Before Stefanie and I had ever met, we shared quite a lot in common. She was a Bronx, Italian, Catholic girl who moved up into Westchester County with her family. For my part, I was bred and buttered as a Bronx, Irish, Catholic boy who had to move up into Westchester after my brothers were born, right after my 8th grade graduation. AS Irish as my family was, hers was Italian. One of our best family friends were the Italians, the Sliva's. For her family, they're closest friend were the McShane's. Stefanie had one sister, and one aunt, but no first cousins. I had two brothers, two aunts, and no first cousins either. And not an uncle between us. We did have plenty of other friends and "cousins", and many of those came from both of our dads being bankers. Our mother's were the stay at home type that was still common on the sixties and seventies, and they both volunteered at our respective schools. They held cocktail and dinner parties for their husbands careers, and had the occasional priest over. Each of our mother's also ruled the house with the ancient Chinese art of Iron Hand, if you know what I mean. Whereas my mom had spent time working as a secretary before she married, Stefanie's mom, Lydia was a professional opera singer. Other than that, we had all those similarities, and had never met.
Of course, my true attention was on Stefanie herself. I would be lying if I said it was her "nice personality" that caught my attention; although it did help down the road! No, she was (and remains) incredibly beautiful. We met at an evening Emergency Medical Technician course; her to understand what to do for her dad should something go wrong, and me to make sure I could specialize in emergency room nursing down the road. To me, there was no other girl in the room, and for her, she didn't even know I was in the class. One evening, she came in looking very upset. Being early as well, I sat down next to her and she spilled out everything; she told me about her dad's disease, how she had to quit NYU School of Acting because of it, and how she just didn't know what to do, what would be next. We had to stop talking as class commenced, and directly after she left before I could reach her. Not having her phone number, I had to wait for the next class to talk to her again. That evening came and I couldn't wait to talk to her and see if she was any better. I sat down next to her and she looked at me as if to say, "Boy, who gave you permission to invade my space and attempt to approach me? And really, how dare you speak to me as if you knew me!" Safe to say I was crushed, as she had totally forgotten our "intimate discussion". In my defense, I did know quite a lot about her, and this was before internet stalking. She decided to allow my intrusion, and we even began to work together in class. Now, also in her defense, I was dating a different girl (not in that class) and after class would say, "I've got to go home and see Liz and the baby". Naturally, Stefanie thought Liz and I were living together and that it was MY baby. Neither were true! After class, I wold go to Liz's parents house to check in on her and her daughter, from a previous marriage. Then, I was off to my won apartment. At the end of class, neither of us knew what to think about the other.
After our state certification exams, Stefanie called me on the phone, by getting my number off the class list passed out at the end of the semester. Anyway, she told me that she had passed the exam and asked how I did. I told her I had also passed, although she had beaten my score. She then said, "How's Liz and the baby?" "I don't know, she broke off with me for some janitor, and even though we're in the same nursing class, she doesn't even speak to me" was my honest reply. "Oh, I'm so sorry", she said. And before the next millisecond, "What are you doing Saturday night?" She has denied this for over twenty years, but I tell you the truth! That Saturday was our first date.
Thereafter, a time was when I held a phone and an answering machine in my parent's basement, meanwhile I was living in a spare room in Stefanie's parent's house. It's not what you might think, that's of course if you're thinking dirty things. You see, with Stefanie's father stricken with Lou Gehrig's Disease, her family needed help. ALS, which stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. For some guys, this would have been enough to make a guy leave right then and there. Not me, I was a nursing student for the US Army so I was more than happy to help wherever I could.
Our dating life was great, and I couldn't ask for anything more.
After about nine months of this however, I went up to my parent's house to sleep there for the night. I called her the next day and said, "Why don't we do to dinner tonight?" I know Stefanie thought something was wrong, but I didn't know myself. I remember telling my mother something along the line of, "This girl is too close. Thsi is not what I had planned. Something has to give."
I picked her up and took Stefanie to a local sports bar in Mamaroneck. For whatever reason, the two of us always had our date books with us, and this night was no different. After we ordered, we made some small talk. When the food arrived, I couldn't eat. "Are you ok?" she asked. "I don't know", I replied quite sincerely. I began to go on about how I loved our time together, how I would be graduating paramedic school in about six weeks, and would be then leaving for an Army Reserve stint about a month later. For some reason, I picked up my date book and flipped open to September, and said, "So, with all of that, I guess that leaves September 12th or the 19th for a wedding date." Stefanie looked at her book and said something like, "Well, I don't like the sound of the 19th, so I guess the 12th will do." The two of us dutifully wrote down, "Tom & Stef's wedding" on the 12th of September, 1987". After which, Stefanie looked up at me with these very wide eyes and said, "Did you just propose to me? And did I accept?" "I think so" was all I could come up with. After ordering a beer, I told her the whole story about coming that night to break up with her, probably out of fear, but apparently the Lord had other plans for me, well, us. I loved her, and she, despite my lack of passion, loved me as well.
We went directly to her parent's home, and I alone went upstairs to Dominic's room. By then, her dad was completely paralyzed and was on a ventilator, making communication nearly impossible. I told him all that happened, and asked his permission to marry Stefanie. he didn't have to say anything, his smile was so wide and bright, you couldn't mistake his approval. I can't tell you what Stefanie's mother and sister told me, they were both being Italian protective, as they felt Dominic was unable. Stefanie's Nona (Naw-nah), her grandmother, was very happy and gave me a big pinch in the face. I am happy to report that since that time, we all are one, big, loving family. This blog-Celtic & Cannoli-will be a testament to how we got here, and about all those who made us possible.