David and I were “Watergate babies.”
When Republican operatives broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, we were just kids. But we both grew up in houses where the evening news blared the stories and the morning newspapers filled in the details. We matured with a consciousness of the power of the press.
When Richard Nixon resigned, I felt I’d witnessed the “fourth estate” at work, and stood transfixed before the TV. I began to imagine that someday I would have a hand in uncovering political corruption the way Woodward and Bernstein did in the Washington Post.
David’s psyche was equally marked. We met at The New Haven Register and fell in love in the newsroom.
Between covering local zoning boards, we zoned in on our common passions, sharing long conversations over dinners, on leisurely walks, and on Sunday mornings with the newspaper spread out between us. We decided early that if the relationship had a chance, we'd need to give it time to grow quietly, away from our colleagues who were, after all, essentially paid gossips.
We did well. Most of our colleagues failed to notice the flirtatious glances across the newsroom or observe my sudden interest in hanging around his desk.
Outside of work, we talked shop. I was amazed that David would listen so attentively as I waxed on about the intricacies of the latest city council meeting and the slime-bucket tendencies of a certain local official. I hung on every word he told me about trying to ferret out information on a local charity that might have been misusing funds. We laughed a lot — and hard — over the often ridiculous characters who populated the newsroom.
Our secret romance was outed about six months later when we’d finished our weekly 6 am tennis game. We were sitting at a traffic light downtown, when who should pull up in the car next to us but the biggest mouth in the newsroom. We looked over at him. He looked at us.
We were busted.
By then we were pretty sure we were going to be dating for a while, so there was no great tragedy in sharing the news. Soon after, though, we began to harbor another secret: David decided to apply to business school.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to The New York Times,” he said, explaining why this Woodward-Bernstein-influenced guy would turn all business-y on me. I kind of liked his ambition. But when Yale’s business school said no and Stanford’s said, “C’mon to California,” we came to a crossroads.
“You should move to California with me and get a job out there,” David said cheerfully, as if it were a simple decision for a young woman to make.
“If you want me to come to California, we have to be engaged,” I said.
The only way he could have looked more shocked was if someone had poured ice-cold water on his head.
“I’m not ready to get engaged,” he said.
“And I’m not ready to continue a relationship that has an uncertain future,” I answered, girding myself for the inevitable breakup.
I began staying alone in my one-bedroom apartment that spring, often gazing forlornly out the bay window past the unplanted window boxes that hung there — the ones I had been meaning to plant for weeks. “I should really put flowers in those,” I said to myself for the hundredth time.
One afternoon, a few weeks later, I came home from work to find a giant, handmade construction paper card on my dining table. “LOOK OUTSIDE!” it read. I turned to see the three window boxes overflowing with purple and pink petunias.
Inside, the card continued, “I love you and someday I may want to marry you. But right now, I’m just not ready for that. Can’t we work something out? I miss you.”
Here was a journalist who knew how to make headlines. He had me at “Look outside.” I agreed to a détente. We’d enjoy each other long distance without a commitment, and see where it took us.
We’ve been married for 27 years, and neither of us has ever toppled a president. But we still share an enthusiasm for one another’s careers, still listen to each other with laser focus, still laugh at the same things, and still support each other whenever the world seems to turn against us.
I definitely owe Richard Nixon a debt of gratitude.
Andrea Atkins is a freelance writer who lives in Rye, NY and shares a basement office with her husband of 27 years, David Hessekiel.