Odd Number

There were five of us seated around the table -- circular, so much better than rectangle where an empty chair would’ve been haunting. Four dear friends, who didn't want me alone on my aborted 15-year wedding anniversary, treated me to dinner at a favorite neighborhood restaurant. It was the same spot Tommy and I, and this very same group, celebrated at each year.

 "So sweet," my daughters had said when they heard of our friends’ kind gesture. "Should we pick up the check like we've done before?"

“No,” I said. “Not this time.”

I remembered our grateful surprise at anniversary dinners the previous years. "Your meals are covered," the waiter said as he cleared the table. "Your daughters paid for it."

"Another round of drinks!" my friends joked. My husband and I, a stepfather to my generous girls, grasped hands and smiled. Misty eyes for both of us.

What was Tommy thinking? I wondered back then. Did he consider how much our lives had changed since our marriage all those years ago? I know that's where my thoughts flew. He had a bit of a vocabulary at dinner 2011, but occasionally, one of our friends turned to me with a blank look, hoping I could interpret my husband’s patchwork language.

By the time the six of us celebrated January 13, 2012, Tommy’s greedy aphasia had stolen all speech. My heart sank as he sat quietly while the rest of us debated our usual topics.

This year, 2013, I was the odd number at the table. I’ve only been a widow for just over two months, so the feeling of "third wheel" hasn't yet entered my brain. But, I remember how it nagged after my divorce from my first husband.

Initially, when he left our 30-year marriage that was often unhappy, I felt like a kid let out of school. I ate pizza on the couch, filled the house with overnight guests who often stayed for months, and hosted dinners that squeezed our dining room.

But after four years of this freedom, loneliness crept in. I missed being married. I wanted to be part of a couple again. I hated being the gal left at the wedding or bar mitzvah guarding the purses while couples danced.

I put an ad in the Chicago Reader (the pre-online matchmaking option), attended a few singles events, told my friends I wanted to be fixed up, and went on a series of dates that either ended the same evening or continued for several months.

And while none of these swains turned out to be “the one,” I did enjoy primping for an evening out and feeling like half a pair.

In the end, Tommy and I met through neither of the methods listed above, instead as the song suggests, “on the street where we lived.”  After our first date -- I had asked him out -- we became a couple. We each found what we wanted in a partner, and within two years married.

Although his friends say he fell head over heels when he met me, I think Tommy was a more content single than I was. His first marriage wasn’t nearly as long as mine and there were no children, so there appeared to be nothing he longed for or missed.

Unless it was someone to cherish, because that’s what my husband did from first date to last breath. As I’ve been rifling through dresser drawers in preparation for an eventual sale of our home, I’ve found stacks of yellow-lined notes bundled in rubber bands. Each bearing a sentiment from a love-struck middle-aged man who paused every day to let me know he felt as if he had won the lottery.

As for me, I reveled in being cherished by someone I loved. But just as much, I was thrilled to be part of a couple again, to be a married woman. When Tommy introduced me to his long-time friends, and when we double-dated with mine, all feelings of “third wheel” dissolved.

This time around, I’m not sure how long it will take for that sense of being the odd number will hit. Truthfully, I’m hoping it stays away for quite awhile. I’d rather savor the specialness I felt in my second marriage, where two was the perfect number.