First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
The year is 1974. I am old, withering, and beyond any hope of finding a life partner. I am 27. I will forever be a spinster.
I am certain that I have dated every eligible man in Winnipeg. In my heart and in my mind, there is only one answer to my predicament: Move to Toronto.
Toronto. City of opportunity. City of bright futures. City of eligible men.
Once the decision is made, the logistics are easy. I will give up my apartment. It’s a fabulous one-bedroom place with macrame hangings and posters of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones adorning the walls. I love the forest-green couch flanked by wooden tables stripped of their natural lustre and smothered with bright, glossy orange paint. Best of all are the plastic mushroom lamps, also in orange. Perfection!
Giving up the apartment will hurt, but if I move back home with my parents for a few months I will be able to save the money I normally spend on rent. It has to be done.
I inform my landlord that I will be vacating my apartment. The next step is obvious: I will have a last hurrah, a party to celebrate my move. After all, when I move back home, there will be no more fun and frivolity, no more freedom to do what I want.
I consider who will be on the guest list. It doesn’t take long to sort that out – I will invite everyone I know. But there is a problem here. Everyone I know means the following: guys I have dated in the past who I have rejected or guys who have rejected me; guys I haven’t dated that I have no interest in; and girlfriends. What a boring party this will be.
And yet, I do not give up the idea of throwing a big bash. I set the date and invite the guests.
A week before the event, I turn my attention to what I should wear. I narrow the choice down to two possibilities: a floor-length jean skirt with a ragged, slightly torn hem and a hippie-style top; or a sexy, multicoloured print outfit with flowing wide-legged pants. Which look do I want? I will decide closer to the day.
It is now Monday. My friend Zivia, the master of crazy schemes, is on the phone. She knows a guy who would be perfect for me. He’s one of the doctors who performed cardiac surgery on her mother. Okay, I am impressed. Then she says I should call this guy, even though we’ve never met.
“Don’t hang up! Look….he’s single, he’s a doctor, he’s cute and he’s Jewish. What more do you want?”
Maybe Zivia isn’t so crazy after all.
Bill, the single, supposedly cute, Jewish doctor is a cardiac surgical resident living in Winnipeg! How have I never met him?
“So do you really think I should ask him to the party?”
“What have I been saying? Call him now!”
“I won’t do it. Anyway, I don’t know his number.”
There is a pause. Zivia stops talking, an unusual state for her, but her silence says volumes. I can almost see the smile lighting up her face. She knows she has convinced me. She is right. What do I have to lose?
“Call him at the hospital,” Zivia suggests. “You won’t be sorry. He really is cute.”
That does it. I don’t need any more persuasion. I say goodbye to Zivia. Do I hear her chuckling as I hang up?
I call the number and the operator answers after one ring. “Winnipeg General Hospital.”
“I’d like to speak to Dr. Shragge.”
“Just a moment, please,” she says. I wait for a minute or two until she comes back on the line and says: “He isn’t on the cardiac ward but I can page him for you.”
“Sure.” Oh my God, am I really doing this?
“Your number, please,” the operator says.
I give her my phone number, hang up the phone and pour myself a drink to calm my nerves.
I wait. And I wait. No call. He appears to be ignoring the page and as the evening wears on, I decide maybe this is all for the best. After all, it is a crazy idea and really, what could come of it?
An hour later, my phone rings.
“Hello,” I say, hoping my voice isn’t shaking.
“This is Dr. Shragge. Are you a relative of one of my patients?”
“Umm, no. My name is Phyllis Freedman and my friend Zivia gave me your name. You operated on her mother. I’m having a party on Saturday and I was wondering if you’d like to come.”
My thoughts are racing: Oh my God, he must think I am insane. Who does this? Who pages a doctor to invite him to a party? He is going to hang up on me any minute and I wouldn’t blame him.
“I’m sorry,” he says, “but I’m a bit confused. You aren’t calling about a patient?”
“Never mind. It’s okay. Sorry to have bothered you,” I mumble. “Bye.”
“Wait! Are you the Phyllis Freedman who writes for the Winnipeg Free Press?”
“Yes, I am.” He knows my byline! He reads the newspaper!
“I’m free on Saturday. Give me the details and I’ll be there.”
Can he hear my heart pounding as I tell him my address? Does he know I am about to throw up?
It’s Saturday. Ten minutes before the party begins, I decide to wear the sexy outfit. I feel alluring, yet classy. It’s time to say goodbye to hippie duds.
My apartment is brimming with friends and acquaintances getting inebriated. I am feeling great. I have enough of a buzz to think the world is wonderful.
There is a knock on the door. I fly toward it and swing it open. Standing there, wearing a tweed sport jacket and a grey turtleneck sweater, is a cute guy I don’t recognize. It has to be him.
“You must be Bill.”
“You must be Phyllis.”
We are engaged six weeks later.
The wedding is the following January, eight months after we meet. We are married for 37 years and have five children.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I’d worn the hippie jean skirt.
Phyllis Shragge lives in Ancaster, Ont.