Saturday, August 13th, 2022

My winter of love: I was on holiday with my boyfriend – and the B&B owner told me a horrifying home truth | Relationships

Back in 2008, I lived in New York. I wasn’t a total stranger to North American winters – my stepmother is from Michigan, and the one and only time she persuaded me to go on a family sledging outing I was so cold I bailed and went back to sit in the car, like the moody teenager I most definitely was. But I’d never been on the continent for an entire winter. I bought a gigantic army surplus parka and resigned myself to months of wading through freezing slush, alternated with sitting in my studio apartment at night with the windows open because the ancient radiators had one setting: on. That was until I read an article in the New York Times travel section about upstate getaways. The mere mention of a charming B&B overlooking the Delaware River, where you could watch nesting eagles on a nearby bluff while sipping cognac, was all it took. Manhattan’s dreary ice-bound streets slipped away momentarily, and I imagined myself on that very deck. I was in a long-distance relationship at the time, and what, I reasoned, could be more romantic than such a weekend?

It was February, the very worst part of winter, and any twinkle of New York City’s seasonal cheer had well and truly died. My boyfriend was due a visit, and I was ecstatic at the prospect of a trip out of the city. We would go somewhere a hundred times more romantic than my apartment (which housed the world’s smallest and most uncomfortable bed), a thousand times more interesting than the corner diner, and a million times more nurturing than the intersection of Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. I could see it all: the icy river threading its way below the B&B’s deck, the eagles soaring majestically above us, me and my boyfriend holding hands and laughing in the snow, pink-cheeked and very much in love.

The B&B was remote. It was technically in a hamlet. Even better, I thought. The trip there involved taking a train from Penn station to the nearest town, then hiring a car to drive the rest of the way. No problem.

I should have been alerted to potential trouble ahead when reports of snow and ice storms in the region started coming in. When I phoned the B&B to confirm we would still be coming, they seemed surprised and told us everyone else had cancelled. Being English, this didn’t occur to me. But as I now know, American weather is different.

As the train headed north, it got quieter and quieter. Soon, we were the only passengers. It was absolutely freezing, and we were ill-equipped. We made it to the end of the line, picked up the cheapest hire car on offer, and proceeded to drive to our destination. Or rather tried to drive. With no snow tires on our crappy tin box, we slid all over the icy roads, some of which featured terrifying drops on either side. I genuinely thought we were going to die. I had a panic attack, crouched in the footwell of the passenger seat, which I tried to alleviate by chanting. I have no idea what, but probably something like: “Oh God, please don’t let us die out here.” My boyfriend was stoically silent as he attempted to navigate the unfamiliar terrain and not kill us both. At least that’s how I remember it. He may have told me to shut up and let him concentrate on driving, and he would have been perfectly in his rights to do so.

Somehow, we made it the 18 terrifying miles to said charming, and yes, very remote, B&B, and we were indeed the only guests there. A captive audience, it turned out. The place was run by a gay couple, one of whom was sensibly still back in the city. The remaining proprietor took a keen interest in us, plying us with cocktails and nibbles. Relieved not to be in the death car any more, and emboldened by alcohol, I naively enquired how we could obtain dinner – thinking that given the magnitude of the weather disaster we were experiencing, we would generously be offered some sort of sustenance. “There’s a pizza place a few miles away. They don’t deliver,” he said. Upon realising we would have to get back on the road, I am unashamed to say I cried. And I can’t even drive.

So we took a deep breath and went up to our room to freshen up, for we were starving and after a near-death experience pizza sounded just the ticket.

Either the walls of the B&B were thin or the physics of sound travelling were affected by the absence of any other guests, but right there in our room, we could clearly hear the proprietor on the phone to his partner – and he was telling him everything about us. What I was doing in New York, what my boyfriend’s job was, how we had travelled to the B&B, how we had asked for dinner … If things weren’t uncomfortable enough before, they certainly were now. But we duly went to the pizza place, which was charming and wood-panelled, and we lost ourselves in food and wine.

The next morning, we started afresh. It was romantic, even if we felt like hostages. There was crisp, blinding white snow all around, beautiful valleys and the Catskill mountains. We went to an outdoor store, got properly equipped with snow-boots and warm hats, and went for walks: crunching through snow, marvelling at the views and the fresh air. We made a short, Blair Witch-style film; we had a lot of sex. And we saw baby eagles through the telescope on the deck set up to view the nest – an amazing sight that I will always cherish.

The kicker to all this romance came at cocktail hour on the second and last night, however. I had relaxed somewhat into our hostage situation, and my guard was down. If our host didn’t know literally everything about me from the first cocktail hour, he certainly did now. He sidled up to me as I was helping myself to some more spiced nuts. “Honey,” he said, “he is never going to marry you. Never.”

I was too taken aback and too polite, young and English to say anything much at all. I tried to casually shake it off, but his words burned into me. I didn’t tell my boyfriend.

Long-distance relationships are hard. We had been fighting a lot. But I loved my boyfriend with a fiery intensity, and was planning to go back to the UK and move in with him. He was seven years older than me, with a grownup job, a grownup house, and generally a life I hoped I could be part of. He represented stability, success – and yes, I did want to get married, although I don’t remember telling our host that, and certainly not in front of my boyfriend. I felt ashamed somehow – caught out, as if my desire for solidity, for togetherness, for marriage was emblazoned on my forehead.

But of course he was right. Our relationship ended up an utter fireball of disaster. There were breakups, there were reunions, and eventually I left him. But still, we’ll always have the Catskills.

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