The slice of sky has gone ghostly between the brownstones on Fifth Avenue. It's a little after 4 pm on Friday, almost dark in early January. I'm standing at the top of the Met's steps, huddled next to a column against the rain spitting down. I scan the curb between food carts lit up like lanterns, emitting the smoky tang of sausages and chicken kebabs. Umbrellas and swathed strollers are scattered across the pavement. Among the Ubers pulling over to the curb to disgorge passengers, I'm looking for my 13-year-old Lindsay to emerge from her mother's in the Village.

     It's my weekend this month. I've taken the train down the Hudson from Tarrytown to pick up Lindsay and treat her to the exhibition of Taylor Swift costumes from her "Eras" tour. About Taylor Swift I know very little, beyond the cultural phenomenon. At 43, a risk manager at Goldman Sachs, I'm not her target audience. But I do know that Lindsay caught her tour at the MetLife stadium in Jersey last spring with her mom. I saw Lindsay's Instagram selfies with her pals in the bleachers, wearing pastel cowboy hats and glittery crop tops. I don't think she's officially a Swiftie, but on the long train rides, the river flashing past, I can fill the silence by asking her to give me the latest sales statistics and boyfriend status.

     I see Lindsay's blond tangle pop out of a black SUV, followed by her friend Kat, who's smaller and wiry, both of them lugging colorful backpacks. That's a surprise. Linday's mom didn't mention Kat. But as I make my way down the slick steps, giving a quick wave and grin, I run the calculations in my head on an extra ticket and weekend plans. I can make it work.

 In the hall of Greek and Roman statues, I follow Lindsay and Kat as they weave their way between damaged marble figures, chatting and clutching their VIP tickets. They're both wearing jean jackets with ERAS TOUR blazoned across the shoulder that they bought at the Jersey concert. Beside us runs the long line of regular tickets behind a yellow rope, mostly moms and their sparkly teens.

     When we waited at Coat Check to ditch our winter coats, I was close enough to smell weed on Lindsay's hair. It alarmed me, even though I know it shouldn't. I had smoked enough in high school, though I was never one of the burnouts. But even today, 13 seems young. I wondered if Kat is the source of her two older brothers. Lindsay always seems so cheery with her clear blue eyes and snorting laugh. I couldn't say anything to her; I'm not sure I could find a way to bring it up with Lindsay's mom. Even though the divorce was three years ago, and she has remarried, the smallest question could cause a flare-up, be taken as a threat. I decided to do what I usually do: wait and see.

     "How's the spring semester look?" I ask Lindsay.

     "Actually, we're not back yet."

     "Oh, right." I catch Kat rolling her eyes.

     The coat line inches forward. Lindsay and Kat move their backpacks.

     "Any interesting electives?"

     " Colonial History," says Lindsay.

     "That could be cool."

     "Ugh," snickers Kat. "Pilgrims have been shoved down my throat since third grade."

     "It was the only one left in my free block," says Kat.

      I'm afraid to ask what a block is or how many they have. The three of us face the counter again. Everyone is unloading umbrellas, scarves, thick wool coats. It looks like Ellis Island.

     I managed to snag a third VIP ticket for Kat at the Members Desk. Waiting for the printout, I saw my face reflected in the plexi barrier. I looked tired, every year of my age. My eyes were dull, my jaw slack. A face I only show to myself in my condo's bathroom mirror. When I pivoted back to the girls, I forced myself to brighten up. "Hey, we're all set!" 


Up ahead I can hear a Taylor Swift song leaking from the exhibition, her whispery voice riding a surge of thumping bass and drums. To me, a lot of them sound the same, quiet/loud/quiet, usually ending in a barrage of synth and crashing cymbals. Except for "Folklore," Lindsay would remind me, her meditative Covid album recorded at home. That was my favorite.

     The girls are already in the queue at the entrance kiosk. I pass a statue of a Roman general. One arm is broken off. His stone back is raked with scars. He looks blindly ahead, chin raised. Across from him stands a winged goddess in a flowing toga. There are square holes at the shoulder where her arms would notch in. Her face is intact, lustrous in the dim skylight, except for a chipped nose. I look up at them and marvel at how much they've gone through over the eons: ransacked, buried, dug up. It all shows.

     I found the Met oddly comforting during my divorce. I'd start at the Temple of Dendur from Egypt, with its smooth pool and sandy stone archways. It always feels like a secret city nestled in the middle of Manhattan. Then I'd pass through this hall of statues, pausing near the end to look at a row of chiseled heads stuck on iron rods. I'd stare back into their blank stone pupils and wonder what they thought about in their daily lives, their worries and disappointments. Then I'd work my way up to the enormous Biblical paintings from the Italian Renaissance, where somebody is getting their head chopped off or an angel is touching down with news. All those fleshy limbs wrapped in luxurious red and blue fabric, all the human drama amplified to the size of a movie screen.

       I'd sit on a bench and drink it all in. In 10,000 years, I'd think, another massive wall of ice will slide down the continent and crush everything in its path: skyscrapers, mountains of pine forests, museums and schools and houses with all their personal belongings, their books and watches and computers with memory drives, all ground to bits and frozen in geologic layers.

Am I depressed to ponder this scenario? I refuse to think so.

     The turbulence in the Italian paintings felt like the opposite of my divorce, which was even, calm. We were reasonable, we agreed on all the important things. Money wasn't an issue. Just like our marriage. What killed it? A mystery to me, and maybe to her as well. There was nobody else. Everyone was surprised that we were splitting up, we seemed so happy together. We were, but I think we were too alike—too quiet, too quick to turn away. We didn't have big fights, but maybe we should have. The story I tell my friends is that we just got tired and drifted away, like the end of a party.

 I have lost Lindsay and Kat among the spotlit display cases winding like a maze through the galleries. They plunged in ahead of me, and I have gotten caught up in the "Eras" spectacle. On LED screens hung from the ceiling, Taylor prances in thigh-high boots and twirls in flouncy skirts, her red lips gleaming through wind-tossed hair. Her soaring voice and plucked guitar are everywhere. Fog machines sputter in haze, half-obscuring the dark silhouettes who wander in clusters. Everything is buzzing and pulsing. I feel like I'm trapped in a hellish carnival.

     The Taylor mannequins, the color of pink bubblegum, go through the different ages of her career. In a red nook, a Taylor in flowing silver and black sits before a piano, while another Taylor in a poofy prom dress leans into a mic. One display has a white neon LOVER in cursive, the O a heart pierced by an arrow, while Taylors slink in a dressing gown, thrust a guitar overhead, or cavort with plastic pink flamingos. I'm baffled. I can't decipher the themes and tours, the hidden meanings attached to songs.

     I pick up my pace to try to find them. At the entrance, a sign said Special Event/ Closing at 5, so we just had a half hour to take it all in. I saw a TV crew setting up cameras nearby.

     I think I see Lindsay and Kat in the next space posing for a selfie in front of a life-size poster of Taylor as a cheerleader raising up two pom-poms. "Lindsay!" I call out. But when I get closer it's a couple of college girls in denim jackets. I stop and look around. Amongst the moms and daughters I see my twin, probably another divorced dad, standing across the gallery, hands in his pockets. He looks lost too. We avoid each other's eyes.

     I step back into the shadows to regain my bearings. I was really looking forward to connecting with Lindsay this weekend. The holidays were a mess of hectic family gatherings and scheduling problems. I thought we'd have brunch at this new Thai place overlooking the Hudson, go snowshoeing through the woods like we used to, and maybe catch a production of "Avenue Q" at the town hall. Now I would have to take the role of third wheel and stay out of their way as the annoying Dad. It seems unfair.

     Faced with all these multiple Taylors, hands victoriously on hips or waving arms like semaphore, on top of the world, I wonder how she handles her isolation. I imagine it's a pretty lonely life in hotel suites and concrete-block passageways under arenas. She must have a mom and dad who prop her up, and some buddies in her retinue that she can hang with.

     The lights blink, and it's time to go. I ask a Security Guard where the exit is, and she points through a gallery to the right. I follow the drift of the crowd. I'll look for the girls in the Met lobby.  

I emerge into the Asian galleries with gold Buddhas and stone lions. Behind me, the Taylor soundtrack clicks off. I search for the pink boas and sequined t-shirts for Lindsay and Kat, but I can't find them.

     A shaft of light pierces a pagoda doorway, and a Taylor impersonator strides out in a gold-and-white uniform like the leader of a marching band. She's followed by a camera crew with video lights and a boom. A strumming guitar kicks in, and even I recognize what Lindsay has told me is her biggest hit, "You Belong With Me." The fake Taylor raises the mic and starts to croon: "You're on the phone with your girlfriend, she's upset. She's going off about something that you said." From the crowd, a roar of shrieks rises up. I realize it's the real Taylor Swift, maybe doing a promo for the exhibition. Colored spotlights start to swirl, and it feels like I'm in a dream.

     Taylor is threading her way through the fans, high-fiving the thicket of extended hands as cellphones flash and young girls collapse with excitement. She looks incandescent, like a goddess, with flowing blond locks and a creamy complexion, not missing a beat: "And she'll never know your story like I do." She passes so near that her halo of light envelops me in its warmth, and I spot Lindsay and Kat on the balcony, amidst painted puffs of clouds in an azure sky, reaching down as far as they can, their faces beaming, ecstatic. I'm moved too, almost transformed.

 I know the girls will sit across the aisle from me on the Metro ride home, chattering away, their heads almost touching, as I strain to eavesdrop over the clacking of the train tracks. I could be any one of the commuters slumped in the dim car, thumbing through a paperback or tapping on their phone. I'll see my doughy face reflected in the window looking back at me, the silvery Hudson blinking through dark woods along the shore. It might start to sleet, arrowing down like a cartoon. I'll think how happy I am at that very moment, to be as close as I am to Lindsay's orbit as we spiral unavoidably away from each other.


Gary Duehr

Gary Duehr has taught creative writing for institutions including Boston University, Lesley University, and Tufts University. His MFA is from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. In 2001 he received an NEA Fellowship, and he has also received grants and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the LEF Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Journals in which his writing has appeared include Agni, American Literary Review, Chiron Review, Cottonwood, Hawaii Review, Hotel Amerika, Iowa Review, North American Review, and Southern Poetry Review. 

His books include Point Blank (In Case of Emergency Press), Winter Light (Four Way Books) and Where Everyone Is Going To (St. Andrews College Press).

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