I was sitting at my desk in the development office of a law school (part of a large, private university) when my boss came in with one of the most beautiful men I’d seen in my LIFE. He was tall, moved gracefully, wore clogs (?!), smiled, had green eyes and dark hair.
“This is my assistant, Martha. Martha, this is Tom. Remember I gave you a letter to read from my college friend who was in Nepal? This is him.”
Tom had been on an expedition to Annapurna II.
Behind my desk was an enormous enlargement of a photo of T.E. Lawrence and Lowell Thomas crouching in front of a Bedouin tent. Why the photo? Lowell Thomas was planning to leave his fortune to the law school and the law school would be renamed in his honor. For me that was great. Lowell Thomas was one of my heroes and I got to meet him.
“Lawrence,” said Tom. “I’m reading Seven Pillars of Wisdom. What a monster book.”
“It is,” I agreed. “I read it when I was 11.”
“Yeah. I’d just seen David Lean’s movie and I was in love with Lawrence.”
My boss was tapping his toe on the carpet. Clearly he hadn’t brought Tom into the office to have a conversation with me.
“Let’s go,” said my boss. “I have a meeting after lunch. What do you want for lunch?”
“Something like that,” said Tom, pointing at the really lousy salad I’d gotten from the automat in the cafeteria.
“You don’t want this,” I said. “It’s gross. Go over to the art museum,” I then suggested. It was across the street and they had several really good salads to choose from.
“The ART MUSEUM?” asked my boss, incredulous.
“That sounds fun,” said Tom and off they went. Later that day, Tom called me from my boss’ apartment where he was staying and asked if he could write me. My first thought was “Why?”
Time passed, letters went back and forth, a few phone calls and I went to Albuquerque to visit him. I was terrified. What if he didn’t like me? Scarier still, what if he DID? I arrived to an empty house and didn’t know how things worked there. There was a note on the back door. “Come in, make yourself comfortable, I’ve gone to the store. Tom.”
I stood in the kitchen in a state of terror and waited. When he came in, he cooked dinner — tuna casserole. He prepared, cooked and we ate all from one stainless steel bowl he’d brought back from Nepal. After his expedition — during which he decided to become a medical doctor (he’d been a film-maker) — he had resolved never to acquire more stuff than he needed on his trip. So. One bowl.
That impressed me forever, and I remained a relative minimalist — easy for me, actually, since I hate shopping. There are some things of which I have too many (too many dishes, for one) and a few things of which I cannot have too many (Caran d’Ache watercolor pencils) but overall, I took that lesson to heart. Stuff complicates life — and stuff accrues without much effort. It takes effort NOT to accumulate stuff.
It was a relief to leave most of my belongings behind in California, to walk away from the concretion of thirty years. Even Tom could not maintain his simplified life. He explained it the next year saying, “One does need a little aesthetic, right?”
For those who, reading this, will wonder, “Yeah but what happened with Tom?” Here’s what happened. I liked him VERY much. However, I wasn’t ready at that moment for a life-partner, and he was looking for one.