Today, February 10th, marks the 22nd anniversary of when MY WIFE and I met.
(I set the bar too high for the comfort of some of my male readers. "Why in hell do you have to make a point of remembering the day you met?", they wail in unison. "Isn't it enough that they expect us to remember birthdays and wedding anniversaries?"
I hear you. I'm not very good at remembering dates, so I really do understand your concern. If you asked me to name even ONE of my cousins or aunts and uncles birthdays, I'd only have a 1 in 365 shot at getting it right. But, when it comes to MY WIFE, I remember not only the day that we met, but I also could do a post celebrating the day when we first made love, so the fact that I haven't done a post about that should give you some solace.)
Even more important than this anniversary of when we met, though, is our wedding anniversary, and that is coming up on February 29th.
(If you feel the need to drag me down in the eyes of your wife or significant other, who thinks I'm so damn romantic, make note of this fact: We were married on Leap Day, so I only have to remember that date once every four years. I'll bet it evens things out a bit.)
Anyway, on the 29th, it will be our 5th wedding anniversary, which means we will have been married twenty years. Therefore, from now until then, I'll be re-running the very best of the posts that feature MY WIFE in some way or another. There will be one per day, more or less (some will be a condensing of multiple past posts.) It's possible a few of you have seen all of these before. If you pretend you haven't, I'll accept that as our anniversary gift from you.
Since we met on the 10th, I'll start with the story of how we met. In it's entirety (originally three parts, but now all in one sitting! You're welcome!) it is known as...
I met MY WIFE in the time-honored sitcom tradition. I was set up on a blind date with her by my mother.
There's a whole bunch more back story than I'm going to give you here, but in the interest of saving time (and preserving my sanity) I'm only going to give you the bare bones.
I had been in a hideous on-again off-again relationship, for some ten years, with a woman who might have made someone a marvelous wife but certainly not me. I look back on things now and I realize that I was certainly as much to blame for the relationship not working as she was. We were both pretty horrible to each other at times. We had so many differences in tastes, culture, religion, upbringing, and so forth, that a blind man could have seen that we weren't meant for each other. We had both been together so long, though, that we didn't know what else to do.
We did a lot of things together that we really liked, but when we had nothing else to do, we spent hours arguing over tremendously petty things. You don't do that if you really love someone. We had some good times. You don't stay together ten years or so without having some good times. Most of the time, though, she was unhappy that I wasn't willing to make our arrangement more permanent, and I was unhappy that it was as permanent as it was. Getting married to her was something I did not want to do, and it seemed to me that was all she wanted to do, at least for a while. And I felt more and more trapped as time went on.
As a result of my feeling trapped, I indulged in a whole bunch of stupid behavior. I took boatloads of drugs and drank like a fish. Not that I wouldn't have done some drugs, anyway, but I got to where I pretty much didn't care if I offed myself. I put so much coke up my nose, it's a wonder I still have one.
I might go into more detail some other time, but the thing you need to know right now is that a whole bunch of my ex's childhood friends lived in Florida. She went down there for a visit at the beginning of December. She was supposed to return in time for Christmas.
I got a "Dear John" letter in the mail on December 23rd.
The funny thing is that I had cleaned up my act some six months previous. I had gone cold turkey off of cocaine. I stopped drinking completely. The only vice I still had was cigarettes, but she smoked, too, so that wasn't a problem. I was completely sober and acting like a responsible adult for the first time in years. And that's when she decided to dump me. Maybe being sober was the problem? I know I'm a totally different person sober as compared to wasted. Maybe she fell in love with the wasted Jim and the sober one wasn't as much fun? Or maybe she needed someone who could share getting wasted with her, since she wasn't averse to getting lit up like a Christmas tree, either. Could be.
Anyway, she did what I didn't have sense enough to do myself, and I thank her for that. She could have done it in a nicer fashion, but it was what we both needed. Hell, I probably would have taken the coward's way out and sent her a letter, had the situation been reversed.
To say that it was a shock would be an understatement of enormous proportion. I had already completed my Christmas shopping for her. I was expecting her home any day. When I got the letter, I assumed it would be telling me her travel plans. In a way, I guess it was.
I went through the holidays in a daze. As much as I knew our relationship wasn't headed anywhere good, we had been together for a looooong time. It was not unlike going cold turkey from a hard drug. I know because I had experienced that just a few months back.
I felt real sorry for myself and entered into a deep depression. I was overweight and had already lost much of my hair, so I had serious doubts concerning my ability to attract another woman. I became fairly unstable mentally.
One side effect of the depression I entered into was that I got into the best shape of my life. I ate nothing, and I mean nothing. I subsisted on coffee, milk and vitamins. I had no appetite at all, but I was smart enough to know I needed nutrients of some sort, so I took the vitamins. And I walked miles and miles every day, just trudging along through the streets of Milton, Mattapan, and Dorchester - probably looking like a lunatic to other folks, since I was talking to myself half the time.
After about three weeks of no eating and much walking, I had dropped 20 pounds and I started to come out of my funk. I went on a couple of dates with women from the office I worked in at the time. It was fun, and they were nice, but they weren't what I was looking for. What was I looking for? I didn't really know, but I knew I'd know it when I saw it.
And this is where my mother comes in.
My Mom knew the tough time I was having of it. So, she said that she had someone in mind who might be just right for me. I was up for another date, if nothing else, so I said sure. So she set up a blind date with a friend of hers from church.
I should explain that my mother's friend was over 20 years younger than she was, lest you think MY WIFE is as old as my mother. Not that my mother is ancient, it's just, um, er ...
(Man, they'll both be reading this and there is just no way out of that sentence. I'll be getting it from someone.)
There was a Valentine's Day dance at my step-father's club. My Mom invited MY (future) WIFE. And then My Mom invited me. I knew it was supposed to be a blind date, but I had seen pictures and I knew what was coming and I was looking forward to it. However, my mother hadn't told MY (future) WIFE that it was a blind date. She had just invited her to the dance, expecting nature to take its course. And then she sent me to pick her up at the train station and bring her to the club.
MY (future) WIFE - who we'll call MFW from now on to save time - had seen me before. We had both attended My Mom's wedding to my step-father. That had been about eight years back. At that time, I had red hair down to my shoulders and I was in a band and looked it. According to MFW, she and her friends had said, "That's Connie's son? Doesn't he realize it's the 1980's?"
She wasn't overly impressed.
Now, however, I was in great shape and I had shorter hair along with a Van Dyke beard. I had less hair, too, and I was in the habit of wearing a Greek fisherman's cap in those days, so I looked not unlike Nikolai Lenin when I drove up to meet her at Braintree station.
Well, I was wearing a suit and tie, and I didn't squint as much, but it was close.
MFW looked exactly as she had looked in the pictures my mother had shown me. She was petite, smiling, well-dressed, and had a heckuva nice rack. She looked nothing at all like Nikolai Lenin.
We made some small talk on the drive back and got along alright. I apologized for looking like Nikolai Lenin. She laughed. She had a sense of humor; that was good.
We got to the club and helped my mother and step-father set up some decorations. That was one pretext they had used to get MFW there, to help them set up. We exchanged a few more little jokes and some polite conversation. As the dance began in earnest, we both sat down and listened to the music.
Turns out this was a big part of our success together. Neither one of us dances. Well, to be honest, I don't dance more than she doesn't dance. She can do it if the need arises. Me? I'm coordinated; I'm somewhat athletic; I have loads of rhythm - I'm a musician, after all - but I can't dance any better than a drunken gorilla, and that's probably an insult to drunken gorillas the world over. So, we sat and talked. We really enjoyed each others company. We found out we could make each other laugh, a lot.
Early on, while discussing one thing or another, I had told her that I didn't drink. After a while, I started getting a bit nervous because I really wanted this woman to like me, since I liked her so much. I asked her if she wanted something at the bar. She wanted a white wine. I went to get it and got a beer for myself, to steady my nerves a bit. She gave me a bit of an odd look when I came back with the beer and started drinking it. She reminds me of that every so often now. Her memory for those types of things is much better than mine. She reminds me of things like that. And I do the same with her. The important thing is we laugh about them. Some couples get into knock-down-drag-out fights over silly shit like that. We tend to enjoy each others contradictions.
(One time we were riding the trolley from Ashmont. It was her first time coming to my house in Dorchester. When we were nearing the Central Avenue stop, she suggested I pull the cord to let the driver know we wanted to get off. I said, "Nah, you don't have to pull the cord. Somebody always gets off at Central Avenue." Of course, I always got off at Central Avenue, so of course someone always got off at Central Avenue. It was a totally ludicrous statement. She laughed like hell and still gets a big kick out of that.)
(She said she especially likes it when otherwise really smart people say something that's totally dumb and then don't realize it. I think she was being kind.)
Anyway, the rest of the night went smoothly. I offered to drive her home. She accepted. On the way to her house, I decided to see if we had some more things in common. I asked her if she liked The Three Stooges. Her reply was somewhat less than affirmative. I started to have some doubts about us. I'm the all-time Three Stooges fanatic. I couldn't see how I could get serious about someone who didn't like The Three Stooges. Well, there's some good trivial stuff to base a relationship on. My ex had adored The Three Stooges, so what did that tell me? In any case, that turned out to be just about the last doubt I've ever had about us.
OK. So, I dropped MFW off at her place on Beacon Hill and I drove back to Dorchester. On the ride back, I was pretty excited. I liked her a lot. I was pretty sure she liked me, too. She hadn't said as much - we hadn't even had a kiss or anything - but we definitely laughed a lot and I was pretty sure we'd enjoy a date outside of the confines of the Adams Heights Mens Club where we had enjoyed not dancing together.
The next day was Sunday and I had planned a day out with my friend Rich Dahlquist. He was a great guy, and would give you the shirt off his back, but he was also the most viciously sarcastic man I have ever known. If you could take what he dished out, he was one funny bastard. Some folks didn't see the humor. He was kind of like House, but not quite as good-looking and without the medical degree.
If you act like that, but you don't save lives? A lot of folks won't dig you.
We were both ex-addicts, if that's a correct term. His problem had mostly been drinking, while mine had mostly been everything else. We enjoyed the company of each other - high or sober - so after we both cleaned up, we spent time together doing things other than ingesting deadly substances. We were going to drive out to Springfield and visit the Basketball Hall Of Fame. And so we did. It was an enjoyable time - great place to see, by the way - and after grabbing a bite to eat we headed back to his place.
While driving to Springfield, and while at the Hall, and while driving back from Springfield, and then throughout dinner, I had been going on and on about this woman I met at a dance last night. Finally, when we reached his house, Dahlquist had had enough. He said, "Sully, you've been going on and on about Miss America all day. If she's so frickin' hot, give her a call, for Chrissakes."
I asked Dahlquist if I could use his phone.
"No, I'm waiting for a call from the frickin' President. Of course you can use my phone, you dope. Give her a call."
"Well, I would, but I don't have her number."
"You don't have her number? Smoooooth, Sully. So who are you calling?"
"Your mother?!? Jesus! Why? Do you have to ask her permission to go out on a date?"
"No, you asshole, it's just that she probably has the number."
"Why don't you look it up in the phone book?"
"I don't know her last name."
"You spent the whole night talking to her and you don't even know her name? Man, you are a stud."
"Her last name, dickweed. It was something completely weird, like yours."
By that time my mother answered the phone. I asked for MFW's phone number and her address, while Dahlquist snickered in the background. Then I told her that I never got MFW's last name. She said it. I asked her to repeat it. She said it again. Then I asked her to spell it for me. That was enough to send Dahlquist into the next room, laughing.
(I would tell you her last name, but the one thing I have promised her about this blog is that I will not reveal her actual identity. She is and will remain MY WIFE. I tell her that she'll be really sorry when this stuff gets made into a major motion picture and nobody knows that it's her up there on the big screen being played by Angelina Jolie, but no go.)
After I hung up, I told Dahlquist that I had had a really good time considering what a jerkoff he was. He gave me a similar warm farewell, and then I drove home, planning to call MFW the next day.
Well, between the time I dropped her off at her house and Monday evening, 48 hours had passed. That was enough time for me to begin believing that maybe I was seeing things that might not be there. Did she really have as good a time as I had? Was her laughter real? Or was she just being nice to me out of deference to my mother? All that illogical crap started swimming around in my head. So, instead of calling her and risking immediate rejection, I decided to take the coward's way out. I wrote her a letter.
(I told you so. My ex dumped me by writing a "Dear John", and I said I might have done the same thing if the situation was reversed. You didn't believe me, did you? You thought I was just being magnanimous. Nope.)
If I were the type of guy to go through MY WIFE's things while she wasn't here, I'd reproduce the letter in its entirety. I'd bet my left... well, I'd bet she still has it. However, I'm not the type of guy to do that. At least, I'm not the type of guy willing to admit to doing that in a public forum which she could be reading at this very moment, so I'll try to reconstruct the letter from memory. As I recall, it went something like this...
I had a great time not dancing with you the other night. I think you had just as good a time not dancing with me. I'd really like to not dance with you again sometime. If you think not dancing with me is something you'd like to do again, why don't you give me a call? My number is..."
Yup. I put the ball into her court.
I am, without a doubt, one of the most blessed people on the face of God's green earth. Do you have any idea how many people would have made that phone call to me? Would you have made that phone call? Maybe you would have, because you're a nice person - you've gotten this far into the story, after all, so you must be nice and patient - but the average woman would have crumpled up that letter and tossed it into the trash while cursing me out. MFW isn't the average woman. She called.
Problem was, by the time she got the letter and made the call, I had a toothache. It was a hideous toothache, such as I have been prone to all my life. It's the one pain that can reduce me to a quivering mass of Jell-O. I've broken my finger, broken my thumb, broken my hand, torn cartilage in my knee - there was pain in those things, to be sure, but I could work with it. A toothache? Forget it. I'm useless. Until I get the thing yanked, I can't function. And I was wracked with pain. It was all I could do not to cry as I spoke to her on the phone.
"Oh, hi. Gee, I'm glad you called, but I have this horrible toothache right now. I'll call you back in a day or two, OK?"
Later, she told me that she thought I was giving her the brush off. Can't say that I blame her; sure sounds like a brush off. She screws up enough courage to call me and then I give her the short shrift like that? Well, sure, I'd still want to go out with me, but who else would?
The next day, I had the tooth pulled. Then I called her back. After apologizing profusely, I made an actual honest-to-goodness date to meet at her place and then go see a movie or have dinner or maybe both. The shish-kebob incident was just around the corner.
I prepared for my date with MFW by showering, shaving, dressing up in my best suit and tie, and using enough mouthwash to drown a small cat. I knew she didn't smoke and, since I did, I wanted to give myself at least half a chance of not grossing her out if and when we had a smooch. I then drove on over to her place on Beacon Hill.
When I say that she lived on Beacon Hill, many of you no doubt picture some lah-de-dah mansion populated by Boston Brahmins, noses in the air, speaking in condescending tones to the servants. Not quite. There are two sides to Beacon Hill. The Boston Common side, and then on up to the top, is the ritzy part. MFW lived on the other side in a one-room fourth-floor walk-up, and it's not easy to get that many hyphens into a place that small. Not that it wasn't nice being there with her; it was. I have many fond memories of that place. However, it wasn't opulent and she wasn't rich.
Anyway, I drive up her street and there she is waiting for me in front of her building. She's dressed nicely, still smiling, and she still has a heckuva rack. She gets into the car (if I was a real gentleman, I would have parked the car and walked around to open the door for her, but there's no place to park on Beacon Hill, you know) and we drive off towards...
Well, the thing is, we had only the vaguest of plans. Movie, dinner, whatever.
After a bit of discussion, I asked her if she liked Italian food since I knew a decent place over in Roslindale called The Pleasant Cafe that had really good pizza and spaghetti. She said sure, she liked Italian OK, so off we went.
(The Pleasant Cafe, by the way, has the best pizza in Boston. They also serve a fine spaghetti with meat sauce. As to whatever else they have on the menu, I can't give an opinion. As MY WIFE will tell you, once I've gone someplace and gotten something good to eat, I very rarely deviate from that menu choice at that particular restaurant. I've been going to the Pleasant for some 40 years now and I have never had anything other than their pizza and their spaghetti. The rest of their food might be putrid. However, I've heard no complaints from anyone I've taken there.)
(Another thing about the Pleasant. They seem to have an inexhaustible supply of a certain type of waitress. I don't think I've had the same waitress more than three or four times in the forty years I've been going there, but they're all cut from the same cloth, so it's hard to tell. Very homey; always calls you "dear" or "hon"; and looks as though she'd enjoy a glass of beer and a Pall Mall.)
Getting back to what passes for literature here, I only know how to get to a place by feel. Streets? Directions? Maps? Those are for girly men! If I've been there once, I can find my way again. However, if I begin from a different starting point? I'm utterly lost. When we set out for The Pleasant, it was from downtown Boston. The only way I knew how to get there was from Dorchester. So, I drove us back to Dorchester and then over to Roslindale. If you're unfamiliar with Boston, I'll tell you that I made what should have been a fifteen-minute drive into one that took about forty minutes. MFW was bemused by the whole thing - another point in her favor.
We finally got to the restaurant and went inside. One of the usual waitresses seated us in a booth and gave us menus. Giving me a menu at the Pleasant, as I've already mentioned, is a waste of time. However, so I wouldn't look like some sort of weirdsmobile, I pretended to look it over before deciding on the spaghetti with meat sauce and a pizza. The waitress came to take our orders. MFW ordered shish-kebob.
What The Frack? Shish-kebob? I ask her if she likes Italian food; she says yes, and we go to someplace I know has decent Italian food; and she orders... shish-kebob. Ooooookay.
We sip our drinks and get to know each other better while waiting for the food. I tell her that I knew about this place because my grandparents lived in the Beech Street public housing projects just up the block and I'd come here with my parents ever since I was a little kid. She tells me that she actually grew up in some public housing projects in Roslindale off of Hyde Park Avenue, so it turns out she probably knew a much better route to take here but she was too polite to say anything. I tell her that my grandparents, before moving to Beech Street, as well as a couple of aunts and uncles, used to live on Hyde Park Avenue just a block or so from the projects she grew up in. She tells me that she used to take the Mattapan trolley to visit an aunt in Milton, just a couple of blocks from where I grew up. Then we find out that her father and my father both grew up in Forest Hills, not too far from each other, and they were both born on September 30th of 1931.
As we keep talking, we realize that our paths must have crossed many times in our lives - on playgrounds, in neighborhood stores, on public transportation, and many other places. She had independently become friends with my mother years before I met her. If we had been at all aware of the other's existence through the years, we would have spotted each other often.
You add all of this up and it seems like we were meant to run into each other at some point, but not until we were both ready to like the other one. For instance, if we had met at my mother's wedding eight years previsouly, which we had both attended, we never would have gotten along. She wasn't what I was looking for (I was looking for drunken sluts) and I wasn't what she was looking for (I was a drunken slut.) The same applied to the (possibly) hundreds of times our paths had crossed throughout the years; we would have dismissed each other out of hand. But here we were now, enjoying the hell out of each other. Kismet!
The food arrived. The pizza and spaghetti were yummy, as usual. Her shish-kebob came on a skewer resting on a bed of rice pilaf. I dug into the pizza and spaghetti while she struggled to remove the shish-kebob from its skewer. I saw a chance to score points as a gentleman.
I said, "Here, let me help you with that."
I took the skewer in one hand and a fork in the other, with the point of the skewer resting on her plate in the middle of the pile of rice. I placed the fork at the top of the skewer against the meat and vegetables. I pushed down on the fork, to slide the shish-kebob off. It didn't want to budge. I pushed a little harder. Still no go. I leaned into it and pushed really hard.
What is the sound of shish-kebob flying off of a skewer at the speed of light, thus propelling a spray of warm wet rice upward and onto your date's dress? If I knew, that's the sound effect I'd put here, because that's exactly what happened.
I was what you might call a tiny bit embarrassed.
(OK. I was mortified.)
"Oh my God! I'm so sorry! Shit! Shit!"
And then, with a smile, she said, "Well, I've always wanted to have rice thrown at me, but I expected the circumstances to be different."
It was at this point that I knew I had struck gold. There was no way in hell I was ever going to let this woman get away. It was all I could do to keep from proposing on the spot.
And that's how I met, and fell in love with, MY WIFE.
We still go to the Pleasant Cafe every so often, even though we now live in Watertown and I had to learn how to get there a whole new way. I still have the pizza and spaghetti every time we go. MY WIFE, however, has never had the shish-kebob since that first date. I can't imagine why not.
Soon, with more better stuff.