A children’s book for adults
By Steven Thorn © 2020
Tom Byrd was a successful businessman, but he was lonely.
He was thirty years old with a nice haircut and a clean shave. He had a degree in business from College State and a Masters of Business Administration from Big City Private University.
He drove a new white convertible with seat warmers. He had a two-story house in a gated community.
His luxurious sofa had four reclining seats. He liked to binge-watch shows on his seventy-inch, 5k television.
A king-size bed dominated his bedroom, which had a panoramic view of the city skyline.
But he was lonely.
The two-story house was too big for one person.
The new white convertible had an empty passenger seat.
He binge-watched shows by himself.
The king-size bed got cold at night.
His dad would ask, “When are you gonna get married?”
His mom would ask, “When will you give me grandchildren?”
One night, after a nine-to-five day of poetic emails and stimulating meetings, Tom wanted to hang out with his friends. But all of his friends were married with kids. So he watched a movie by himself.
He selected a film from the Recommended List. It was a romantic comedy called Soulmates. Tom did not want to watch a rom-com because he did not have a soulmate. The rom-com made him angry. He was so angry that he threw the remote across the room.
Tom frowned. Now the remote was out of reach and he could not turn the movie off.
He reluctantly watched the ninety-five minute movie.
In the climactic scene, the man, who had a low voice, proclaimed: “Everyone has a soulmate somewhere.”
“I know,” the woman said breathlessly.
“Darling,” the man said, “I know you are my soulmate. When you know, you just know.”
The woman looked dramatically into the middle foreground.
Then she looked at the man.
Then she looked back at the middle foreground.
Finally, she looked at the man and said, “Yes. You are my soulmate.”
He swept her up into his arms. They kissed. The sun set behind them.
The movie ended.
A tear fell down Tom’s cheek. He realized that he was hugging his pillow.
He dropped the pillow to the floor and wiped his eyes.
That night, Tom could not sleep. He kept thinking about the movie.
Everyone has a soulmate somewhere.
I know you are my soulmate.
When you know, you just know.
He thought about the man’s confidence. He thought about the man’s low voice.
Tom closed his eyes. He knew what to do.
Tomorrow, everything would be different.
The next day, he had a business trip. On the way to the bus stop, he saw a lady walking her dog. She was pretty. She had straight teeth.
Now they were close enough to make eye contact. Tom lowered his voice and proclaimed, “I know you are my soulmate.”
“Excuse me?” she scoffed. “I’m fifty-two years old. I could be your mother.”
“Fifty-two?” Tom repeated in disbelief. He tried to salvage the situation with a compliment: “You age well.”
“That’s it! Sic him, Butch!”
She gave the dog some slack and he lunged toward Tom with snapping, snarling jowls.
Tom ran for his life.
He shouted over his shoulder: “I thought I knew, but I was wrong! You are not my soulmate.”
Tom made it to the bus stop without being mauled by Butch. When he boarded the bus, he saw a girl sitting beside an empty seat. She was pretty. She had a ponytail. Tom did not know if her teeth were straight because her mouth was closed.
He sat next to her. Tom lowered his voice and proclaimed, “I know you are my soulmate.”
The girl didn’t say anything. Then she saw that Tom was looking at her.
“Excuse me?” she asked, pulling an earbud out of her ear. “I was listening to music. What did you say?”
“I said, ‘I know you are my soulmate’?” Tom repeated, but with less confidence and a higher voice.
“Is that a question?” the girl scoffed. “I’m not your soulmate. I’m seventeen years old.”
“Oh. Seventeen is too young for marriage in this country, unless I have your parents’ permission.”
She pulled a can of mace from her purse. “That’s creepy, and you’re gross.”
Tom jumped up from his seat. “But I will not seek their permission because I was wrong,” he stuttered. “You are not my soulmate.”
He walked to the front of the bus and got off at the next stop, even though it wasn’t the airport.
Tom almost missed his flight because he got off the bus too early. He had to run, swear, and flag down a taxi to get there in time. He was the last person to board the plane. He dozed off after takeoff, exhausted from multiple soulmate misidentifications.
He woke up to a flight attendant asking, “Excuse me, sir. Would you like something to drink?”
The attendant’s voice was very attractive. She might be pretty.
Without opening his eyes, Tom lowered his voice and proclaimed, “I know you are my soulmate.”
“Excuse me?” the flight attendant responded. "I’m a married man with two kids.”
“Oh.” Tom opened his eyes, feeling embarrassed. “You are not my soulmate. But you might be a tenor.”
After Tom landed, he found a Five Bucks Per Coffee shop. He ordered a caramel macchiato and saw a cute girl in a pink pastel t-shirt. She was wearing Authentic Apparel Sports Shoes, but she had no pants.
Upon closer inspection, Tom realized that she was wearing shortest shorts. They were cleverly disguised as No Pants.
Tom approached the No Pants girl, lowered his voice, and proclaimed: “I know you are my soulmate.”
“Excuse me?” she scoffed. “I’m a freshman rushing Greek Alphabet Sorority. Are you in a frat? You look super old.”
“I am only thirty,” he said.
“Ew. That is super old. You should leave before my pledge sisters arrive. They’re meeting me for coff-coff.”
“Okay,” Tom said. “Enjoy your coff-coff and No Pants. I thought I knew, but I was wrong: you are not my soulmate.”
That night at the hotel, Tom saw an internet ad for Online Dating. He decided to make an account. He used photos from his Social Media Profile. He desperately hoped that none of his friends or coworkers were already on Online Dating.
Within minutes of creating his account, Tom found the profile of a woman named Gisele. She looked pretty. She had long hair and straight teeth. Her profile said she liked puppies and volleyball.
He sent her a winky-heart and waited.
Nothing happened for five minutes.
He frowned and moved onto the next account, Hannah, who was a doctor. Tom thought she looked homely. Also, she had crooked teeth.
Tom was about to wave the red flag when he felt a twinge of guilt. It seemed superficial to red flag Hannah simply because of her physical appearance. What if she was a very sweet woman?
What if she was his soulmate?
Tom was curious.
But he wasn’t curious enough to find out. Appearance mattered too much to him. He red flagged Hannah.
Tom spent the rest of the night sending winky-hearts to women he found attractive and waving red flags at women he found unattractive. He red-flagged women who had frightening politics; who exclusively had duck face, kissy-face photos; and whose profiles only had group photos that made it impossible to distinguish who the user was.
After four hours, he had received no responses from the women he found attractive. He had only received three responses from women he found unattractive. Most of them had things in common, like being employed and binge-watching TV shows. But it wasn’t enough for Tom to want to connect.
Tom slumped back against his hotel pillow. He wondered why, after four full hours, he hadn’t received responses from people he found attractive. What if the women he found attractive found him unattractive while he found unattractive the women who found him attractive?
After all, his teeth weren’t that straight.
Tom sighed. He was about to quit, but he kept at it for another thirty minutes.
After three more hours and no success, he deleted his Online Dating account.
“I do not want to date online anymore,” he said. “I have had a bad experience.”
When Tom got home, he decided to go to church.
“Maybe God will help me find my soulmate,” he thought.
He saw a pretty young woman at Sunday School. She had long hair that had never been cut by scissors or shears, and she carried her hair in a basket she had woven by hand. Her teeth were straight and narrow; there were few who found them because she rarely smiled in the company of men. (She did not want her lovely teeth to tempt men to impure thoughts.)
Tom lowered his voice and proclaimed, “I think you are my soulmate.”
“You shouldn’t be talking to me directly,” the young woman rebuked him, avoiding eye contact. “You should talk to my father first. Here’s his phone number.”
Tom was confused. “Do you think he is my soulmate?”
The girl shook her head, still averting her eyes. “No. But you must speak with him first. It is the way to Do Things Properly.”
Tom wanted to Do Things Properly. He called her father that afternoon.
Her father told him, “You need to read a dozen books about being a Good Churchgoing Man. Then we will fast and pray.”
Tom borrowed the dozen books from the public library. He had not gone to a library since grad school. Many of the books looked interesting, but he could not read them because he had to read a dozen books about being a Good Churchgoing Man.
After he had finished eleven of the books, the girl called him.
“I have only read eleven of the books,” Tom said, surprised. “I thought we weren’t supposed to talk yet.”
“It’s okay to talk right now because God told me you aren’t my soulmate,” she answered, “because I’m not attracted to you.”
“But what if, after I finish the twelfth book, God tells you that I am your soulmate?” Tom answered quickly, proud of himself for coming up with a theological response on the spot.
“That’s not how it works. Goodbye, Tom.”
“Wait! Is God still on the line?” Tom asked. “I would like to ask him who my soulmate is!”
But the young woman hung up.
Tom decided not to finish the eleventh book, and he didn’t even open the twelfth book. They were not interesting books.
That night, Tom lay awake in bed, wondering if he had already missed his chance for True Love.
“Don’t most people find their soulmates in college?” he asked out loud.
He thought back to the girls he knew in college.
One girl was always too busy. She was always campaigning for student government and starting small businesses and backpacking across the Amazon to teach English as a Second Language. Now she was running for the House of Representatives.
One girl was always too athletic. She was always working out and training for marathons and winning intramural championships. Now she was running an online empire of fitness videos and health products.
One girl was always too radical. She was always attending rallies and protesting laws and spreading anarchy. Now she was running from the FBI.
Tom decided that none of the girls from college were good soulmate-material after all.
“Maybe I can meet my wife at a bar,” he thought.
Tom went to a bar downtown. It was dark, except for the neon beer signs. It was loud. The guy playing the open mic was trying to build a following so he could move out of his parents’ house. Tom tried to ignore the singer by watching the sports game. He felt shy and out of place.
“You look out of place,” said one of the patrons, who had a friendly voice. “Are you new here?”
“I am,” Tom answered. He turned around to see an old man.
The old man pointed his beer at the television. “Do you like sports?”
Tom shook his head.
“Do you like live music?”
Tom shook his head.
“Then what are you doing here?”
“I’m hoping to find my soulmate,” Tom answered.
“Ah.” The old man nodded sagely. “I’m a grandfather, so let me give you some wise advice: you’ll find her when you’re not looking for her.”
Tom nodded. That advice sounded really wise.
“How did you meet your wife?” he asked.
“We went to the same church in the small town that we grew up in.”
“How did you know she was your soulmate?”
“When you know, you just know,” the grandfather said wisely.
“Oh. How do you know if you knew if it doesn’t work out?”
“If you know that you know, and it doesn’t work out, then you didn’t really know,” the grandfather said.
“Oh,” Tom said. He nodded as if he understood. But he felt confused.
Tom fell asleep that night feeling lonely and confused. His loneliness and confusion turned into discouragement. He felt discouraged the whole week. The following Sunday, he took a long walk through the city park. Then he had an epiphany.
Maybe the romantic comedy was wrong. Maybe not everyone had a soulmate. Maybe he didn’t have a soulmate.
Tom was still single. But he didn't have to be single and sad.
Life was full of possibilities, and he was going to enjoy them.
He worked hard at the office. He spent less time binge-watching TV shows and went to the library instead. He read interesting books and found a new favorite author.
He even made friends with a nice librarian named Marjorie. He did not tell her that she was his soulmate because he did not think she was. He had also decided to take a break from low voices and proclamations.
He worked out at the gym. He made friends with Bro Joe and Wade Bell, who were body-builders, and Sally Miles, who ran marathons. Tom and Bro Joe spotted for each other. Tom developed a six-pack of abs. He felt like a boss.
One day, he went to the library to borrow a new book. He saw a woman checking out.
He checked her out. She checked him out too.
While they were checking each other out, Tom realized that she was checking out a book by his favorite author.
“Do you like that book?” he asked.
“I haven’t read it yet,” she said.
“Oh.” Tom blushed. He felt dumb. Of course she had not read the book yet. She was just checking it out.
“Do you like it?” she asked encouragingly.
“Yes, it is one of my favorites,” he answered.
She stood there smiling. Tom hesitated. Was she waiting for him to say something else?
“Well, enjoy the book!” he said. Then he ran to the men’s restroom.
“I will!” she called after him.
Tom hid in a stall. He buried his face in his hands. He had missed his chance to talk to a woman.
Was she his soulmate?
Now he would never know.
The next weekend, he went to the wedding of his friends, Bro Joe and Sally Miles. Tom was happy for them, but seeing people get married reminded him that he was single. It was painful.
At the reception, he sat at a table full of married couples. Each couple talked about how they had met.
Lawrence and Rebekah met in college at a Greek date party. (Rebekah wore No Pants in college, per her sorority uniform, but she decided to buy a pair of pants when she graduated.)
90sKid and AnimalLuvr2 met online. (They both found each other attractive, and neither of them had frightening politics.)
Donovan and Marta met through a matchmaking service. (They went on five dates, and then they knew that they knew.)
Joseph and Mary met at church. (Joseph did not have to read a dozen books about being a Good Churchgoing Man, so he was not afraid to take Mary as his wife.)
Roger and Shirley met at a bar. (They both liked sports and live music.)
All of the couples had met in places where Tom had not met anyone. What was wrong with Tom?
He excused himself and escaped to the buffet table. He was busy feeling sorry for himself when a beautiful woman walked up next to him.
It was the woman from the library!
He told himself not to stare. Besides, she would not remember him.
She looked up and made eye contact with him because he was staring.
“You’re the guy from the library!” she exclaimed.
Tom was so surprised that he dropped his quinoa into the punch bowl.
“You are the woman who borrowed my favorite book!” he said.
“Yes! I loved it!”
“You did?” Tom gasped. “If you loved it, then you should read the sequel! It is even better!”
“Really? I’ll have to do that,” she said.
Tom nodded. Then he hesitated.
What should he say next?
“I’m Candace,” she said, interrupting his thoughts and extending her hand.
Tom looked at her hand. Then he shook it.
“I am Tom,” he said.
“Where are you sitting?” she asked.
“I’m over there!” he said, pointing to a vacant table away from the curious eyes of his friends.
They sat down. They talked about the book. They talked about other things.
They exchanged phone numbers.
Then they went on a date. And another date.
Many dates later, Tom got down on a knee and asked Candace a question.
He did not lower his voice. He just spoke normally.
He didn’t tell her that she was his soulmate, but he did ask her a question about commitment.
“Will you marry me?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
They got married. The pastor did not ask whether they were soulmates. Instead, he asked, “Will you love each other as long as you both shall live?”
They answered, “We will.”
It is a curious thing that Candace didn’t meet the long list of (ever-changing, spoken, and unspoken ) expectations that Tom had for a soulmate: not in her appearance, not in her interests, not even in her personality. (Her teeth were not completely straight.)
It was also a curious thing that Tom wasn’t exactly who Candace had always imagined her soulmate would be. (She had always imagined a lawyer with a strong jawline.)
But in spite of the expectations that had seemed so important for so long, Tom and Candace each decided that they were better than the imaginary people they once thought they needed to marry.
When Tom is asked about the moment that he knew that he knew, he says:
“When she said, ‘I do,’ and every moment afterward when we live out ‘I do.’”
Tom likes saying that, because it sounds wise.
His wife thinks it’s cute and she squeezes his arm and pecks him on the cheek.
They both think they’re soulmates, but they know for sure that they know they’re married.