We Determine How We Are Remembered By The Way We Live Our Days
Day One. So How Did This Happen?
Tom and I were repeatedly asked how we met. Here is the story Tom and I shared, about how a lady from Cambridge, Massachusetts and a man from Lewiston, Maine, met in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts and how in mid-life, within a very short time, fell madly in love, created their own personal fairy tale and lived happily ever after.
For the first time at the bar in the Pizzeria Uno Cafe in Porter Square, Cambridge, we laid eyes on each other. It was an icy cold Saturday night, 9:30 pm-ish, January 18, 1997. Tom has warmly dressed in corduroy slacks and a gray/rust Icelandic ski sweater over a gray turtleneck. He carried on his arm a multi-colored Polo Ski Jacket. I wore a black turtleneck catsuit,r a royal blue black plaid Gap wrap-around skirt, a short black wool jacket and a matching hat. We looked good, so we thought. The attraction was immediate and mutual. After about 30 minutes of small talk, flirtations and laughs, Tom asked, “Do you like dancing?” I replied, “Love dancing.” He inquired, “Do you know a place we could go dancing tonight?” I said, “Tonight? There is music and dancing at the Marriott Long Wharf on Boston Harbor. He smiled at me. "We should go now. My car is outside." And that's what we did. So are you must be thinking - what was she thinking? In retrospect, my best bravest thinking ever.
My 1997 New Year resolution had been to be more courageous and open to taking personal chances. Tom's invitation was the perfect opportunity to take follow through. Risk-taking was not part of my nature. Something else was happening that night - caution to the wind - chemistry - fate? My instincts told me not only was this going to be thrilling, but this was safe; my gut said this man is honorable.
We walked into the cold night winds to Tom’s white Chevy Impala and drove to the Boston Aquarium garage. As we walked from the garage across the star-lit waterfront and city lights to the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel, I began to shiver. Tom offered his parka to break the wind. I declined. I may have looked pretty cutesy in that catsuit, but I was markedly underdressed and soon I was freezing. We picked up the pace, and Tom did his best to bodily shelter me from the wind; how courteous I thought. Within a few minutes, we made our way up to the lounge. The windows on the top floor afforded us a fabulous view of Boston Harbor, beautiful and romantic at night. Mostly, however, we were gazing at each other. Tom got a window table and ordered drinks - a ginger ale for me and a coke for himself. The live band played 90’s tunes, and taped music played between sets, and we danced to it all. The table was barely used. The night was spent dancing and studying each other with delight, heating each other with lively conversation and dancing till we were both thoroughly exhausted. The lounge closed at 2 am; we were the last couple to leave.
We walked back to the parking garage, and once inside, Tom begins searching for his car keys. The Impala is locked. I can see the keys on the seat. Not sure how that happened. We walked together down to the garage attendant, who asserts he cannot help without proof of car ownership. Really? The registration is in the locked car. No cell phones in 1997, the attendant calls the Boston Police for us. I begin to shiver again. This time I take the offer of the Polo parka. Now he is freezing. When the police arrive, Tom produces his license. Then, as if Tom is a criminal or maybe to be contentious, the officer walks back to his cruiser and ever so slowly runs Tom's license and the Maine plate. By now, it is after 3;30 am. This has literally put a damper on things and the entire process is getting awkward and embarrassing. Tom continues to apologize while I continue to think, but not say “he is so sweet and endearing.”
The officer finally opens the car with some slim long silver tool. We express our gratitude, get in the car and head to the exit. Tom reaches in his pocket with his ice-cold hand and comes up short. He realizes he does not have enough to pay the $35.00 parking fee. He turns to me and says, “I am so sorry. I did not plan for this evening to go this way. I can see now; I did not bring enough money. Do you have $20.00 I can borrow? I promise I will pay you back tomorrow.” Even as I write this, I still see the look on his face, mortified but charmed. I remember thinking, "Why does he not have a credit card? How can that be?” Of course, I gave him the $20.00. The ride back to Cambridge was quieter than the ride to Boston Harbor. I could sense his feelings of uneasiness as he repeatedly, sincerely assured me, “Don’t worry…. I will pay you back tomorrow…. I promise.” I was not worried about the twenty dollars, but I did wonder if I would really see him again the next day. We pull up to my condo on Arlington Street, across the street from Pizzaria Uno. I am unsure what to say so awkwardly I say to him, “It's too late to have coffee, so I won't ask in. I have had more fun with you tonight than I have had in a very long time. Thank you, Tom Dunn, for a wonderful evening.” He in turn, flashes his sweet smile and says “Me too. I will call you later today and bring you back the money I just borrowed.” Then he leaned over to my seat and softly asked “May I kiss you on the cheek?” Of course, I nodded yes, got the cheek kiss and exited the car. As I walked up the stairs to the condo entrance, I was as excited as a teenager after a first date, while at the same time, insecurity crept into my head. I turned and looked back.... he was still in the car watching, waiting for me to get in the door.. I thought to myself that I would never hear from him again. That was 23 years, 3 months and 21 days from the day he died. Literally, as I write this, my heart is exceedingly heavy, pounding, my body fills with grief, my eyes fill with tears and I cry, unable to write another word..... I miss him so.
Having paused, here is some additional background and details omitted from that years old short story we told.
I had recently left a marriage of over 25 years and had moved to Cambridge only 6 months prior. I had not really dated since I was a teen and to say I dated as a teen was really an understatement. I had only two teenage relationships before I married. As a young woman in high school, I was a skinny self-conscious, unpopular girl. I never dated high school classmates, was not part of any clique or groups and was never invited to a school dance or a prom. Mostly, I worked a lot - different jobs from chambermaid to nurses aide; I read a lot. My lips were full and fat before Botox and full lips were fashionable and I was cruelly teased about that. I had curly thick bushy hair that I had to iron (remember that?) . All the pretty popular girls had naturally straight long hair. My smile and teeth were a mess due to a very unattractive overbite and two inappropriate caps on my front two teeth. Consequently, I was often painfully self-conscious, kept my head down in new social situations and covered my insecurity with false bravado when I could. I hated to smile and I used my hands to cover my mouth. I sometimes camouflaged my insecurities with a sense of false confidence. Eventually, having met some good female mentors, I grew to be successful in my chosen profession, nursing. I married and had children very young and was good at parenting after having taken multiple parenting courses. I loved to learn, relished studying and often hid and found comfort in books. While I was loved and admired by my family and some friends, inside, I felt I was otherwise insignificant - though I tried very hard never to let that show. Hoping to improve my self-esteem, in my late 30's I had the overbite repaired and went back to college to explore Philosophy and study Psychology. During this time, I came to know myself better and my self-awareness increased dramatically. I engaged in numerous self-improvement seminars, found mentors, went to counseling and took significant steps in developing critical thinking skills. I was so thrilled to learn what I did not know. I did not know! Retrospectively, I can see my chosen major of Clinical Psychology at Lesley University was unconsciously aimed, in part, and at understanding and improving myself. My professors and my education in Cambridge were not only formative but truly life-changing. It was in this turbulent state of mind that Tom and I met.
In the mid 90's mid-life dating for divorcees was mainly centered around drinking at night clubs with friends. I was reserved with strangers. Internet dating was not common in 1997. While Match.com was a new option, my sparse dating experience, local business interests, and persona uncertainty led me to believe the internet would not be my best choice. I worked full-time in New Hampshire but lived in Cambridge. I was leading a National Medical Coalition of Medical manufacturers in litigation against the State of Massachusetts, traveling, doing public speaking, teaching electrotherapy courses. I was carrying a full course load at Lesley University, just a semester away from graduation.
Although I was swamped, I often felt deeply melancholy and apprehensive on a personal note. Leaving my husband, my beautiful big home much to my family's displeasure - then getting divorced was a huge ordeal and leap of faith. I felt bad for and about the spouse I had left.- terribly guilty for the hurt I had inflicted on the father of my children and my girls. Yet, I could not stay in the marriage. I was emotionally dead there, too depressed and unhappy. I was so off-kilter for so long there had been times when I actually contemplated running my car into a bridge abutment.
Christmas had just passed and the holiday had been rather disheartening. Without the usual family gatherings, sadness was overwhelming me, yet I tried to strengthen my resolve and to start over every day with a positive outlook. At that time, my parents and family were disappointed in my choices. I loved and hated to disappoint them. I was alone in an apartment in the city, which was about one-tenth the size of my former country home. So again, my New Year’s resolution included a promise to myself to stop being anxiety-ridden about starting over, a promise to reach out for new friends and relationships, and a vow to take on the challenge of dating to find love and happiness.
January 2, 1997, I placed an ad in the Boston Globe personals. My thought was this was a venue where I could control the pace, screen the responses privately without discomfort and assess the qualities of any new person who responded without a face-to-face encounter. I also felt it was, to some extent, a safe place because it was relatively anonymous. The newspaper published an ad but provided only an encoded phone number to those who wished to respond. Interested persons would call the number and leave a message with their call back number. You could then pick up the messages left fand if you were interested in talking to the person, you had to call them back.
My ad read
"Cambridge, MA - DWF 45. Smart, Sassy, Sweet, Somewhat Shy, Somewhat Sophisticated, Sincere, Slender, Sensuous and Sentimental, Seeking Serious friendship and meaningful relationship with 45ish DWM with Same Characteristics."
I kept it all S's...for a unique feel, but I should have added "Scared" because I was actually petrified.
By the next week, I had several messages but most signaled, “uh uh.....you are not for me”. Put simply, I was scared to death with the process and I was not motivated to return the calls. I was tongue-tied about what I would say but mostly paralyzed with fear at the prospect of initiating a call about possibly making a new personal connection with a man after being with the same man for over 26 years. I did not know how to be. The fact that I reached out to and conversed with professional businessmen and women every day, without a hint of fear, supported that this insecurity and inconsistency in my persona was unnecessary, unbelievable and totally ridiculous.
Saturday, January 18th Tom’s call was one of two voice mails I received. While I do not recall exactly ALL he said, I remember what made his message unique enough to motivate me to reply. I played the message over and over ...the first thing he said was, “ I love what you wrote. I like the words you used. I appreciate your description of yourself and you will be amazed to find out I also fit "fit" your description”. Wow! That signified to me that he actually paid attention and had listening skills. He shared only briefly. He said he was a graduate of the University of Maine Orono, was divorced in 1991, had three young girls and lived and worked in Lewiston, Maine. On weekends, he visited his Mom in Foxboro, Massachusetts. He often took trips to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he liked to search out and listen to new music, go book hunting in Harvard Square, go rollerblading on Memorial Drive and enjoyed new restaurant finds. Every other weekend he spent time with his children in his apartment in Maine. He said he was in Foxboro that afternoon and left his Mom’s phone number with a 508 prefix and his 207 prefix number in Maine.
It took me until 4 pm that afternoon to work up the courage to return his call. In addition to his saying he “fit” the description, I thought he was a perfect choice to respond to (in retrospect, this was the silliest of speculations) because there was much physical distance between Lewiston, Maine, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. I analyzed.... should we like each other the distance would allow me time to study (I was working on my thesis that semester) and keep up with professional obligations and work. I also loved that he spent every other weekend with his children. That told me they were important in his life, as my children were to me. Finally, I thought he sounded confident but not conceited. He spoke gently, sincerely and with sweet poise; surely, he was a gentleman, I concluded. He said he had dated some but not seriously. He spoke briefly about his Mom, his brothers and sisters.
I called him from my Cambridge (617) landline at about 4:15 pm. We talked on the phone for over 3 and a half hours; about anything and everything. He fascinated me; his every word captivated me. He loved books, music, philosophy, movies, outdoors, family, and listening. Even on the phone, he knew I liked him and I could tell he liked me too. The call eventually started getting flirty. Around 8 pm he asked if he could come into Cambridge that night to meet me. By then, I was starving and so I told him I planned to order a take-out pizza, but I would change that to eat in Pizza if he wanted to meet me at Pizzeria Uno in Porter Square. I gave him the address of Uno’s. He did not know my address or my last name. I only gave him my Cambridge landline phone number. He said he would call when he left and then he would call again on arrival. It would take 45 minutes to an hour. I got the call saying he had left, but he still had not called to say he arrived over an hour later. I had no way to contact him except to call back his Mom’s house, which I was not about to do. Nervously I wondered… was this a hoax? Should I go over Uno’s? I told myself to stay put because if I left the apartment, I would miss his call. How crazy was this? What terrible planning - I thought to myself. I had no idea what he looked like, nor did he know what I looked like, so even if I went across the street to Uno's, we would not recognize each other. My insecurity reared its ugly head -I reconsidered - then I told myself - maybe he just changed his mind.
Obviously, he had not changed his mind, but something significant had changed. When he got to Uno’s in Cambridge, he called the number I had given him from the payphone, repeatedly, with no success. Over and over, he got a recorded message saying, “please check the number and try again.” After several attempts, he was ready to leave, frustrated and perplexed. He knew he had the right number because he connected with me departing Foxboro. Not wanting to give up, with the last attempt, he dialed zero to ask the operator for help…. shazam…. the operator informed him that the issue was this - there was no need to dial the 617 area code from Cambridge when you are in Cambridge! In the first instance, calling in from Foxboro, where the area code was 508, he needed to dial the 617-area code to connect. Neither of us had thought about that. The operator kindly put the call through; he connected with a sigh of relief and explained. We laughed so hard. My anxiety diminished; I was glad he had not given up and told him I would be right over. The story continues from the bar.
So you like Dancing? What about art?
Tom called precisely 2:30 pm on January 19th. He began the conversation by once again sharing how much he had enjoyed the previous evening, and he asked if he could come to Cambridge to return my $20.00. Of course, I said yes.
We were both excited about seeing each other. That is probably an understatement. Tom mentioned d he had a membership at the Museum Of Fine Arts in Boston. "Really?" I thought There was an exhibition that month called "America Draws" that said he wanted to visit. The images on display he reflected included an artist he especially liked. The works on display included Charles Sheeler's sensuous study of a nude torso, a drawing from the 1940s by the Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, Jim Dine's charcoal drawings of figures and Elizabeth Murray's charcoal-and-pastel abstract drawings. Tom was especially interested in seeing Jim Dines figures in charcoal. He also said the museum had a restaurant/bar and he would like to have me join him for the exhibit and dinner. I knew little, actually nothing about art, but I eagerly accepted his invitation.
He arrived from Foxboro about 90 minutes later. I told him I would watch for his car on Arlington St. from the window. When I saw him out front, I came downstairs from my condo and we left. For some reason, I recall that this day was, at first, awkward. It seemed we were both nervous and in broad daylight, it was as if somehow the protective shield of the prior evening's shadows had left us. We got to the museum around 4ish. He was comfortable there and explained the art with ease, knowledge and enthusiasm. I listened intently and watched him, enjoying him more than the art, quite honestly. He had the sweetest Mona Lisa smile. We toured the exhibit, had a lovely light dinner and around 8 pm, we headed back to my Cambridge condo.
I asked him up for coffee this time and I shared that I did not have much to offer him in terms of other drinks. The only alcohol I had was Baileys Irish Cream, so we had Irish coffees, at his suggestion. My apartment was not expansive or impressive. He got a quick tour. The condo was only 425 square feet. Tom proceeded to make Irish Coffee in the tiny kitchen, self-assured as if he belonged there and comfortable in his own skin. We sat on the white sofa drinking coffee, talking continuously, with no awkward silences; our eyes were always focused on each other. For hours it seemed we listened to each other talk. Limitlessly, like new friends, we smiled and shared and felt each other's warmth.
Tome did most of the talking. This conversation initially centered around his high school football experiences, college years, and travels across the country to and from Alaska. He crowed, albeit as humbly as possible, about his athletic accomplishments, not realizing I had no idea how football was even played. I could see that these reminiscences and his sports acumen were points of pride for him. He also spoke about his three girls with satisfaction and joy, expressing how emotionally difficult it had been to be without them. He detailed his relationships with his mom, brothers and sisters, which he highly valued. Tom shared he was presently working construction jobs and whatever work he could find, mostly working with a college buddy named Paul and sometimes with his brother Michael. Tom said that he had fairly recently lost his employment of over 17 years; at a business owned by his former wife's family. He candidly shared the experience had been emotionally and financially challenging. I asked and Tom shared his divorce experience briefly and with sadness - without any disparagement of his former wife. He noted that he had done the leaving. He said it was emotionally excruciating and he felt very badly, sometimes depressed. While he and his wife had both experienced deep heartbreak, she had moved on, remarried and their relationship, post-divorce had moved to an affable place. He said his dating experiences since the divorce, while adequate had not been meaningful nor generally positive. He indicated that the date with me the prior evening had been his first date in almost a year. He said quite frankly, that the past year had been a very lonely time for him and he had spent a lot of time reading. He lamented that while it was easy for him to get a date, he had never met anyone that he felt understood him, listened to him or that he wanted to be with long term. Most importantly, he said he had not found any person to which he felot he could introduce to his children.
He proceeded to relate some hilarious dating stories and we laughed as we drank more Baileys without the coffee. One date he said had ended abruptly and he was so upset he forgot where he had parked his car. He said he searched Cambridge streets literally for hours until he found the car and then had a $35.00 parking ticket to pay. On another occasion, he met a lady who shared his football and Heineken enthusiasms at a sports bar. Repeatedly she asked him to meet again and if she could be his “Buckeye girl.” He said he thought the whole thing ridiculous and just wanted to up and leave but did not want to be hurtful. Unfortunately, he had given her his phone number and she called him for weeks afterward. His most recent dating relationship had lasted a few months, he said and he thought it was all right until they decided to take a trip to San Francisco together. Long story short, Tom said that they had an explosive argument over something he said after visiting the wine country. The trip ended prematurely and they did not speak to each other for the remainder of the excursion,not a word for the remaining days all the way home on the plane. They ey never spoke to each other again and he had sworn off dating since then.
I learned Tom had recently been teaching himself or at least trying to introduce himself to sailing. He had a tiny sailboat that he took out to Biddeford Pool. Comically he shared he had twice stranded himself on water, with no wind and needed to signal other boats for the coast guard to tow him back. Other summer weekends, he spent time rollerblading on Memorial Drive in Cambridge. He loved Cape Cod, its beaches, harbors, sunbathing and swimming. In the winter, he loved to ski, watch movies and haunt old books in Cambridge bookstores. He read mostly classics like Mark Twain fiction, philosophy, religion and politics. Most of all, he said, he loved music and listen to all varieties of songs. He was partial to modern folk and classic rock but mostly songs with meaningful lyrics beyond their melody. He loved songs that told a story that elicited emotion, a story of hardship, pain, or love story. He was also teaching himself to play a recently acquired acoustic guitar. He said he was liberal politically and insofar as religion shared that he had abandoned Catholicism although he was baptized in the Catholic church. Presently he said, he was exploring other religions and spiritual paradigms.
I spoke in between some of his stories but spoke much less and was much less revealing than he. I told him I was a type-A personality, a workaholic and a perfectionist. That generally, I was shy socially and was apprehensive in a new situation or in front of a group. By contrast, I was loudly passionate within my family and committed to my children and my career. I did not participate in any sports, never had, but I had supported participation in sports for both of my girls. I had tried skiing, tennis and golf as an adult and was terrible at them all. Athletic knowledge or ability … I had little I revealed never watched football, nor did I know the terms of the game. In my spare time, I read and generally, I read at least one book a week from the time I was a teenager. Aside from a couple of girlfriends, books were my best friends all through my life. My library had over 1500 books in storage, mostly non-fiction, biography, business, and personal self-help. I read myself to sleep every night and rarely did I watch television or movies. I had just one small TV in the condo with no cable, just rabbit ears – remember those? Occasionally, I would rent a VHS tape. I was not religious, and while I had been baptized a Catholic, well indoctrinated in Catholic grammar school and Catholic high school, married in the church and voraciously participated in Christian bible studies and Catholic charismatic groups throughout my early adulthood - I had departed religion in my late 30’s disillusioned. I was, however, a fervent believer in Christian moral principles, principle-centered living and the golden rule. Conversely, I swore like a truck driver. I was often unrealistically an idealist, I believed in honesty, understanding, kindness and giving back. I was a passionate advocate of the less fortunate. I could be ferocious and passionate but more often than not I was proud and revealed my trues self only when I trusted.
I shared I had married very young, at 20, and frankly had devoted most of my early adult life to raising my two girls. My children were absolutely everything to me and all my other endeavors were planned around their needs as children. Throughout my 20’s in terms of career, I had focused on my nursing education and slowly getting more education in the health care field. I started a small toy and collectible business when I lived in Pennsylvania, which I had since sold upon moving back to Massachusetts. I also took courses to learn how to invest in real estate rentals and bought properties to boost our family income. When my ex-husband and I moved back to Massachusetts, I started a small medical equipment business with my ex-husband's encouragement and support. I too, was the spouse that left the marriage and like Tom, I had nothing significantly negative, at that time, to say about my ex-husband. He was the father of my children and my children were my most precious belongings.
Fidelity, it agreed was essential to us both. Neither Tom nor I had left our marriages for another relationship. Our breakups were due to our overwhelming feelings of unhappiness and loneliness not necessarily due to any particular thing our former spouses had done. I remember Tom asking me that night a poignant question. So personal was it that I wrote it down in my journal when he left.
He asked "Have you ever been with someone whom you loved and who said they loved you but still felt desperately empty, unhappy and alone?" How profound it was to me at the time….that he would ask that. How hesitant was I to honestly answer? Very. I knew exactly what he was asking because it was precisely how I felt many days in the latter part of my marriage, especially when my children had grown and left. Mid-life crisis we rationalized? I can't be sure, but I recognized the depth of the feelings, the sad emptiness he was inferring he had experienced and instantaneously related whatever one wanted to call it.
Very seriously that evening, he spoke about philosophy. He shared a quote he had recently read by a british philosopher/author named James Allen. One line, rooted in a Proverbs' passage, had moved him he said, to change, to try to increase his self-awareness and reach out to date again. He said that after months of solitude, he came to trust Allen’s words
“You don't attract what you want you attract what you are”.
He leaned over and kissed me and as I trembled. We kissed passionately and we continued to kiss until we were at a fever pitch. The time passed quickly and at 1 am he pulled back and said he had to leave. The trip back to Maine was 3 hours.
Tom captured not my love just then but my heart that night. Throughout the evening, there were times, I was dumbstruck. I could not believe we were having such an intimate, authentic conversation or that this man had so easily transitioned from art, to funny, to sports, to philosophical thoughts, to honesty and vulnerability, then to passionate embraces. I did not know of Tom’s love for theater at that time, but I do recall my insecurity arising and found myself wondering, “Is this an act... rehearsed?” It was like we instantly bared small parts of our souls. I had never met anyone so interesting and entertaining but also so bright and in some ways as serious as me. This was too good to be true, I surmised, but I promised to buy Allen's book . Ironically I still have it and we referred back to it often in our 23 years together.
Here is the complete quote from James Allen's book As A Man Thinketh.
"A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.
Men are anxious to improve their circumstances but are unwilling to improve themselves; they, therefore, remain bound.
Circumstances do not make the man; they reveal him.
To desire is to obtain; to aspire is to achieve.
You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.
A man sooner or later discovers that he is the master gardener of his soul, the director of his life.
They who have conquered doubt and fear have conquered failure.
Good thoughts bear good fruit; bad thoughts bear bad fruit.
The will to do springs from the knowledge that we can do.
He who would accomplish little must sacrifice little; he who would achieve much must sacrifice much; he who would attain highly must sacrifice greatly."