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From The New York Times, I’m Anna Martin. This is Modern Love. Today’s essay is from a woman who meets a cute guy at the grocery store. They hit it off in the produce aisle. They’re chit-chatting. He asks her on a date, which sounds perfect, right?
Except, she has this nagging feeling that date isn’t going to go well. This essay was also turned into a fabulous episode of the Modern Love TV show. It’s called “Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am,” written by Terri Cheney and read by Kirsten Potter.
I’m a bipolar woman. I’ve lived much of my life in a constant state of becoming someone else. The precise term for my disorder is “ultradian rapid cycler,” which means that without medication, I am at the mercy of my own spectacular mood swings — “up” for days (charming, effusive and productive, but never sleeping, and ultimately, hard to be around), and then “down,” essentially, immobile, for weeks at a time.
This darkness started in high school. One morning, I just couldn’t get out of bed. I stayed there for 21 days. The pattern continued. And my parents’ friends and teachers were concerned, but they just thought I was eccentric.
After all, I was a stellar student. I never misbehaved and was the valedictorian at graduation. College was the same. I thrived academically, in spite of my mental illness. I sailed through law school.
I became an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles. I represented celebrities and major motion picture studios. And through this whole time, I searched for help through an endless parade of doctors, therapists, drugs and harrowing treatments like electroshock.
Other than doctors, nobody knew. I hid it from friends and family with elaborate excuses, and I only showed up when I was at my best. But my personal life was another story.
In love, there’s no hiding. You have to let someone know who you are. But I didn’t have a clue who I was, from one moment to the next. Worst of all, my manic, charming self was constantly putting me into situations that my down self couldn’t handle.
For example, one morning, I met a man in the supermarket produce aisle. I hadn’t slept for three days, but you wouldn’t have known it to look at me. My eyes glowed green. My strawberry blonde hair put the strawberries to shame.
And I literally sparkled. I’d worn a gold, sequined shirt to the supermarket. Manic taste is always bad. I pulled my cart alongside his and started lasciviously squeezing a peach.
“I like them nice and firm, don’t you?”
He nodded. “And no bruises,” he said.
That’s all I needed — an opening — and I was off.
I told him my name, asked him his likes and dislikes in fruit, sports, presidential candidates and women. I talked so quickly, I barely had time to hear his answers. I didn’t buy any peaches, but I left with a dinner date for Saturday, two nights away.
But by the time I got home, the darkness had already descended. I didn’t feel like plowing through my closet or unpacking the groceries. I just left them on the counter to rot or not rot. What did it matter?
I tumbled into bed as I was, and I stayed there. It was all I could do to take a breath in and push it back out, over and over. On Saturday afternoon, the phone rang.
I was still in bed, and I had to force myself to roll over, pick it up, and mutter, “Hello?”
“It’s Jeff, from the peaches. Just calling to confirm your address.”
I vaguely remembered talking to someone like that. And that wasn’t me doing the talking then, or at least not this me. But my conscience knew better.
“Get up. Get dressed,” it hissed in my ear. “It doesn’t matter if she made the date. You’ve got to see it through.”
When Jeff showed up at 7, I was dressed and ready, but more for a funeral than a date.
I was swathed in black and hadn’t put on any makeup. I had nothing to say, not then or at dinner. So Jeff talked, a lot, at first, then less and less. And yet, I was crushed when he didn’t call.
A couple of weeks later, I awoke to a world gone Disney — daffodil, sunshine, robins-egg sky. I flung back the covers and danced in my nightie. My gray flannel nightie.
I got one glimpse of it in the mirror, shuddered and flung it off, too. I rifled through my closet for something decent to wear. And there, shoved way in the back, was a pair of skintight jeans and something silky and sparkly and just what I needed — an exquisite gold sequined shirt.
Then, I tugged on the jeans. Something was sticking out of the pocket — a business card with a few words scribbled across the back. “Call me. Jeff.” Jeff? Jeff?
Was 6:30 AM too early to call? No. Not for Jeff.
It rang and rang. I was about to give up when a thick, sleepy voice said,
“It’s me! Why haven’t you called?”
“You sound different,” he said.
Soon, I had him laughing so hard, he got the hiccups and had to get off the phone. But before he did, he asked me out for Friday, three nights away. No, I insisted. It had to be tonight, or even this afternoon.
We compromised on dinner that evening at 8:00. I spent the afternoon cleansing my house of all evidence of depression. When the house looked perfect, I turned on myself with the same fury.
I buffed and polished and creamed and plucked and did everything in my power to recreate Rita Hayworth’s smoky allure in “Gilda.” As I was putting on eyeshadow, I remembered her poignant line about the movie. “Every man I’ve known has fallen in love with Gilda and wakened with me.”
It gnawed at me, to the point that my hands started trembling, and I couldn’t finish my mascara. Suddenly, I didn’t look radiant. There were lines around my mouth and a hollowness to my eyes.
My skin was deathly, pale under the carefully applied foundation and blush. I sat on the toilet and started to cry. “Not now,” I prayed. “Please, not now.”
It was 7:57. I have three minutes to wrestle my brain chemistry into submission. Oh, sure, I knew there was another option. I could tell Jeff what was going on.
But this was a man who didn’t even like his peaches bruised. What would he think of a damaged psyche?
The doorbell rang and rang. I huddled in the bathroom, shivering.
When it was finally quiet, I rinsed off the rest of my mascara and tossed my cocktail dress in the hamper. Then, I buttoned up my gray flannel nightie and settled in for the long night to come. I never heard from Jeff again.
That was five years ago — five long years of ups and downs, of searching for just the right doctor and just the right dose. I’ve finally accepted that there is no cure for the chemical imbalance in my brain, any more than there is a cure for love. But there’s a little yellow pill I’m very fond of, and a pale blue one, and some pretty pink capsules, and a handful of other colors that have turned my life around.
Stability, ironically, is so exciting, I have decided to venture into dating again. I have succumbed to pressure from friends and signed up for three months of an online dating service. “Who are you?” The questionnaire asks at the start.
I want to be honest, but I don’t know how to answer. Who am I now? Or who was I then? Every so often, the sun shines too bright, and I think for a moment that I own the sky.
I think, how wonderful it was to be Gilda, if only in my own mind. But then, I remember the price of the sky. So I take off my makeup, rumple my hair and go to the supermarket in sweats.
The gold sequined shirt languishes in my closet. I’m thinking of giving it away.
Not just yet.
Coming up — another story where a man meets a woman, and he’s super into her, but she’s not ready for love just yet. After the break.
Imagine this. You meet the person of your dreams. They’re kind and beautiful and smart and funny. They like all the same movies you do.
And then, they tell you that they’re dating someone — someone who is very obviously not you. That’s how Dave and Janelle’s story starts — with some very bad timing.
My name is Janelle Funchess.
My name is David Funchess.
And I live here in Yonkers, New York. OK. So —
First day I met Janelle, it was about 2007.
My friend Tiara says, oh, come to church with me.
And in walks this girl. It was like those movies where everything kind of gets dark, except for the person you’re looking at. So I immediately said to myself, I have to find out who that is.
I remember seeing Dave, because he plays piano really well.
I think I might have tried to do a little bit extra that day on the piano.
You know, after church, everybody kind of just speaks, and they say their hellos or their goodbyes.
I just ran up.
And I’m kind of awkward a little bit, so I was just like, hi.
I said, hey, hey. Who is this? I think I did shake her hand. But —
I was dating somebody at the time.
She was in a relationship. I still asked, how do I get myself in?
We both have a dry sense of humor. We both love, like, “The Office.” Like, we connected over, like, comedy.
The one thing I do remember from that time was, this could possibly be my wife.
I was a person who was deeply into love, from a young age. I would look at love movies all the time.
So Dave, doesn’t look like it, but one of his favorite movies is “A Walk to Remember,” with Mandy Moore.
And I knew that there was something there that wasn’t just fairy tale. So I definitely said to myself, if it couldn’t be what I wanted, we’d definitely be friends.
We would message each other. Like, we would — I guess it was flirting.
We developed a rapport.
You can’t tell when he’s serious sometimes and when he’s playing around.
And that lasted years. [CHUCKLES] Most of the times, it was me hitting her up, and she didn’t get back to it until weeks later.
So I kind of kept him just as a friend.
But that still was a constant. There’s something there, and I just kind of need to be patient.
2016, a musician friend of mine did a show in New York one day, and that night, he passed away.
It was such a shock to my community. It was very sad and almost traumatizing. However, it gave me a sense of grace, because I’m still here.
He’s not here anymore to accomplish certain things that he had, the goal that he had for himself. And for me to still be here, there’s some purpose for my life. And if I sit down, I won’t accomplish that.
And I first took it for my music, and I changed jobs around, so I could focus more on creating. But when it came to a partner, someone I could share my life with, this was the time where I said, now or never. And that initiated the courage that I had to make one last attempt.
And without thinking, all I said was, hey, so can I ask you a question? Can we go get some smoothies together?
I think he asked me to go out for smoothies. I think that was, like, our first official date.
She goes, sure. And I literally jumped out the chair of where I was and walked to the car. And I did something that I usually do by myself a lot, which is just drive around. So we just started driving.
And I remember him saying, like, seeing somebody who passed away in their prime, pass away at such a young age when there was still so much work to be done — I know that affected him deeply.
Driving was our relationship, definitely, first two years, at least. By the time I would get ready to leave work, she would be heading home on the train. So I would head down to the Bronx and pick her up, and we’d go driving.
He used to be a cab driver, so he knows, like, all the back streets of Yonkers. So he would just take me to places I’ve never seen before.
It was an opportunity for open dialogue.
Things in our childhood that went wrong, or things in love that hurt my feelings, or — I don’t know. Anything you can think of under the sun that came through our minds.
Random conversation. We’ll talk about pizza, and then she’ll say something about softball.
I think I saw him in a different light, where I saw, wow, he is a jokester, he’s always happy, but there’s more. This is who I want to do life with. I definitely wanted us to get married.
So Dave told me, the minute I walked into the church, he knew. And I couldn’t understand that concept, because to me, it’s just like, how do somebody who’s the person for you, when you don’t even know what they sound like or you don’t know what they like? How do you know?
But he said he just knew all along. And when we said, I do, and we really — like, when we stepped over the broom, and I was like, wow, he was right.
- david funchess
(SINGING) You hold the line to me now.
At their wedding, Dave sang this to Janelle as part of their vows.
- david funchess
(SINGING) That’s why I’ll always be in love with you, still through it all. That’s when we’re going up. Oh, we’re going up. When we rise and fall, you know I’ll always be in love with you still.
On the next Modern Love, two people meet at the corner store. And even though they’re strangers, they immediately connect.
I just thought that he saw me and the way I felt inside, and it made my heart like, wow, he sees me.
How to nurture a friendship that will change your life — coming up on Modern Love.
Modern Love is produced by Elyssa Dudley, Julia Botero, Christina Djossa and Hans Buetow. It’s edited by Sara Sarasohn. This episode was mixed by Dan Powell, who also created the wonderful Modern Love theme music.
Digital production by Mahima Chablani and Nell Gallogly, and a special thanks to Anna Diamond at Audm. The Modern Love column is edited by Daniel Jones. Miya Lee is the editor of Modern Love projects. I’m Anna Martin. Thanks for listening.