The party in the sixth-floor apartment was well under way when Genevieve arrived: lights dim, Ella Fitzgerald playing on the stereo, chattering people, arty types, recent college grads, some in the publishing world, none of whom she knew except the host. She went into the kitchen, to the right of the front entrance corridor, looking for a glass, then decided it would be less fussy to drink straight from the bottle. That was her style. She fancied smoking non-filter Camels and Lucky Strikes. She liked drinking Baileys and Punt e Mes, an Italian vermouth. Standing in the kitchen was a guy named Barack, wearing blue jeans, T-shirt, dark leather jacket. They spoke briefly, then moved on. Hours later, after midnight, she was about to leave when Barack Obama approached and asked her to wait. They plopped down on an orange beanbag chair at the end of the hall, and this time the conversation clicked.
He noticed her accent. Australian, she said. He knew many Aussies, friends of his mother’s, because he had lived in Indonesia when he was a boy. So had she, before her parents divorced, and again briefly in high school. As it turned out, their stays in Jakarta had overlapped for a few years, starting in 1967. They talked nonstop, moving from one subject to another, sharing an intense and immediate affinity, enthralled by the randomness of their meeting and how much they had in common. They had lived many places but never felt at home.
At night’s end, as Genevieve recalled that first encounter when I spoke with her decades later, they exchanged phone numbers on scraps of paper. “I’m pretty sure we had dinner maybe the Wednesday after. I think maybe he cooked me dinner. Then we went and talked in his bedroom. And then I spent the night. It all felt very inevitable.”