Today is 15 years since Tom first told me he liked me, in a gazebo in between our dorms at the end of sophomore year at Franciscan University. I thought it was about time I ‘published’ this long dusty draft that’s been sitting in my submission folder for some book Chicken Soup was putting out. I like it better here, it belongs on the blog! When the world keeps getting ickier, I kind of like to just reread and share love stories. Can’t we use more of them nowadays? This of course is only the first chapter, and I won’t burden you all with the entire book. But, it is nice to share the beginning with my faithful readers! As I was reading it over, and recalling all the details it struck me suddenly- Is it just me or is this surprisingly similar parallels to Pride & Prejudice? Well more like Bridget Jones’ diary.(without all the R ratings!)Because I’m certainly not as refined as Elizabeth Bennett. But Tom is everything as aloof as Mr. Darcy. Why has it taken me 15 years to realize that?! I think it’s very safe to say God has a GREAT sense of humor. And I am particularly grateful.
In my sophomore year of college I met him. When I first saw him, his dark brown hair was so bushy and his beard so scruffy I wasn’t sure what to make of him. Emo? Angry? Lazy? He was tall, broad shouldered and tan. Very tan. I thought he was middle-eastern because he was so….tan and…well…hairy. But he wasn’t. He was Italian and in need of some hair gel and a girlfriend. Once he cleaned up it was easy to see he was really good looking.
We were in brother/sister households…which were kind of like sororities and fraternities just centered on prayer instead of booze. It was the day after my nineteenth birthday that I first talked to him because he had prank called my room on my birthday night. He pranked called about seven times in a row. Something about being the “Sheik” and having seven wives. I don’t know. My phone was ringing off the hook and it was ridiculous. All I knew was that it was him who called and I marched up to him at lunch the next day to confront him about it. He was wearing a blue and white pinstriped button down shirt with jeans, and he was hunched over his table with three of his friends talking. They looked serious, not so much in a joking mood. However, I was feeling confident in my new clothes and my hair which I had just learned how to straighten. I briskly walked over to his table and tapped him on the shoulder,
“I know it was you last night who called my room. I know you’re the “Shiek” !”
I held my posture and looked at him smugly with my hand on my hip.
Slowly, he put his water cup down and looked up at me with a completely annoyed and deadpan look with piercing green eyes. He raised his eyebrows in confusion,
“What are you talking about?”
I nearly died. I never felt so humiliated. His coolness killed me; I turned around faster than lightning and scampered back to my lunch table where I hid myself among my roommates to cringe in embarrassment. That was how I introduced myself to Tom.
Every night before we fell asleep, my roommates and I would lie awake in our beds, staring at the bunk above us and go through our “lists” out loud of who we were interested in. It was a numerical lists with about five guys or so but I never counted Tom on my “list” of guys I was interested in because I was convinced he was going to ask my roommate, Shannon, out. Tom and Shannon hung out nearly every night, talking in the dimly lit courtyard between the boys & girls dorm.
The courtyard was the place that couples met and spent time together because we went to a strict Catholic college, boys weren’t allowed in the girls dorms and vice versa except for a few “open hours” on the weekends. So couples would spend time with each other in the cobblestone courtyard between the two dorms.There was a big gazebo, a couple of picnic tables and plenty of benches and large planters. On warm nights the courtyard would be packed with students playing Frisbee, surfing the web or talking romantically to each other. I was usually staring out my dorm window at all the couples while I daydreamed of my “someday”!
When I came up the stairwell in our dorm from doing laundry in the basement, I would look out the big glass windows and often see Shannon and Tom sitting together for hours on a wooden bench just talking, and laughing. I was happy for Shannon, she was such a sweet person, a really kind roommate and I knew Tom was a gentle guy. He made her laugh so much, and I knew she deserved a good guy, someone who was totally crazy for her. For two months or so that went on. All our household sisters were expecting Tom to ask Shannon out. They were hanging out practically every night. I couple times I was the third wheel, if I passed them while I was heading into the dorm for the night or if I was bored.
Right when Shannon and Tom first started hanging out, Shannon urged me to take Tom to the Sadie Hawkins dance that was coming up. Mostly because the guy I was going with dumped me at the last minute and Shannon insisted that Tom was a good household brother and he would go with me if I asked him. So going against every rule I had ever lived by, I ran out of the cafeteria after him shouting
“Wait! Mario!” (his nickname was Mario. I don’t know why.)
His tall, lumbering figure stopped walking to class and quietly, coolly, turned around.
I breathlessly blurted out my predicament to him, how all my friends were going and I had been rendered dateless and did he want to come with me. Once again, with total superior coolness, he pulled a black pen out from behind his ear and asked me for my number. Staring up at his towering figure from way down within my weak converse sneakers, I felt my knees wobble. I gave it to him nervously and he wrote it down on his hand.
Later that afternoon he called me explaining how he didn’t go to dances but invited me…and Shannon …to come over to the common area to play the board game Cranium instead, with all of his household brothers. I felt like I had made a total idiot of myself.
That was awkward encounter number two. I brushed him off after that.
It was hard for me to understand Tom. He seemed nice but he was awfully quiet. Where I was outgoing, he was introverted. Where I was always excited and laughing (and big mouthed, often saying the wrong thing), he was serious and distracted (obviously smarter, more mature, and prudent). But being household brothers and sisters we saw a lot of each other.
Eventually he started to sit at our lunch table and our dinner table with his roommate. There would be about eight of us who started eating our meals together and pretty soon it was just the thing. I cracked jokes about him being too cool for us to hide my still embarrassment over the prank phone call incident. Tom didn’t talk too much during the meals, we girls did most of the talking and kept the chatter going. A few times I sarcastically made fun of him being so quiet and why on earth did his ears turned bright red every time I talked to him? This tall, broad guy who had intimidated me only months earlier was turning red when I talked to him!
At one lunch, I came bustling in late to the cafeteria and there was one seat available, next to Tom. I grabbed my tray and sat down next to him and quickly jumped into chatting about this and that and how are you and here’s the latest funny story, etc. etc.. Everyone at the table started laughing at a joke I told, and I turned to Tom who was minding his own business. Who never even looked up to say hello. Who wasn’t laughing. Who could sometimes come off as super high and mighty, and well… antisocial.
“Uh, hi Tom” I leaned next to him and patted him on the back.
Still looking down at his lunch, he made no reply then I saw his ears turn red again and I announced it to the whole table,
“Oh my god! Are your ears turning red? Tom! What’s the deal?” and we all burst out laughing.
I never paid much more attention to him because he was interested in my roommate, and he was weird for not participating more in our mealtime conversations or just being plain old social. I mean, sometimes he joined in our conversations and when he did…he was actually pretty funny. It just took so much gosh darn effort to warm him up.
Also,did I mention we ate all our meals together, and yet the two classes we were in together for the entire semester…he sat on the total opposite end of the room from me? What was that about? It was obvious he could not stand me. But I wasn’t too bothered by it. It’s not like he was on my list or anything.
Right before Thanksgiving, I had fainted and whacked my head on a cement wall during a middle of the night-running-down-the-hall-to-pee incident. (Ever heard of vasovagal sycnope? I have that. It’s fine, you just faint from low blood pressure or standing up quickly) That concussion landed me back home in New York on the sofa for a week of meeting with doctors and getting all sorts of tests for neurological and cardiological problems done.
In my absence from school, I got an e-mail out of the blue…from…Tom. No one was more surprised than I was. It was a funny e-mail too. The day I got that email, I was wearing one of those holster-heart monitors at the time (like with all the nodules attached to my head to be monitored remotely) so I’m sure the technicians on the other end saw a major leap in my heart activity when I read his e-mail. He was just writing to check in on me, and to keep me posted on all the ridiculous things our professor was saying in media class. Then he continued to write me an e-mail every couple days until I got back. He also ended each e-mail mentioning how he was praying for me.
Well, that was very kind, I thought. And very surprising.
Since I knew he was crushing on Shannon, proper roommate/friend protocol called for me to just accept his messages as a sweet gesture and nothing more. So I did. I literally put him out of my mind as a possible chance ever. And I told Shannon all the more how I approved him for her, because he was willing to take care of her friends just as much her. That really said something about a guy. How sweet.
I bumped into Tom later on campus right after I returned from my absence. We were in the cafeteria and I was chatting with his roommate, Josh.
I shouted joyfully when I saw him. I skipped a couple steps forward in my squeaky converse sneakers, to where he was standing and gave him a big hug, which for me meant standing on my tippy-toes to reach over his broad shoulders.
“Thank you so much for your e-mails! You are so sweet!” I was smilingly huge, but Tom didn’t hug back. He didn’t even speak.
He just kind of stood their balancing his tray of food and nodded his head in agreement, then proceeded on his way to go eat.
I was taken aback, but yet, not surprised.
“What is with him?” I thought to myself but then figured he was Shannon’s problem, not mine so I went on my way.
Two weeks later was formal. Our mealtime group decided to skip formal and instead head to the movies together to see “The Incredibles”. We were all really looking forward to it. Such rebels we thought. We were ditching the dresses and the dinner and heading to a Pixar film. It was kind of a special moment though, because the whole group of us except myself and two others, would all be leaving in January to spend the following semester in Austria. Tom, Shannon, all my friends would be across the pond for the next six months. Going out to the movies was our last hurrah before we broke for Christmas, then we’d all see each other the following May.
We all squashed and triple buckled in someone’s rinky dinky car, and drove up to the local theater. Piling out of the car, me and a couple other girls ran inside to get online for popcorn and candy while the rest of the group went ahead to get seats. As Shannon and I walked into the theater with the snacks, our whole group had taken their seats and were murmuring and talking among themselves. Shannon scampered ahead much quicker than me and sat in the last available spot next to our household sisters. Leaving only one seat available with our group. A seat next to Tom.
In front of the whole group, I tossed Shannon a “great. thanks a lot” look and rolled my eyes and plopped down next to Tom. Tom, who by the way, was still wearing his puffy winter coat zipped all the way up to his nose. I got such tense vibes from him. He was definitely not relaxed.
“Sour patch kid?” I titled my box of candy towards him and he actually spoke to me,
“Are you sure?” I looked at him with a slightly exasperated annoyance. He shook his head no.
Great. He’s probably not even going to laugh at all during this movie. Just my luck. Whatever. I stared ahead at the screen and zoned him out the rest of the movie. We didn’t talk at all. And I was right, he had no sense of humor. I wasn’t even sure why he came to a movie if he wasn’t going to laugh.
Well, one week later is when everything came crumbling down. Tom had been taking an interest suddenly in Christian “courtship” and was asking me a lot about it at our mealtime gatherings. I happened to have a couple books on the topic so he asked to borrow them, and I loaned them to him. I knew the time was coming soon he was going to ask Shannon. Shannon, though, didn’t seem as interested in him lately. She would just kind of smile and shrug her shoulders when I mentioned him. She started to tell me that he was a really great guy, but he wasn’t for her. She seemed perfectly happy though with being caught up in another guy she was interested in. Cest la vie.
As it would happen, on December 7th, the first morning of finals week, a crazy rumor started circulating very, very quickly around campus. A rumor that Annemarie was dating Tom. My close friends Dan and Dave- also not going to Austria, so we were the 3 amigos- were eating breakfast with me on that icy Monday morning when halfway through hash browns and scrambled eggs Dan leaned over the table towards me and half whispered,
“Uh, why?” I crinkled my brow and shook my head at Dan in total confusion.
“You know, about you and Tom.” He was being totally serious, he raised his eyebrows like I was supposed to know what he meant.
“What? What the heck are you talking about?” My eyeballs practically fell on my plate.
Dan leaned back in his chair with an “ohhhhh” and told me to nevermind, and that he thought Tom and I were dating, blah blah blah.
Shocked and totally caught off guard, I got really animated and poor Dan got the brunt of it.
“Tom?! Tom Thimons? You’ve got to be kidding me. That guy is totally not interested in me. He’s into Shannon. He NEVER talks to me. There is no way we are dating.”
I made sure I clarified with both Dan and Dave that I was not in fact dating Tom Thimons. I added how hilarious it would be because he’s spent four months ignoring me.
After that weird morning, the day continued to get weirder. By the time I went to eat my lunch, Tom’s household brother came up to me with a big grin on his face going
“So I heard about Tom, huh? Nice!”
I felt like I was loosing my mind. I was irritated and I let it show
“What on earth? Why is everybody saying that? What the heck is going on!”
I stuffed my mouth with French fries and started to cry a little. My head was spinning. I felt excluded from some very, very pertinent information on my own life. How rude. Was this guy literally strutting around campus telling people he was dating me? How could it be even possibly be insinuated that Tom was interested in me when he spent the whole semester pursuing my roommate? This was too much!
I rushed back to my dorm room and found Shannon . I blubbered everything to her that had happened during the day. She was just standing there with this funny little smile on her face.
“Here, friend” she put her freckled hand on my shoulder and gently ushered me out of our room to the common room where there were some cozy sofas, plentiful pillows,- more importantly privacy- and sat me down.
Shannon pulled up a chair very matter of factly and sat herself square in front of me.
“We should talk.” She said.
What Shannon told me I couldn’t believe. I still have a hard time remembering all of it because I had never before in my life felt as caught off guard as I did then. I never, ever, ever felt more like an idiot or so oblivious. Although who could blame me, it’s not like Tom was making great strides expressing interest! She told me that Tom had been interested in me, and that he was trying to get to know more about me from her…and that he was going to ask me out…tonight. He’d been planning it with her. She said it was supposed to be a secret but he must have told his household brothers about it, and the plan got derailed . And since I was in such a tizzy, she’d just have to tell me everything.
Yes. He was going to call me tonight to ask me out.
I was stunned. I felt a huge gulp in my throat and kind of nauseous. Then I felt sweaty and I just kept saying over and over again,
“But no, he likes you”
“No, silly. He likes you.”
We went back to our room and I weepily climbed up onto my bed on the top bunk and I sat there. I sat there for a very long time with my coat, scarf and gloves on, waiting for the call. The nerves were so overwhelming because I was trying to process everything, every word we exchanged the past semester. I remember watching Law & Order SVU just trying to distract myself from the nerves. But I was so glad I found out beforehand because I had so much time to pray and to really think about what I was going to say to him in response. I mean, after I handed him his head on a plate for being such a jerk for 4 months! Ha!
The phone rang, and Shannon handed it to me and I took it from her, up in my perch on the bunk. Looking back, it was such a silly, solemn young love moment of seriousness. The ‘here it is’ HERE’S THE PHONE CALL. It was 9 at night or something ridiculous. He had let me sweat it out since 8 in the morning.
He asked if I wanted to meet him out in the gazebo.
I didn’t tell him I knew, I let him lead the way. I walked up the steps into the gazebo and he was sitting at the picnic table like the Don. Like he owned the gazebo, and he summoned me to his picnic table to bestow on me the honor I’d be waiting for. I sat down opposite him. I smiled with my lips closed and shrugged my shoulders like it was NO BIG DEAL
I was impressed by how he just cut to the chase.
“So, here’s the deal.” His green eyes were looking straight at me. I was feeling so light and swoony , I almost couldn’t bear looking back.
“I like you. But I’m going to Austria.”
My nerves got the better of me and I burst out laughing. I mean full on, hysterical just cracking up from the lunacy of it all. I just couldn’t believe what I heard come out of his mouth. He just told ME that he LIKED ME. This was unbelievable! Also the timing was nuts, and the picnic table, the way he was just sitting there like he was offering me a job,
He tilted his head to the side with a questioning look,
“Sooo… is that a yes? I kind of need to know how you feel so I know what to say next”
“A yes? A yes?!? Tom! I cannot believe you! I mean. All semester you ignore me! You don’t sit near me in class, you never talk to me, I thought you were in love with my roommate and now what am I supposed to say? Wow.”
I kept shaking my head in utter shock and he suggested we go for a walk. We must’ve spent about thirty minutes just walking in the icy cold December air, hands stuffed in our pockets, coats and scarves zipped up around our noses. Shivering. Freezing. We made a couple loops around campus before he finally just started coming out with it. I barely did any talking. I was flabbergasted. He was telling me how intimidated he was of me that day I came up to him in the cafeteria, confronting him about the prank calls. And how the time I asked him to Sadie Hawkins he realized he was interested in me. He was just so nervous, and he thought I was out of his league so he kept trying to figure out how to make his move. He told me the time I came up to him and hugged him in the cafeteria, he was so stunned he didn’t even know how to react because literally the night before he had a dream that I gave him a hug and he had just told Josh (who I was chatting with) about it that morning. He went on to say how all of his household brothers knew what a crush he had on me and how he was just waiting for the right moment. He kept stressing he was spending all that time with Shannon to learn more about me.
I asked him about being rude at the movies. He said he was so nervous because we were sitting next to each other. The more he said the more I just couldn’t get over it. And the more it made sense, and the more I realized how could I have not seen it?! My whole world had been flipped upside down. And here he was pretty much asking me out at the last possible moment, and we wouldn’t even be seeing each other for 6 months since school would be ending and he was spending his spring semester studying abroad in Austria.
I got my New York tough self on him,
“Well. I don’t know what to tell you, really. I hardly know you. I mean, I haven’t even been trying to get to know you because I thought you were going to ask Shannon out. And I don’t date guys for the heck of it. I just want to date the man I’m going to marry and be done with it.”
“I agree.” He said. He pointed out to me why he had been borrowing my books on courtship, “I’m just asking if you would be interested in pursuing a courtship with me.”
I told him he would have to ask my Dad that one. He agreed quickly. I figured, if a guy has enough guts to ask Dad, then they really must be interested. It was a good way of weeding out the men from mice. His immediate willingness surprised me. There wasn’t a hesitation or anything, he literally asked me for my Dad’s cell phone number in the the next breath. As we talked more, my image of him melted and completely transformed, I began to see so much why he really was a very, good, worthy, holy man. He was gentle, not pushy, respectful and kind. He wasn’t tough. He was sensitive and intuitive- I surmised it was because he grew up with seven sisters. (any man who can quote Little Women is a keeper!) He was extremely patient and really, very sweet. After we walked and talked for nearly two hours I found myself excited. He had agreed to talk to my Dad, but he also agreed that neither of us were ‘bound’ to the other, since we would be apart so much and what if we were to meet someone else? That told me that he was selfless, another check mark went off in my head. No pressure. We agreed to simply be friends,to pray about our interest in one another, write letters and see what happens in six months.
That was December 7th, 2004. So many more wonderful stories since then!
Six months , several long distance phone calls, dozens of handwritten letters, and hundreds of daily e-mails later (there was no Skype!)- we went on our very first date. And two years after that ,finding out minutes before it happened (again! haha!) in the pouring rain, he proposed. And twelve years after that, with five babies between us, we sit at our very own dinner table and his ears still turn red when I talk about those times in college.