Fifteen years ago I took my first legal word processing job at a downtown firm in New York across the street from the World Trade Towers … I worked midnight to seven-thirty … it was one of my “need a taxable income and insurance for the kids” jobs, not to mention the mortgage and other annoying expenses … I was in a marriage headed for the rocks, still earning street coin, and feeling very unfulfilled about giving up on writing. I was a pay-as-you-go absentee father, providing money instead of attention to my kids. I’d already gone through an embarrassing midlife crisis, and had been a lousy husband to three wives for all the wrong reasons.
One night on the new job, while I was yapping on the other side of the word processing room with the a woman I’d often help with her work, I turned to my right and there was this beautiful woman with blue eyes behind her store-bought reading glasses. She was covered with freckles and her head was buried in a text book. I later learned she was studying for some science degree.
“Colpo di fulmine. The thunderbolt, as Italians call it. When love strikes someone like lightning, so powerful and intense it can’t be denied. It’s beautiful and messy, cracking a chest open and spilling their soul out for the world to see. It turns a person inside out, and there’s no going back from it. Once the thunderbolt hits, your life is irrevocably changed.” — ― J.M. Darhower, Sempre
Bada-boom, bada-bing … the thunderbolt struck and it was only a matter of weeks before I plotted and planned and figured out a way to try and meet this woman who turned out to be the younger sister of the woman I was helping at work.
We talked … I managed to make her laugh with dumbass references to childhood shows we’d watched as kids on opposite sides of Brooklyn. She was a Bay Ridge girl and I was from Canarsie. One night I heard her cursing a blue streak as she stepped off an elevator and I yelled, “Tish, you spoke French.” It took her a second, but then she smiled … and her smile was so damn infectious, I went home dreaming about it …
Over the next couple of weeks I learned this beautiful freckled woman was unhappy in her marriage. I was invited to a graduation party by her older sister, Susan, the same one I worked with, the woman I’d helped with work. Susan’s two sons were graduating; one from college, the other from high school. I brought my youngest, Dustin, along for company. We were seated at Ann Marie’s table with her son and her husband. Uncomfortable? Yeah, but she smiled when she saw me and that’s all I needed. Cocky SOB I was at the time, I asked my son what he thought about his new stepmother.
Most readers of Knucksline know how Ann Marie was the reason I wrote Eddie’s World … Jarrod (JR) Jackson was the guy who made me feel guilty watching him work on screenplays at work while I played solitaire, but I wrote the book to impress Ann Marie as something more than just another wannabe. She had no idea at the time I met her about what I really did for a living, but I was finished taking risks. It didn’t take a rocket science degree to see the writing on the wall for any future on the street. So I pursued writing the book and Ann Marie with everything I had ... and then I got lucky. Ann Marie was the first person I called to let her know Eddie’s World had found a home.
A week or so later, we’d both seen the movie, La vita è bella—me on Long Island, Ann Marie in New Jersey. We talked about the movie at work and Ann Marie’s eyes welled-up. That was the last sign I needed. I saw an opening and the first chance I had a few nights later, when I saw her walk into the office where we worked, I yelled, Buon Giorno, Principessa!
And there was that smile again, and I knew I’d won her over.
I’ve been writing her that in emails every day ever since ... and when I forget, I double down.
It wasn’t long after that movie night when we became involved and eventually left our spouses. We were married a year later in the Bahamas and my life has been nothing but blessed ever since. She’s allowed me to make an attempt at redemption I never would’ve considered without her. She's an amazing woman, this Ann Marie: she attended and finished nursing school while working full-time at a law firm (where she remains a supervisor of the day shift). She also works part time as an RN at Princeton Hospital in New Jersey. She does fix-it jobs in the house (because I’m useless with my hands), and she took care of my mother while I was away at school last summer when Momma Stella had her fall that eventually landed her in the nursing home (where she now lives on Staten Island—all handled by Ann Marie—start to finish). And when her knucklehead husband got it into his head to play the drums again a few years ago, she didn’t say, “Are you out of your mind?” She said, “I think that’s great, Charlie. Go for it.”
And she said nearly the same thing when I decided to return to college at 55 and pursue an MFA degree. “I think that would be great, honey,” she said. “I think you’d make a great teacher some day.”
I’m skipping a lot, but this is appropriate to mention also ... when our dog, Rigoletto, had to have a serious back operation a few years ago, Ann Marie bought an air mattress and slept in the living room with him for 3 weeks in a row so he wouldn’t panic and try to climb the stairs. Rigoletto and I both depend on her for our survival—fact.
Probably what Momma Stella loves most about Ann Marie is the fact she has me saying prayers again (not that I’d ever admit it to Momma Stella) … the prayer is in my first novel, Eddie’s World … it reappears in my fictional memoir, The 2nd Coming … and it has everything to do with justice and how whatever bad is going to happen, I’m the one who deserves it (for all the shitty things I’ve done in my life) ... so, please, Lord (or whoever is in charge out there), if anything bad is gonna happen, let it be to me … let it be me, let it be me, let it be me …
Because I can’t imagine not having her in my life.
We each had the insides of our wedding rings engraved before we were married. Ann Marie chose La forza della natura for me ... probably because I can eat like a hurricane.
Mine for her was a duet from O Soave Fanciulla in La Boheme ... in te, vivo ravviso (what they could fit inside the ring, but the rest goes) il sogno ch'io vorrei sempre sognar!
In you I see all the dreams I have ever dreamed!
Our wedding song ...
Buon Giorno, Principessa!
Buon compleanno, amante!