My Ridiculous Love Story by Tina Wagner Mattern
In the years before I met my husband, my dating track record was abysmal; I had been burned so many times I had sworn off men for good. With the exception of my first love, Billy Strandlund, in the 6th grade, my track record seemed to consist mostly of men who thought I'd placed an ad in the personals: Doormat seeking man to support. Only abusive, married, alcoholic, drug-addicted parolees need apply.
But never again, I assured myself. From this point on, dating will be a lighthearted game…and I will be the one making the rules. No more of this love stuff.
This new stratagem worked perfectly for approximately 3 months. Then God laughed .
We met in Hawaii. I was vacationing at the Sheraton Waikiki with my parents as we had done annually for quite a few years, when one morning, three or four days into my vacation I was half-asleep in my usual lounge chair working hard on my tan when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I opened my eyes to find Ted, the pool attendant smiling down on me.
“Hey!” I said. “What’s up?”
He perched on the edge of my chair and said, “You’re single, right?”
“Uh…yeah,” I said. Ted had become my favorite pool attendant over the years, kind of cute, always friendly, but definitely not someone I’d be interested in dating.
“Great!” he grinned, “I’ll have to introduce you to my friend, Fred. He works here in the liquor store part time while he goes to school. Nice guy—I think you’d like him.”
Hmm, I wondered, do I look desperate for male companionship or something? I mean, seriously! Like I couldn’t find a guy on my own? And even if that were the case, would Pool Boy Ted be my best resource for matchmaker? I gave him a weak smile and said, “Sure, bring him by.” As he walked away I shook my head thinking, Ted’s a busy guy, with any luck he’ll forget about this weird, cupid-thing and leave me to my sunbathing.
It turns out Ted didn’t distract easily.
The next morning, I was once again dozing in the sun and feeling blessed to be in Paradise. I was just slipping into a dream when I felt my chair being jiggled and someone called my name. I cranked an eye open. It was Ted. I sighed. Sitting up, I reached for my sunglasses, put them on and then noted in pleasant surprise that he was standing beside a very cute, blonde-haired guy. “This is Fred,” Ted grinned. As I sat up, he turned to Fred and said, “This is Tina. Talk amongst yourselves.” He gave us a thumbs-up and went back to work.
Well, this day is definitely looking up, I thought. Good job, Ted! I looked this Fred person over more thoroughly. He wasn’t very tall, unfortunately, maybe 5’6 to my 5’8 and looked young—probably younger than me. But he looked very appealing in his tank top and swim trunks. Very cute! I decided, and said, “Hi!” Fred flashed me an award winning, beautiful, white-toothed smile. His dentist must love him, I thought.
“Hi!” he said. I made a mental note to thank Ted for butting into my business, and invited Fred to sit down. We talked, as Ted had suggested, amongst ourselves. He told me he’d been born and raised in Hawaii, was a drafting student and had been working in the Sheraton liquor store for less than a year, which is probably why I had never seen him before. I told him about my horses, the basics of my life in Portland and my family’s history of staying at the Sheraton. At some point I asked him how old he was. Turns out he was younger than me by 6 years. He was 21, a baby, I thought. But rather than a turn off, this was actually a point in his favor. He was completely non-threatening, seemed refreshingly innocent despite admitting he was recovering from the fairly recent breakup of a 6 year relationship. His friendly, guileless personality was the complete opposite of the men I’d been with, and sworn off of. Plus, it didn’t hurt my previously wounded ego one bit that he was looking at me like a delighted little kid in the presence of an ice cream cone.
We had dinner that night and every night to come for the next two weeks. Long walks on the beach, dancing nights away…I enjoyed every minute I spent with this funny, charming, genuinely nice guy.
The days flew by and then it was time for me to go home. The night before my departure, Fred took me to dinner and as we sat sipping our drinks he suddenly handed me a small, gift-wrapped package. Surprised, I opened it to find a lovely 14 karat gold chain. Wide-eyed, I stared at it. Gold was very expensive at that time. I knew he had spent most of his paycheck on the necklace. The men in my past had never given me anything; I had always been the gift-giver. Touched, I said, “What’s this for?”
Fred smiled, “Well, it’s a gift, you know.”
I didn’t know what to say. The two weeks we’d been dating had been fun but I was leaving. Now, Fred’s eyes were suspiciously misty. “I don’t want you to go.”
I tried to make light of this unexpected situation, smiled and said, “We can always write to one another, right? And I’ll probably be back again next year.”
He was near tears when I boarded my plane the next day. I felt guilty for most of the flight home, but by the time I arrived back in Portland, my thoughts had moved on. The time with Fred had been entertaining; he was sweet but it was over.
The love letters began arriving within days after I got home. Heartfelt, amusing letters that brought his face to my mind and a smile to my lips. And then there were the phone calls that somehow lasted for much longer than I had intended them to.
“I love you and I miss you,” he told me; words that made me uncomfortable but unexpectedly haunted my dreams. And then one day when I answered the phone and heard Fred’s voice, I was blindsided by the realization that I missed him. When I admitted this to him, his response was joyful and immediate. “I’ll come to Portland and we can see if this thing will work!” he said.
“What?” Oh boy, I thought, what have I gotten myself into?
“I mean, it will work,” Fred promised, “because I love you, right?”
It sounded so simple when he said it that I found myself saying, “Well, okay. I guess we can try.”
The next thing I knew, Fred had sold almost everything he owned and booked a flight to Portland. I picked him up at the airport and was surprised by how glad I was to see him again. The next month went by in a happy blur. On my days off, I spent every free moment showing Fred around Oregon. He had only been away from Hawaii once, and not to the West Coast. His enthusiasm was contagious and I was delighted when, on a drive to Mt. Hood, he looked wide-eyed at the pine forest lining the highway, and exclaimed, “Look at all the Christmas trees!”
And then our “honeymoon” period came to an abrupt end. My father called me about our horse-racing business. We owned 7 Thoroughbreds that were being managed by a trainer at Playfair Race Course in Spokane, Washington. Dad’s phone call was to the point. “I think this trainer is ripping us off. You need to go to Spokane for the summer. Be at the track every day and keep an eye on things.”
I assured him I would and told Fred, “We have to leave next week to spend the summer in Spokane with the horses.”
Fred was shocked. “I can’t go to Spokane! I have to find a job.”
I shrugged. “Bummer. Well, I guess I’d better go make my plane reservations.” A week later, I had moved into an apartment near the track at Playfair. I kind of missed Fred, but business was business.
Fred was despondent; he couldn’t understand how I could just leave him in Portland alone, but within no time, he’d found a job, bought a car and began spending nearly every penny he made flying to Spokane on the weekends to spend time with me.
I put him to work cleaning stalls.
He never complained, following me around, doing whatever tasks I assigned him, happy just to be with me. The more he did for me, however, the guiltier I felt. My feelings of friendship for him were alarmingly different from the love I saw in his eyes. I wondered if I had made a huge mistake ever inviting him into my world.
And then Dad called once again. “Who’s this guy living in your house?” he asked.
“That’s Fred,” I told him.
“Is he paying rent?”
“Well then, tell him to move out.”
“Okay.” And with that, I called Fred and said, “Dad says you need to either pay rent or move out. Sorry.”
Fred was stunned. “Are you kidding me?”
I chewed my lip, feeling both guilty and relieved. “Yes, but I’m sure you’ll find a place soon.”
At this point, I don’t know why Fred didn’t just write me off as a bullet dodged, and move back to Hawaii. But he didn’t.
When the summer was over and I returned to Portland, I missed Fred’s company. I realized that I did care for him, loved him even, if only as a friend. So, I called him. And Fred, bravely ignoring the alarm in his head that said, “This psycho woman is going to break your heart,” came to me.
A ludicrous pattern began: I’d miss him and call—he’d always come. But then before long, I’d start feeling that I should be out looking for “Mr. Right,” and send him away. Days later I’d miss him again and call. He’d groan, but come back.
At one point, fed up with the whole situation, Fred said, “Lose my phone number!”
Fine, I thought. But when I learned he was dating someone else, I was devastated. I picked up the phone and sniffled, “I miss you.” Fred hung up on me. An hour later though, he was at my door.
And then, two years into this absurd, mostly one-sided relationship, I went to Disneyland with a group of girlfriends for a week of partying. We went out every night to the local dance clubs and everyone had a great time. Except me. I wasn’t enjoying myself as much as I thought I should be. By the 3rd night I found myself sitting alone in the hotel room, strangely depressed. What is the problem here, I wondered. And then suddenly, it hit me like a two-by-four upside the old bean, “Oh my God, I’m in love with Fred!”
I processed this astonishing fact for some time and then picked up the phone and called him. It was late and it took a while for him to answer. When he did he sounded sleepy. “Hello?”
I took a deep breath. “I love you.”
“Yeah. I know.” Fred said.
Overwhelmed by this sudden turn of events, I muttered, “Well, you might have told ME!”
He laughed, “Right. I tried, remember?”
“Well, there is that,” I admitted.
Within the week I was home and in his arms.
This just proves what I've always believed: God has a sense of humor. Fred is nowhere close to what I thought I was looking for. I had planned on a man 10 years older than I—Fred is 6 years younger. I ordered tall—Fred is 5’6. I like dark-haired men—Fred is blonde.
Aside from all that he was just a friend; no way could he be Mr. Right. But against all odds…he was. And 42 years later, he still is.