Tom asked me to dance for the very first time 33 years ago tonight.
I was at Kenny Stabler's Diamondback Saloon in Houston 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. But to top it off, none of my friends I expected to see were there that night, either.
I felt very alone.
I guess that's how it is with miracles, though. When you least expect it, when you feel like nothing is going right, one pops up out of the blue, or, in this case, a blue-eyed miracle steps up and asks you to dance.
This is what happened that night. At least, this is my version...
A Michael Jackson song was playing. I can't remember which one, but it was one I didn't care for and wouldn't normally dance to, even in a good mood.
I saw the guy coming toward me and had the "no" ready on my lips, but to my surprise, I said "yes" when he asked me to dance. I had no choice then, but to follow him onto the dance floor and wait for the song to end so I could go back to my spot at the railing 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 - we had conversed enough for me to know he talked funny, which meant he was probably a Yankee and wouldn't know how to two-step.
And I hated teaching guys how to two-step.
However, he didn't wait for my answer. He just took me in his arms and started dancing. Two-stepping, no less!
While we danced, we talked. I learned his name, that he was from Maryland, and he was twenty-four even though he looked about eighteen.
By the time the song was over, I had agreed to sit at his table.
He was with an interesting mix of people... 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 music.
When it was time to leave, Tom 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. (Why not? 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, you can tell.
I was worried, though... that I wouldn't recognize Tom. I couldn't remember what he looked like!
That night I stood at the bar where I could see customers streaming in the door to pay. Wait... was that him?
"Tom," I called, testing. He glanced in the direction of my voice. I smiled and waved. He smiled and made his way to me. Whew!
Now, 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 at the time if this was something that would last forever, but I knew I wanted to see him again and spend more time with him. I knew I would be telling my boyfriend good-bye, no matter what happened between me and Tom.
But I didn't dwell on it, just started taking things a day at a time. The next two weeks were a blur of emotions and fun and firsts...
- Our first movie - Continental Divide with John Belushi.
- Our first rock concert - Pat Benatar.
- Our first trip to the Renaissance Festival.
- Our first dinner out - Mario's Pizza on the seawall in Galveston, followed by stargazing on the beach in a sleeping bag. He brought stemmed glasses and wine in an ice chest. And he gave me his dog-tags, which in my pre-Tom life I would have considered a corny gesture from anyone else. But it put butterflies in my stomach and melted my heart that night.
After working the night shift that week, I would find cute cards resting on my doorstep that said he missed me. 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 happy high with an undercurrent of deep sadness. Admittedly, my now ex-boyfriend had been a pretty bad boyfriend most of the time, but I loved him. We just weren't good for each other. I hadn't thought I could fall for anyone else until I met Tom.
As jealous as he'd always been, I guess my ex thought I would never fall for anyone else, either, and it hit him hard. One morning soon after meeting Tom, sound asleep after working the night shift, a banging on my door woke me up.
It was my ex. He went straight into my kitchen and grabbed a butcher knife. Before I had time to be scared, he marched across the living room to a small Norfolk pine he had given me. Jerking it out of its planter, scattering dirt all over the carpet, he lifted the knife and began hacking away at the trunk, telling me the tree 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. I had already forgiven him. We were just kids, after all.)
Two short 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! What? 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 Jacks 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 and told them, "I'm getting married!"
They couldn't believe it. At his older brother's wedding just two months before we met, 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."
The two months later I had ordered landed on Thanksgiving Day. We celebrated at my parents' house, after I had worked all night and only squeezed in a couple of hours of sleep.
I was sitting on the couch in the living room when 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, despite my crankiness.
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, then offered it back. "Will you marry me?"
Of course I said yes - again. The rest is history.
Aren't we cute? I first posted this in 2008, but the story remains the same, and will always be one of my favorites.
"I knew the second I met you that there was something about you I needed. Turns out it wasn't something about you at all. It was just you."
~ Jamie McGuire