'd say. What's really interesting is that it opens me up to my 18-year-old self and I can just feel how I felt during that time, what was going on during that time. And I remember my 18-year-old self's first love. And uh -
AS: That first love was Marcy?
JOE: It's difficult to describe in words, but it's just been an absolute pleasure and revealing to me things about myself that I had forgotten. And there's a love between us that feels like a gift.
AS: And Marcy, you and I talked a bit about this when we were talking by ourselves, but I want to hear from both of you, what do you think it's going to be like when you get to see each other in person?
MARCY: Um. I think it's going to be like nothing else I've ever experienced.
JOE: Or it could be like an opera. They meet after all this time. There are clouds in the sky, but the sun is emerging through. They're walking towards each other. [Laughs] And then he sees her, falls into her arms, and has a heart attack.
JOE: But the EMTs are there and they shock him back to life.
That's Joe and Marcy, stuck apart and in love together, 51 years after they went to prom.
Death, Sex & Money is a listener-supported production of WNYC Studios in New York. Katie Bishop produced this episode. The rest of our team includes Afi Yellow-Duke, Anabel Bacon, Emily Botein, and Andrew Dunn.
Special thanks to NPR's It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders for collaborating with us on this idea of being stuck during the pandemic. Check out their episode about being stuck together during the pandemic, wherever you get your podcasts.
The Reverend John Delore and Steve Lewis wrote our theme music.
I'm on Twitter @annasale. The show is @deathsexmoney on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, which is how Marcy first found out about our show.
And thank you to Claire Muerdter in Iowa City, Iowa, who is a sustaining member of Death, Sex & Money. Join Claire and support what we do here by going to deathsexmoney.org/donate.
Since we talked, Marcy has kept us updated. She and Joe are still talking every day, and they still have not seen each other in person.
AS: That sense of patience is remarkable because I would be just like really mad. [LAUGHS] I'd be driving across the bridge, and it's like, "Let's just do this!"
MARCY: I think probably because I am, because we are both 69, we have more patience than if we were - like if it was when I was 40, oh my God, I don't know what I would have done. It would have been bad.
I'm Anna Sale, and this is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.