Yesterday, Toma and I celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary. We went home early and slept because we’re both suffering colds. Wow. What a party.

In lieu of our last night party that never happened I offer the following tale. And this one is entirely true.

by D. C. Chester

It was a warm June evening in 1980. I was in Beloit, Wisconsin with friends at a bar and grill. Admittedly, more bar than grill. And I was twenty-five years old.

Cordoned off by a half wall railing, a small group of booths, two steps higher than the main floor, acted as the home turf of my group of friends.

I was at one of the foosball tables with part of our group while the others held court in the booths just behind those game tables.

Something caught my attention…a breeze, or a flutter from overhead, or a nudge from the cosmos…I’m still not sure.

I happened to look up from our foosball match and between the top of the railing corralling our booths and the bottom of the light hanging just above the game table I saw the gentle curve of a decidedly female derriere.

I leaned around the light fixture searching for a better view and there she was. A slender young woman with long brown hair. 

I froze and starred as she turned slightly to speak with someone to her right. I saw her face, I saw her smile, and I lost my breath.

As if I were a disembodied spirit watching from a quiet distance I heard myself whisper, “She’s so pretty.”     

I was mesmerized and at that moment my real life began.

I think she spoke to me that evening simply because I learned to pronounce her unusual name. You see, Toma doesn’t like her name. Throughout her life people have mistakenly called her Toe-ma. Even today her grown daughters call her Tooomah, just to tease. But her name is Toma…Tah-ma. And even though she dislikes her name I love it. It is willowy and feminine, just like her.

She told me she was nineteen and at first I was taken aback. I was, after all, twenty-five, and nineteen seemed so young.

“However,” she said, “my birthday is in August.”

So, in a few short weeks she would be twenty. That seemed okay.

I would later  learn that she had already applied the numeric value of her approaching birthday to her declared age. The evening we met - she was just eighteen, if you know what I mean. She was almost a Beatles’ love song.

We started spending time together. Lots of time together. She would drive to Beloit from her dad’s home in a near-by town on off nights because I was at the bar in Beloit on off nights. In the early morning hours I would drive to her house and leave Teddy Bears and special notes in her car.

We graduated to weekends alone together, a ritual we still embrace. 

We would travel together to foosball tournaments in cities across Wisconsin like Marshfield, Fort Atkinson, and Stevens Point. But our travels weren’t limited to Wisconsin.

On the road one Friday for a weekend in St. Louis I feared we might have to cancel the trip as I was deathly ill with the flu or something like it. Toma suggested we swap places…she would drive and I would sleep in the passenger seat, and hopefully get better. She drove us, in my car with a standard transmission, to Missouri. Learning how to shift on the way. Toma is both resourceful and determined. I have always hoped that it was a weekend with me and not the lure of the Gateway Arch that flavored her desire to salvage that trip.

Finally, (finally) on December 5, 1981 we gazed into each other eyes and repeated the words, “I do.”

When first married our life together was chaotic and passionate. We were quick with the petty fights of youth and just as quick with making up. We argued and kissed, and argued and kissed again. And we are here today because Toma always worked harder on our marriage than did I. Now, even after so many years of striving to catch up to her commitment and balance that ledger, I admit I am still far behind.

Toma is as comfortable in the shops on Michigan Avenue, as she is at the cafés of South Beach, as she is in the casinos on Las Vegas Boulevard, as she is fishing for bluegill on Lake Shabbona. And she can fashionably wear almost any hat.

She is my sweetest inspiration and, at the same time, my greatest obstacle. When we’re together I lose all my ambition, fully and freely admitting that I just wanna hold her hand.

Even now, after all this time, whenever I look at her she still takes my breath away, breathes it back into me, and takes it away, again.

And always apprehensive that she might see me as just a silly boy, I tell her as often as I dare that I am the luckiest man in the world.

I get to live my entire life with Toma.