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How I Met [Their] Mother: Celebrating our 10 Year Anniversary!

Today marks the 10 year anniversary of my marriage to the most amazing, capable, strong, and beautiful woman I've ever known.

To share in the celebration, I thought that I'd tell you all how I was lucky enough to meet Mrs. Shirley Toohey:

After successfully completing my run at Indiana University of Pennsylvania by failing out, I was working at a local self-service gas station. Eight-hour shifts were consumed by interacting with the occasional pre-paying customer (or those who would buy items from the in-building convenience mart), toiling away in my sketchpad or notebook (paper, not electronic), and smoking way too many easy-access cigarettes. The job did have it's perks - of course - all the free coffee you could drink (as long as you made it) and it was better than laying asphalt!

On October 13th, 1998, a young woman with shoulder-length blonde hair walked in to pre-pay for gas.

"I'll take $11.50 on Pump 3, please...".

I looked up from my sketchpad into eyes that took my breath away.

I understandably stammered in my response, "Well that's a precise figure!".

"I have a bet going - I know it'll take $11.50!", she bubbled - turning her head over her shoulder to her car.

At this point, my heart sank. Standing at Pump #3 were two guys, one of which was actively pumping gas. I'd like to say that I didn't flirt with a woman that was obviously accompanied by two men, but I am proud to say that I did!

The rest of the conversation - mostly small talk - was brief, and interrupted by a tone from my register.

"Hey - looks like you won your bet!"

From there - to be honest - it was awkward. The storybooks and fairytales tell you you'll find your true love at a galant evening ball, or that you'll rescue her from a tyrant of sorts (no doubt fire-breathing)... not that you'll small talk while she's getting gas from behind bullet-proof glass.

She left. And like an idiot, I let her go. I was so fixed in the moment that I didn't realize it had ended. I was drunk from the brief experience, and only sobered up when I realized that I would more than likely never see her again.

I'd like to tell you that a few minutes later she came running back into the store. I'd even settle for telling you that she came in several hours later for some of my coffee.

She didn't.

One of the guys at Pump #3 did however...

My first thought - and I think anyone growing up in the Manayunk/Roxborough area of Philadelphia can imagine this quite easily - was that my flirting was either noticed by or mentioned to said guy, who let it build up for several hours before confronting the jerk who'd dared to flirt with his girlfriend.

The first words out of his mouth all but confirmed my suspicions.

"Uh, yeah - do you remember a girl that came in here a while ago?".

My eyes darted to the unlocked, ajar door to my bulletproof-glass enclosed room and I cursed myself for not having locked it on my last trip through, "Uhh.. buddy, there's a lot of girls that come in here. Did you need gas?".

Persistent, he continued "Right. Well, she's blonde, about --".

"Well, there're a lot of blondes that come in here. Look, my manager gets really upset with me if I chat with the customers, and --".

"She's my sister, and she's being really annoying. She hasn't stopped talking about you since we left here. Actually wanted me to drive the car around so she could stop back in for more gas. I'm kinda sick of listening to her - here's her number...."

I was gobsmacked; absolutely stunned. The adrenaline that was first fueling my "fight or flight" response to an assumed threat was now making my head spin, and after saying "Thanks!" I found myself alone, in the store, totally geeking out that I had a number. Correction: I had her number.

I was 19. And rule #1 in dating is that you don't call your would-be suitee and gush "OHMYGODILOVEYOUTOOLET'SDATEANDGETMARRIEDANDHAVEKIDSANDLIVEINAHOUSEANDHAVEADOG!! !". You gotta play it cool! And, to be honest, I was hesitant to call in case this was a "let's mess with the gas station dude" prank.

The next night, I got settled, did that pre-first-phonecall self-peptalk/controlled breathing exercise, and dialed the number.

Any hesitation I had, any self-doubt or concerns instantly melted away. It's hard to explain - talking was effortless, familiar; it felt right.

An hour into the call, she asked me my age. Her reaction to my admission of being "only 19" was expected: a successful, professional, and established 24 year old does not date a 19 year old gas station cashier unless they're in a Billy Joel song.

So, adamantly stating that it was not a date, we agreed to meet that evening to "hang out".

She picked me up from my parents (down the street, in fact), and we quickly planned the evening: a quick stop to Blockbuster video before heading back to her apartment to watch said rental.

The movie was My Giant, which to this day we've never watched. It played on the television, ended, auto-rewound, and sat at the VCR's default blue-screen while we talked late into the night.

I had found a person by happenchance that - pardon the cliche - absolutely completed me. Silly age-difference be damned!

The rest of the courtship? Well, that's for another time. I'll share the stories of her dumping me on my birthday weekend (which was only a few days after we met - October 17th!) and coming to her senses shortly thereafter, and such in subsequent posts for those of you interested in such tales of unfocused, chaotic young love.

Today, my wife has grown to become even more amazing, even more breathtaking, best friend and partner in my life, and I again fall in love with her each passing day. She brings out the best of me in everything that I do, is there for me when I fail, and is my proof that a single person can change the world.

Shirley -- if you get the chance to read this -- Elephant Shoes! Perhaps we'll not-watch the still shrink-wrapped My Giant DVD tonight...

About the author: Chris Toohey

Thought Leadership, Web & Mobile Application Development, Solutions Integration, Technical Writing & Mentoring

A published developer and webmaster of, Chris Toohey specializes in platform application development, solutions integration, and evangelism of platform capabilities and best practices.

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