I have made more than my fair share of bad decisions — from thinking I could drive just a few more miles to the next rest stop, to throwing some kerosene onto a campfire.
For more than nearly 30 years, I lived my life with no clear direction, no purpose, no meaning.
Failure, it seemed, was at every turn. I joined the Air Force but washed out after nearly completing basic training. Then I went to college. Yup, you guessed it: I dropped out. I toyed with the idea of becoming a priest, but that did not last more than one summer.
I crisscrossed the country in search of peace, stability and worthiness: Maryland, Tennessee, Arizona and Oregon. No matter where I lived, I felt lost and lonely, unable to hold down a job for more than a year at a time.
Flash forward to 1997 and my return to Maine. I worked a few odd jobs before being hired as a sports writer (bear in mind I know nothing about sports) but I loved that job. I loved the idea of getting paid to do what I love: to write.
In the autumn of 1998, I was hired as a reporter at the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier. I was working in my hometown, getting paid to be a political junkie. Suddenly, my life had some meaning. I think if you ask my publishers (David and Carolyn Flood) they would tell you that I worked my ass off. But it didn’t feel like work.
It was fun.
I became the editor of that newspaper and David gave me a wide berth when it came to the newsroom. I started a column called All Along The Watchtower. Suddenly, people knew who I was.
I made friends. I made enemies, but I was still having a grand time.
Flash forward to the local election season in 2001. Our country was still grappling with the horrific losses of 9/11. It was a tense time in our nation’s history. Local elections (city council, school board, etc.) seemed so trivial within the larger context of things.
There were three candidates running for two vacant seats on the Old Orchard Beach School Board: an incumbent (Sharon Inkpen) and two political newcomers: Dora Mills and Laura Kidman Hayes.
I made a mistake in my endorsements for that race (one that I didn’t consider very important) Really, what newspaper ever covered the OOB School Board? With only a couple of weeks left before the election, I gave my endorsement to the incumbent, thinking that there was only one seat up for grabs.
It was the best mistake I ever made!
Within hours of that issue hitting the streets, I received an e-mail from Laura Kidman-Hayes. In part, she wrote: “If I were the editor of a newspaper, I would get my facts straight.”
I replied with a snippy response that barely acknowledged my mistake. Later that day, I found myself on Main Street commiserating with a Portland Press Herald reporter about the upcoming elections. Without too much detail: Grace Murphy told me that Ms. Kidman-Hayes was very cute, and she showed me a file photo of the candidate.
I immediately raced back to my office in order to send Ms. Kidman-Hayes another e-mail: a bit more contrite, even though I thought she might be married because of the hyphenated last name.
I loathe hyphenated last names.
Within minutes after I sent her my second email, she sent me another e-mail and that’s how it went for a few days. Eventually, I made her a deal: if she won, I would actually cover a meeting of the OOB School Board. If she lost, I would buy her a cup of coffee because there would be no conflict.
On election night. I was a bundle of jangled nerves as I drove to OOB to “check” on the status of the polling place (yeah, right). Laura was standing in the hallway along with the other candidates, shaking hands with incoming voters.
I took one look at her and I knew that she was way out of my league. I curtly shook hands with her and dashed into the gymnasium to chat with the town clerk. I wanted to appear like I did not care.
Not a thing
The election was over. The streets were quiet and softly lit with a mid-autumn moon. I went to bed, feeling like an idiot.
On the next day, I checked my e-mail messages at the office. Ms. Kidman Hayes had sent me an e-mail. She included three telephone numbers where she could be reached: her office phone, her home phone and her cell-phone.
I could not believe it. I asked one of my coworkers if he thought that she really wanted me to call her. “She gave you three telephone numbers. Are you really that stupid?”
I called her and asked if she wanted to have dinner with me on Sunday. She said yes. I planned on eating at Traditions on Main Street in Saco. But I forgot that they were closed on Sundays. I was a nervous wreck. I was ashamed of my 1993 Ford Escort station wagon that had muffler issues. I was ashamed because she owned her own home and I was still living in a one-bedroom apartment two flights above the Happy Dragon restaurant on Main Street in Biddeford.
We ended up at the 99 Restaurant. We were seated at a back table. We were there for a little more than three hours but neither of us ordered any food. We were too nervous, but we decided — right then and there — that we would like to try embarking on an exclusive relationship.
That was 19 years ago today. Wow time flies. T-Ball games, house hunting, pets, family deaths, kayaking, camping, different jobs and home renovation projects blend into a blur of happiness, of meaning . . .
The best mistake ever.