The ghost of Tom

Feb 2, 2008 by     3 Comments    Posted under: childhood memories, life
In my life I’ve loved three men. The last man fathered my two children. The second man broke my heart. I woke up this morning thinking of the first man I ever loved.

I met Tom when I joined the youth group at our parish church. He was seventeen and I was twelve. To him I was just another skinny little girl in the choir and while he was always polite, he never really gave me the time of day. Still though, I knew I loved him.

At twelve I knew a lot about love. I had already had two real-live boy-girl dates with Jerry, an older man of fourteen – one where we took his kid sister to see Bedknobs and Broomsticks and he paid and even held my hand when we lined up for tickets and the second when we met at the rink across the street from my old grade school to go ice skating. He bought me a hot chocolate, made me laugh and kissed me on the teeth. He even brought me home to meet his mom and we spent an afternoon listening to and talking about his Black Sabbath Paranoid album. I really liked Jerry and he was the first boy to ask me to dance at the school dance and the first boy to peddle his bike half way across the west end just to go bike riding along the river with me.

I remember reading somewhere that the ancient Greeks had three words for love. Philia, indicating a brotherly/friendship love; eros, for a romantic/sexual love and agape for an unconditional/spiritual love. I suppose in my twelve year old brain I entertained the notion of a romantic love with Jerry, I mean he did kiss me, even if it was only on the teeth, but in hindsight what I felt for him was the love of friendship.

With Tom however, it was different. I had a big crush on him. He played the guitar and was the leader of the guitar masses we had at church. He looked like a cross between John Denver and Cat Stevens and while I watched him hang out with the older girls I secretly hoped that one day he’d notice me. My fantasy of some day being Tom’s girl was shattered the Sunday morning our parish priest proudly announced that Tom had decided to enter the priesthood. Now those romantic fancies seemed wrong – sinful even – and had to be purged. I left the youth group and didn’t see Tom again until one summer day when I was sixteen.

I was walking down Bank Street in The Glebe in Ottawa when I heard someone call my name. I turned around and there was Tom smiling at me and just as handsome as he ever was. I stood there, astounded as he threw his arms around me and gave me a big hug. I didn’t think he would even remember me and here he was, warm wide grin under a bushy moustache telling me how great it was to see me. Cars, buses rushed by, pedestrians jostled me, for all I know a dog could have been pissing on my shoe but all I heard, all I was aware of was Tom asking me if I’d go have coffee with him. Over coffee he told me of his experiences at seminary while I nodded and smiled. After about an hour he said he had a bus to catch, got up and was gone. I didn’t see him again until the fall when walking down Elgin Street I again heard someone call my name.

For the next three years that’s how it was with us. Tom would pop into my life from out of the blue. We’d spend an afternoon, a few days, a week together then, poof, he’d be gone. In those interludes he’d sing to me the songs he’d written, read to me from his journals, we’d talk about art, music, poetry and all things spiritual. He found himself dissatisfied with the Church, left the seminary and for a time wondered what he would do with is life. He felt he was called to some type of service but wasn’t sure what that would look like for him.

With Tom I saw the movie Midnight Express and pondered Warhol’s soup cans at the National Gallery. These were things I couldn’t do with the fellow I was dating at the time – the second man I loved; man who eventually broke my heart. If I were an ancient Greek I would say that what I felt for Tom was a combination of philia and agape. The girlish romantic infatuation of a twelve-year-old was transformed into the love one has for a kindred spirit, a pal, a buddy, someone who understands your quirks and loves you for them. He knew I was dating (and later became engaged to) the other fellow and I knew he dated other girls and that was fine because I didn’t see Tom as someone to be romantic with. He was, as Anne of Green Gables says, a bosom friend.

Tom never kissed me. Not until the very last time I ever saw him. We had spent the day together and in the afternoon ended up at his parents’ place where he shared a couple songs he was working on. I had a date that night with my fiancee and it was getting late so he walked me to the bus stop so I could get home in time to get ready. We made small talk as we waited for the bus and just as it arrived, Tom took me in his arms, gave me the most passionate kiss I had ever experienced in my then, nineteen years and said, “I don’t want you to marry him, I want you to marry me.” The doors to the bus opened and I hopped on, deposited my bus ticket, plopped down on a seat and as the bus pulled away watched Tom stand at the curb until I couldn’t see him anymore. Heaven forgive me but the one thought that went through my head was, “Oh no, now he’s ruined everything.” Somewhere in those years that we were chumming around together, without me knowing it, Tom fell in love with me and I didn’t know how to respond. So I didn’t. He must have called the house every day for the next two weeks and I kept dodging his calls until he stopped calling.

About two years later, when I had broken up with the fiancee and was dating the man who I would later marry and have children with, my mother phoned me at work to tell me that Tom had been killed. The account of his death was not clear but he either fell or was pushed off a twelve-storey building. I couldn’t bring myself to attend his funeral but did, months later, visit his grave.

I often think of Tom, his music, his prose, his humour, his smile and the love I felt for him. When I think of him I can’t help but wonder what would have happened had I had the maturity and courage to not get on that bus, to answer his phone calls, to see him one more time.

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3 Comments + Add Comment

  • What a beautifully sad story. Well-written and looking back, I bet it blows our mind what he knew about love, huh?

  • Barb, what a shocking end to a fascinating story! I feel bad that you lost such a wonderful man, especially so early in your life.

    Was it difficult for you to revisit these memories?

    You have given me pause to think about how much, or how little, I reveal of the trauma and sadness in my own life.

    I really admire your courage in writing this, as I do your actual writing.

    I think of you often.

    Peg

  • Hey! As soon as I published this, I see Hahn is here too. (We go everywhere together.

    Like two burrs in a mule’s tail.