(I don't have any pictures from the time this blog post took place, so instead you get Lillian, me and Maggie.)
They knew about Matt’s death and the ongoing Frank saga and they were offering moral support for the next day. I was brainstorming ways to calm my nerves on the long drive.
“Do you think I should bring my knitting?” I asked them. “Knitting always makes me feel calm—”
Lillian interrupted with a vehement “NO!”
“Are you kidding, Theresa?” she asked. “Do you want him to think you’re a grandma? You bring your knitting, and it’s game over with Frank.”
I am notoriously contrary—when someone tells me not to do something, I run to do it—and this was no exception. Lillian should have known better.
I jutted out my chin and said, “I don’t care what Frank thinks. Let him think I’m a grandma. Tomorrow has nothing to do with him, and anyway, I’m over him.”
Then to prove my point, I pulled out my phone and—in the face of Lillian’s and Maggie’s horrified protests—texted Frank, “Would you mind if I brought my knitting in the car tomorrow?”
I’m pretty sure it was the weirdest text Frank’s ever gotten, but he answered nicely that he didn’t care and I was welcome to knit as much as I wanted. I proudly showed Lillian and Maggie the text. To me it was a small piece of evidence that I was finally at least somewhat over Frank, after struggling to avoid him for months.*
The next morning, the morning of Matt’s funeral, sticks in my memory like it happened yesterday. It was, after all, less than two years ago.
I woke up earlier than usual and dressed in head-to-toe black: cardigan, camisole, pencil skirt, tights and a pair of low heels. Outside my bedroom window it was drizzling, so I pulled on my black waterproof trench coat before heading out the door.
I took the metro the opposite way I normally went, away from DC, all the way to the Vienna-Fairfax station near Frank’s house.
I tried to pray on the metro, but I was at a loss for words. Instead I pulled out my novena prayers just before the train pulled into the station.
I turned left at the station exit and finished my novena while I waited under the overhang for Frank’s car. I slipped the novena into my purse moments before jumping in the passenger seat.
Here is the real beginning of our story: whispered prayers to finish a novena, a dreary day, two people dressed in black, a shared sorrow and Frank’s unfailing kindness. Neither of us expected anything or planned it, but without us knowing it, our time had come.
I got into Frank’s car and saw two Starbucks drinks in the cup holder. Frank had thoughtfully brought my favorite white chocolate mocha to cheer me on the drive. It was a small gesture, but it meant so much to me. Not for the first time the thought crossed my mind that he was the kindest person I had ever known.
We began the drive with idle chat, catching each other up on several months’ worth of news. Soon the talk turned to the coming funeral.
Frank said many of his law school friends were going, which struck my notice since we were going to a Mass and not many of them were Catholic. I wondered if Frank had ever been to Mass before. He said he had, a long time ago for his grandmother’s funeral.
The conversation became more serious and more religious (two things that always seem to go hand in hand). Finally Frank asked, “So ... what exactly do Catholics believe about salvation?” This seemed an overly serious question to me at the time, but now I know that Frank’s friends frequently discussed religion, and to him this was just a good conversation.
His question posed a dilemma, however. I had a thorough and thoughtful answer to his question. But remember how earlier in this love story I mentioned the temporary paralysis that afflicted me in the presence of cute boys? Back in the day, I used to attempt to combat this paralysis (unsuccessfully) by reading advice on how to act around boys.
The advice columns were clear on a number of things: Be sweet. Be quiet. Let him talk. Don’t act too smart. You don’t want to intimidate him.
Now, in my old married age, ;) I know that the advice columns are full of it. But at the time they were all I had to go on.
As far as I could see, I had two choices here. I could obey the advice columns—I could giggle and sweetly ask him, “Oh, that’s a big topic! What do you think?” to make him feel smart and superior. I figured that was what I should do if I wanted him to like me.
Or I could do what my education in theology prepared me for, and what my contrary personality leaned towards, and give him a thorough theological smack-down. While I was fully capable of doing that, I figured that if I did, any chance of him ever liking me would be gone.
I hesitated for a moment to weigh these two options. A younger Tess would have gone the first route. But I had not spent the last few months growing in my faith—and avoiding Frank—for nothing. I shrugged and thought, “We never would have worked out anyway.” So I committed what I thought was relationship suicide and began a lengthy theological explanation.
I cited passages from the Bible. I quoted C. S. Lewis and various saints. I defined Purgatory and dismissed Dante. I was as serious and intense as I could be. I had a lot to say, and I said it in full. By the time I was done, I thought Frank might never want to hear me talk again.
Here is the funny thing: while I talked and talked, shamelessly showcasing my education, not letting him get a word in edgewise, breaking every rule in the advice books, Frank was listening. And he liked what he heard. He says he realized at that moment that I was intelligent and well-spoken, not just cute. As he listened, he decided he really did want to go out with me after all.
Isn't that incredibly ironic?
Of course, I had no idea he was thinking this. As far as I was concerned, I had just destroyed any remaining hope of attracting his attention.
We were a half hour early for the funeral Mass so we stopped in a Starbucks down the street for a little while. I couldn’t drink anything but water because I planned to receive Communion, and Frank was intrigued to learn about the one-hour fast Catholics make before we receive the Eucharist.
Soon we were back at the church, huddled under Frank’s big black umbrella and walking to Mass in the rain.
The next few hours were a very sad time. For the sake of keeping this a positive story, and respecting the privacy of everyone involved, I’ll skip over them to our journey home.
After the funeral Mass, I was teary-eyed, and Frank put his arm around me tightly as we crossed the parking lot. I was surprised he did that. Still believing he had a girlfriend, I thought it was rather forward of him! He tells me now that he was just trying to be comforting and sympathetic. I tell you, sometimes that man is too nice for his own good. ;)
I was a little curious about what was going on with Frank’s girlfriend. He had been arousing my suspicions for some time, and putting his arm around me like that was the icing on the cake.
So in the car on the way home, I asked him a few strategic questions. First I inquired how his family was doing. Next I asked if he would be going home to New Jersey any time soon. Finally I asked, “So, how’s your girlfriend doing?”
Frank looked confused and said, “Girlfriend? I don’t have a girlfriend.”
Now it was my turn to be confused. “I thought you said you were seeing a girl from back home?”
“Oh, that,” Frank said. “We went on a few dates a while ago, but it didn’t work out.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” I lied, trying to hide my grin.
Frank was single! I couldn't believe it. I also couldn’t help noticing that my novena for my future husband had ended the same day I found out this very interesting piece of information.
Was it just a coincidence, I wondered? Or would something more come of it?
*For the sake of historical accuracy, I have to admit that I never actually knitted on that car ride, despite bringing the knitting along in my purse. I was too distracted by our conversation.