Back in 1997, I was sitting in Riverhead's venerable Doc's Tavern with my friend since childhood, Russ Fleischman. As we faced our fortieth birthdays, he asked me if I ever envisioned that we both might just experience this life without ever having any children. I told him there was always the possibility that someday I'd meet someone who already had children and that I would gladly accept them into my life. Having already been down the matrimonial road twice previously, I was equally prepared to accept the bachelor lifestyle permanently. Not long after that conversation, Doc's Tavern would prove to be a significant turning point in my life.
The head cook, Tanya Poole, would catch my eye and we eventually wound up dating. It was going to be casual. We were going to go slow. Both of us had been through failed relationships. That was January 1998. In October of the same year, I would marry her and welcome Kyle, then 5, into my life. My grandmother had told me a few times before her death that her own brother was married twice before he found the right one. "Three times a charm," she would always say. And she was right. If you'd like to read more on how Tanya and I met, jump ahead to How We Met.
We had Jackie (Jacquelyn Kathleen) in March 2000. I officially adopted Kyle in December 2000, just after we moved into our new house. Our cats Slurpee, Mushie and Noodle round out the Kratoville household.
I feel incredibility lucky to have had the opportunity to not only to find my true life's partner and be a part of her life, but also to take part in two wonderful children's lives and watch both of them grow.
How We Met
This was going to be very casual. She was 24 and living with her mother and 5 year old son, Kyle. I was twice-divorced at 41, temporarily back with my parents with a part time job. Common sense said anything beyond "hello" would spell disaster. Despite warning lights going off everywhere, a mutual attraction developed. However, what we initially set out to explore and what we found were two different things.
I learned she was a huge Monkees fan and collected whatever artifact she could find. Having lived through the time the Monkees were on a network other than MTV, I went downstairs in my parent's basement to thumb through my old 45-rpm record collection. There it was; a picture-sleeve disc of "Daydream Believer."
I brought it in one night, hoping it might start a conversation. Her eyes widened as she inspected the cover and the record inside. "Take it, it's yours," I offered, noting I had bought the record while the song was still on the charts. She thanked me and graciously offered to buy me a drink. Unfortunately, I was working on the air that night so I offered a "rain date" when she could join me. She sounded agreeable.
At least six months went by. I went in for dinner a couple of times and saw her walk right by my table. I even said hello once, but she walked right by me. I began to realize it was silly of me to think she'd be interested in getting together with someone who had his learner's permit on the day she was born. At least I gave it a try. That "drink" wasn't going to happen. Then came the Docs' Christmas Party.
I was going to stay only a moment. As I was about to leave, I saw her out of the corner of my eye, not in a baggy cook's shirt with marinade stains, but well-fitting clothes - completely made-up with fire-red lipstick. She looked absolutely beautiful.
After watching her comandeer the jukebox towards the "Monkees' Greatest Hits," we finally had that drink. As the party wound down, I offered to walk her to her car, parked a few blocks away. When we arrived in front of her car, she thanked me for a nice time. I had to do it. I leaned in to give her a quick kiss. Figuring this would be a one-time opportunity; I kissed her again - this time a little longer.
I returned to Docs expecting the brush-off again, but that was no longer the circumstance. We went on a few dates. Tuesday was her night off, leaving us with few options. A Tuesday night in January on eastern Long Island is very different than a Saturday night in July.
One night, I secured the house of a friend. It would be ours for the entire night, without the threat of interruptions - maybe. I pointed to the phone in the kitchen. "You know if that rings, it's not going to be good news." My grandmother was in the hospital, expected to die at any moment. It had been a week since she went into the hospital for a test and something went terribly wrong. Tanya had heard me talk of her often over the past few days. Five minutes later, the phone rang. Tanya was ready for me to take her home, but I didn't want her to leave. I had already said good-bye to my grandmother, coming to grips with the inevitable. What could have been a very uncomfortable moment then turned into something very special. "Why don't we sit in the living room and you can tell me about your grandmother." I had known my grandmother for 42 years. There were lots of stories and memories. Together on the couch, she listened to every one I could recall.
We continued dating; our conversations becoming more personal and insightful regarding our lives and ourselves. We talked somewhat about our pasts and often about our dreams. We were talking a lot. And the issue of going beyond the "kissing stage" was becoming a popular topic as well.
I picked her up this particular Tuesday night and she was dressed to the nines. A short dress revealed an incredible figure. I had no doubt about her intentions. We stopped for a drink at the Westhampton Grill. She walked off to the bathroom and my eyes followed her intently. However, when she returned, she looked me straight in the eye. "So, you've been married twice already. Maybe we should talk about that before this relationship gets serious."
While I was in therapy just after my second marriage, I learned a lot about myself and how I wound up in relationships that didn't work. I learned about my weaknesses, the type of personality I was attracted to and what to look out for in the future. Specifically, I learned not only to ask a lot of questions before I was to get involved, but I should expect the other person to ask the tough questions about me as well. In the four years since that time, I dated a number of women. Some had the real possibility of becoming serious. Yet, no one had ever had the confidence to ask me directly about my past. Now here's Tanya asking the "tough questions."
For me, it was sealed one night after dinner with Tanya and Kyle at the Good Steer in Lake Grove. We'd spent the day at SportsPlus and I knew I was falling after putting on ice skates for only the second time of my life. (What people will do during courtship for the purpose of "showing their good side" is still an interesting facet of any relationship.) In the dining room was a fireplace a few tables away and he wanted to go over for a look. I can still vividly recall the love I saw in her eyes as she watched him sit by the fire. I knew then she was capable of a lot of love and I wanted to be a big part of that.
We were married on October 17, 1998. The reception was at Docs. My grandfather had died a week before. He knew we were getting married and I'm sure he passed the word to my grandmother. This time I wanted to do the speech. My brother, best man three times, would say a little something; but I wanted to address her family and those who'd previously watched me say, "till death do us part" twice before. I needed to show them I knew this was the one.
I mentioned family and friends, my grandparents, and thanked all who were there. Then I read from the words before me.
Then the Monkees started playing over the jukebox.