When I was twenty-five years old, I thought I was madly in love with a boy named Tom. No, not my Tom. A different Tom. The pre-Tom Tom. In actuality, the pre-Tom was a lot like the real Tom, but he was missing something intrinsic, and only when I met “the” Tom did I realize how lucky I was to have been dumped.
Oh, that’s right. I got dumped.
Pre-Tom and I had been dating for about five months, and personally, I thought this could be it. In my mind– this relationship was textbook: boy meets girl, boy woes girl, boy introduces girl to parents, boy shops for a ring. It was a time I really felt I was on my game, and I felt that I was truly a catch. I had recently graduated from Baldwin-Wallace College, and I was dutifully employed. I was athletic, funny, charismatic, and above all, I could entertain even the most lackluster of personalities. What boy wouldn’t want me on his arm? Surely, pre-Tom saw me as his Snow White.
Pre-Tom and I had gotten tickets to the Indians game with his cousin Michael and his sister. These were the electric years of winning with stars like Kenny Lofton and Carlos Baerga. The Jake sold out every game back then, and the atmosphere was magnetic. Being that I worked nights in a bar, I loved the nighttime and the energy it had to offer. I was more than willing to carouse. However, I never wanted to be the one to drive the pace of the drinking or the activity. I had the luxury of sleeping in every morning, and I did not want to peer pressure anyone into drinking more than they should or to stay out passed a comfortable hour. Needlesstosay, on this particular evening, everyone was a go. Pre-Tom had called off from his job, Michael was staying the night, and his sister had canceled her morning appointment. Mid-week or not, it was a Friday night to us.
After the game, we were all feeling relatively happy because the Indians had won and had moved the city that much closer to the post season. The boys decided the night was still young. We decided to go to a little local dive bar near pre-Tom’s house and have a few more beers and play pool. We walked into this little place, and some of my regulars were bellied up having some drinks. In the years that I managed my parents’ bar, I seemingly knew someone everywhere I went. Elated to see me out of my element, they bought me a few shots to reciprocate the plethora of shots I had bought them over the years.
Two hours and too many drinks later, I knew I couldn’t drive home. I decided it would be smart to crash at pre-Tom’s house. Seemingly, after some drinking, I was in the mood to make-out as well. His sister dropped pre-Tom, Michael, and I off at his house. Within minutes, Michael was snoring on the couch, and pre-Tom and I sloppily kissed (drinking will do that to you) until we both passed out.
In the morning, I awoke and rolled over. My head was pounding and my mouth was dry. Pre-Tom was still asleep. I needed to get up and drink some water, but instead, I cuddled into him. He flinched, and not in a-you-startled-me-kind-of-way. He flinched in a-I-am-awake-and-don’t-touch-me-kind-of-way. His stiffened motions caught me off guard, but because of the dizziness of the post-alcohol induced sleep, I couldn’t figure out what it meant.
“Hey,” I said trying to snuggle in again.
“Hey,” he said pulling away, getting out of bed.
I knew something was up, and I did not know if I had done something the night before to make him angry. True, when we got to the bar, I spent more time with my customers than I did with him, but he was playing pool, and he appeared to be having a good time. Did I flirt unknowingly? I had a bad habit of flirting with everyone; it’s partially what made me a good bartender.
I lay in bed and stared at the ceiling trying to piece the night together. Nothing stuck out as a red flag, and usually my guilty conscience would let me know if I had done something terribly wrong. After a few minutes, he shuffled back in the room. He did not look at me.
I gulped hard. “Are you mad at me?”
“No.” He moved to his sock drawer and pulled out a pair of socks. It was barely eight in the morning, why did he need socks right now? “I realized something last night,” he said cryptically. He absently shifted to another drawer.
“Tom, what?” I sat up. ”You’re making me nervous.” I suddenly felt the imperative need to be awake and as composed as possible to hear this revelation. I blinked hard to focus my thoughts.
“I think you are way more into this than I am,” he said.
What? Way more into what? This relationship? Because I drank too much and stayed the night?
“I don’t understand,” I replied honestly.
“I’m not looking to get married anytime soon, and…” he hesitated. He turned and looked me directly in the eyes. “I think your feelings are stronger than mine.”
I was dumfounded. I had no idea what brought this on. Had I said something wrong? Had I gooshed about him? Had I gooshed to him? I felt like a ball-pin hammer was hammering into my temples. I had to be at work in three hours, and I was being dumped. Nothing quite made sense, and yet, I felt a sudden revulsion in my gut. I wanted to punch something, tear something, throw something. I knew what I had to do.
I stood up and walked past him. I went into the restroom and splashed water on my face. I needed for every cell in my body to be awake. I would not be dumped and not get the last word! After a few minutes, I walked out of the restroom, and he was standing in his livingroom. I think he was waiting for me to leave. Michael was nowhere to be seen; I do not know if he had left or if he was hiding until I had gone. Either way, I wasn’t leaving until I got what I wanted.
“I need something from you,” I said calmly.
“The picture?” he asked. His birthday had been a week earlier and I had bought him an amazing black and white picture of the old Cleveland Stadium and had it framed. I had spent a pretty little penny, but no, he was wrong; I did not want the print.
“I want my cards,” I said.
“Your cards?” he seemed confused.
“Yes. I have sent you, what? – a dozen cards in the last few months. I know you have them and I want them.” My voice was remarkably steady.
“Why?” he asked. He was so sure I would demand the picture because it cost money. It took years for me to realize that this was the quintessential sign of why he was pre-Tom. He was thinking about the monetary investment in our relationship; he did not have the capacity to think about the emotional aspect of our relationship.
I was feeling a little impatient. “Because I do. If you will just give me my cards, I will leave,” I said.
He sized up what I was asking, and for a split-second, I thought he was going to say no. However, after staring me in the eye for a second, he went to his end table, opened the drawer, and produced the cards I had sent him: cute little Hallmark greeting cards about having fun together, laughing together, getting to know each other. Within each card, I had written a note– something heartfelt and familiar.
He handed them to me, and I looked at them for a split-second. These cards represented how I had felt, how I did feel about this man. At the same moment, I wanted to beg for him to keep me and to kill him with a butter knife. At the same moment, I wanted to fall into the fetal position and cry and to thrash out and break everything in his house. I felt wild, but I remained in complete control.
He handed me the cards, and I mulled them over in my hands. Suddenly, I laughed. I held the cards, stared at them, and laughed. I laughed so hard that my eyes started to tear. I laughed so hard that pre-Tom started to laugh, too.
“What?” he finally asked, composing himself. “What’s so funny?”
I looked at him and his guard was down. This confrontation was going way easier than he had ever anticipated.
“I just realized something.” I stopped laughing. “You will never own me. You will never be able to take these cards back out and feel smug about how awesome you were that a girl fell for you.” I felt loathing and strength all at the same time. I looked him directly in the eyes and spoke slowly and clearly. “It will be like I never existed.” I took the pile and placed it under my arm. I drew the cards out one by one and tore each into little pieces, dropping the remains on his livingroom floor. He did not stop me; he did not say anything; he watched in disbelief.
When I was done, I smiled. I said goodbye and walked out of his house for the last time. I knew it was going to hurt for a while, but my dad promised me that the perfect boy was out there searching for me… the universe was working to bring us together.