About sixteen years ago, I was living at home with my parents, going to grad school, and feeling generally uninspired about life. My younger brother and I were fond of coming up with “big plans,” like the time we thought we were going to buy an RV and travel around from campground to campground in order to avoid adult responsibilities for as long as possible. I guess you could say I was going through a period of post-grad angst. Who am I? What am I going to do with my life?
On one particularly angsty night, my brother and I were watching a movie—a terrible movie—I believe it starred Elle McPherson. Enough said. About twenty minutes through, we both looked at each other and said, “Screw it! Let’s get out of here and DO SOMETHING!” Our options were fairly limited, given that we lived in boring suburbia and my little brother was still in high school. So we decided to go to Barnes and Noble to browse for books; i.e. to see if anyone adorably bookish was sitting in the café reading something impressive. In those days, I was more of a book snob than I am now, having come to realize that what a guy reads in public is most likely not what he enjoys reading at home. In other words, the more impressive the book, the more pretentious the guy. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it tends to prove true more often than not.
Unfortunately, in our rinky-dink town, Barnes and Noble closes at 10:00 even on Friday nights, so we headed up to that dreaded of suburban wastelands: The Mall. We were both feeling hungry and bored and ready to people-watch. TGIFriday’s seemed as good a place as any, so we walked up to the restaurant, which has a glass-enclosed porch facing the parking lot. Through the darkened windows, I noticed a guy sitting at one of the tables on the porch. I didn’t get a good look at him, just enough to see he was cute—dark tousled hair, brooding expression—you know, that guy. The one you always imagine you’ll see when you’re randomly at the bookstore or mall, but never actually do. Well, here he was, sitting in the alcove of TGIFriday’s on a Friday night. Alone.
I thought to myself, “I sure hope the hostess seats us near him,” and without saying a word to her, she sat us in the table directly across from him so I basically had a front row seat to watch him nursing his drink for the next half hour. My brother and I looked over the menu and talked, but I was completely preoccupied with this guy, even cuter now that I’d seen him up close. I eventually whispered something to my brother along the lines of: “What’s the deal with the cute guy sitting all alone? Surely his girlfriend must be coming, right?” One didn’t routinely find handsome guys sitting by themselves at a chain restaurant in Bumblesville, PA.
My brother kept joking with me, saying I should talk to the guy, invite him to our table, buy him a drink, anything so I’d stop babbling. Being extremely shy, I knew this was unlikely to happen. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I didn’t say something or do something, I’d never see him again, and that would be a tragedy. At some point, I left to use the restroom (i.e. make sure I had no food in my teeth in case Sexy Mystery Guy by some chance ended up at my table), and lo and behold, when I emerged from the bathroom, there he was. Sitting at my table chatting with my brother. Sexy Mystery Guy.
Feeling a jangle of nerves, I approached the table and sat down, only to meet this soft-spoken guy with crinkly hazel eyes and great hands. Really, I loved his hands. Face to face, he looked intelligent and kind and sort of sad. He asked if it was okay that he was joining us—apparently, my brother had leaned over in my absence and asked him to—and I imagined the little light bulb that must have appeared over his head when he heard the word “sister;” it hadn’t occurred to me that my brother and I might look like a couple. He then explained that it was his birthday and that his girlfriend was supposed to take him out, but when he got home from work that night she was already asleep. Forlornly, he had headed out alone to one of the few restaurants within walking distance: TGIFriday’s. It was fate!
Wait a minute. He’d said, “girlfriend,” hadn’t he? Crap!
Even though I was immensely disappointed, the existence of a girlfriend took all the pressure off. Now I could relax and not make an idiot of myself. We sat chatting for another hour or so, about everything from books to movies to our goals for the future. My brother and I took him out to a billiards place and played a few shameful rounds of pool, then took him back to the apartment he shared with Insensitive Narcoleptic Girlfriend. We exchanged phone numbers and promised to hang out again soon, but honestly I never thought I’d see him again. This made me inexplicably sad.
Fast forward two months later, to another night when I was sitting at home, or rather, moping at home, lamenting the state of my love life. The phone rang, and my brother (who is the real hero of this story) answered it, and I listened to the following brief exchange: “Hello? Sure, I remember you. How have you been? We’re good. Yeah, she’s right here. Hold on a sec.” Little bro then explained that it was him—Sexy Mystery Man calling—two months late.
I took the phone from my brother, determined to sound like Serene Ice Queen rather than Pissed-off Spurned Chick. Because I had known he had a girlfriend; what had I expected? We chatted for a few minutes, and he told me how the girlfriend—ex-girlfriend now—had found my number and jealously thrown it away so he couldn’t call me. But his birthday debacle had made him realize that his current relationship wasn’t working anymore. And he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about me. He had broken up with the girlfriend a few days after his birthday, moved out of her apartment and into his grandmother’s house, got his act together, and really wanted to see me again. How had he found me? I asked. He remembered my last name and the town where I lived, so he’d gone through the phone book calling every listing, relieved to find that my father’s first name begins with a “B.”
We went out on our first date that very night, and I was so wary of him being on the rebound that I vowed not to let him kiss me. That promise lasted all of two hours. Two years later, we got married at a tiny chapel by the sea. And over fourteen years of marriage, we’ve had our share of heartache and struggle, joy and triumph. But the one constant throughout is that my husband has been my best friend and my biggest supporter. While the last few years have been immensely challenging for him personally, he is starting a new chapter in his life this fall when he will be teaching college-level English for the first time. And I hope to be as much of a friend and supporter to him now as he has been for me. I am so proud of him and so in love with him. I still believe that fate played a part in getting us together, but I also know that a good marriage is not an act of fate; it’s an act of choice, a decision to share your life with someone else, for better or for worse. It’s an answer to a question: “Will you?” And on this day, fourteen years later, I still say yes.