Tom asked me to dance on Sept. 25, 1981. I was at Kenny Stabler's Diamondback Saloon on a rare Friday night off, in a bad mood because my boyfriend of five years "had other plans" that night. That wasn't unusual - he wasn't a very good boyfriend. To top it off, none of my friends I expected to see were there that night. I felt very alone.
I guess that's how it is with a miracle - when you least expect it, when you feel like nothing is going right, it pops up out of the blue, or, in this case, steps up and asks you to dance.
This is my version of that night: It was some Michael Jackson song that I didn't like - Tom knows which one - and I wouldn't normally dance to it, not even in a good mood. I had the "no" on my lips, but "yes" came out instead. What could I do but follow him onto the dance floor, waiting for the song to end so I could go back in my corner and brood some more?
But when the song ended, a country-western tune started right up and he asked me to dance again. I hesitated - I had talked to him enough to know he talked funny, which meant he was probably a Yankee and wouldn't know how to two-step. But before I could answer, he took me in his arms and started dancing. Two-stepping! While we danced, we talked. I learned his name, that he was from Maryland, and he was twenty-four even though he looked younger than me. By the time the song was over, I had agreed to sit at his table.
He was with an interesting mix of people...including a friend's Welsh wife (the friend was a Pasadena cop who was working nights), her New York friends, and Chris, a redhead from Maryland who preferred punk rock to country-western. I was the only Texan.
When it was time to leave, he walked me outside, asked what I was doing the next night (going to Gilley's to see Alabama perform) and could he meet me there? Sure. My boyfriend had already told me he didn't want to go. Then, with a peck of a kiss, Tom walked away to join his friends, leaving me to wonder what the heck had just happened.
I told my boyfriend I was meeting someone at Gilley's. He didn't care - he wasn't worried. We had a pretty loose relationship by then. I was worried, though. Worried I wouldn't recognize Tom. I stood at the bar where I could see customers coming through the door. Was that him? "Tom," I called. He glanced up in the direction of my voice, and I smiled and waved. He smiled and made his way to me. Whew!
I don't know if I believe in "love at first sight," or if there's such a thing as "someone for everyone," soul mates destined to meet and live happily ever after. But I do know that something changed in me that night at Gilley's. Tom and I talked, laughed, and danced. Later, he walked me to my car, and we really kissed. He asked for my phone number and I gave it to him. I didn't know if this was something that would last forever, but I knew I wanted to spend more time with him. I knew I would be telling my boyfriend good-bye, no matter what happened between me and Tom.
The next two weeks were a blur of emotions and firsts...
- Our first movie: Continental Divide with John Belushi.
- Our first dinner out: Mario's Pizza in Galveston, followed by stargazing in a sleeping bag on the beach. (He brought stemmed glasses and wine in an ice chest. Lying there in the sleeping bag, he gave me his dog-tags; in my pre-Tom life, I would have thought it was a corny gesture, but that night it put butterflies in my stomach and melted my heart.)
- Our first rock concert: Pat Benatar.
- Our first trip to the Renaissance Festival.
Cute cards saying he missed me rested on my condo doorstep when I stumbled home after working the night shift. Was this guy for real? I dragged him to meet my friends and family, to get their opinion. Maybe there was something I wasn't seeing. But they all liked him...I liked his friends...they liked me. Where was the glitch? I couldn't find one.
It was an emotional high with an undercurrent of deep sadness. My boyfriend Chris had been a terrible boyfriend most of the time, but I loved him. We just weren't good for each other. I didn't think I could fall for anyone else until I met Tom.
As jealous as he'd always been, I guess Chris didn't think I would fall for anyone else, either, and it hit him hard. One morning soon after meeting Tom, I had just gotten to sleep after working the night shift, when a banging on my door woke me up. It was Chris. He went straight into my kitchen and grabbed a butcher knife. Before I had time to be scared, he jerked a small Norfolk pine he had given me out of its planter, scattering dirt all over the carpet, and started hacking away at the trunk, saying it was a symbol of our love. (To his credit, a few months later he called and apologized for how badly he had treated me and wished me well. We had just been kids, after all.)
Just two weeks after that first dance, Tom and I spent a perfect day at the Renaissance Festival outside of Houston with my parents, my brother, his girlfriend, and Tom's best friend. That evening, it happened: "Will you marry me?"
Wait! Was I crazy? "But don't tell anyone," I added. "Ask me again in a couple of months, and do it right, with a ring, even if it's a Cracker Jack ring." Two weeks was just too soon. I had to find out what was wrong with him. There had to be something - he was just too good to be true. Two months should be plenty of time.
But he called all of his brothers and friends, anyway. "I'm getting married!" They couldn't believe it. At his older brother's wedding just two months before, everyone had teased him he'd be next in line. "No way! I'm too young. I'm not getting married until I'm thirty-five."
Two months later landed on Thanksgiving. We went to my parents, after I had worked all night and only squeezed in a couple of hours of sleep. He dumped a dozen boxes of Cracker Jacks on my lap and told me to start looking for a ring. "What? You're nuts. They don't put rings in Cracker Jacks boxes anymore."
"Okay, you open these two and I'll open these," he said, somehow still smiling at me.
Grumbling, I opened the first box and dug out the prize envelope. I felt it before I opened it - a ring. My mouth dropped open. "Is it real?" But I knew it was. "How did you do that?" I might have been a little foggy from lack of sleep, but I swear the box and envelope had both been sealed.
He took the ring from me. "Will you marry me?"
Of course I said yes, and the rest is history.