Adapted from Adam Schefter's forthcoming book, "The Man I Never Met," which is out today.
My job at the NFL Network was supposed to entail one column per week on NFL.com and roughly one appearance per week on the network's flagship show, NFL Total Access. I was writing stories every day. But the story I pursued hardest was my own. I was thirty-nine years old. I was hoping to get married and start a family. A failed marriage was just one in a long list of failed relationships.
One day my friend Jeff Rubin called. He had the names of three women but he recommended that the first one I should call was Sharri Maio. Before I called her, though, he told me there was something I needed to know: She was a 9/11 widow with a six-year-old son.
A 9/11 widow? Some men might have bailed as soon as they heard that piece of information. I knew that because, for a long time, I was one of those men. But that was before I felt so lonely, before I ended up in the hospital in severe pain with nobody to call, and before my 40th birthday was creeping up on me. I had taken a hard look at myself.
So when Jeff asked if I still wanted to go out with Sharri, knowing she was a 9/11 widow with a son, I said, "Sure."
As I called Sharri, I honestly wasn't sure how I felt. A widow with a six-year-old still didn't sound like my dream date. But I thought about all the times I had gotten my hopes up, then ended the evening paying for a nice dinner with a woman I knew I would never see again.
Sharri and I talked on the phone for around an hour, and we connected right away, which was encouraging. There were other phone connections in the past, but this one felt natural, comfortable, not forced, though she did not take kindly to my first-date proposal. I suggested we go to a barbecue at one of my friends' houses -- low-key, no romantic pressure. She said no chance. She had visions of turning around to put food on her plate, and behind her many friends would be holding up signs rating her.
Sharri was in a much more complicated emotional place than I was. She and Joe Maio had dated for four years and been married for three. She knew what it meant to be in a meaningful life-affirming relationship. It wasn't like her marriage had ended in divorce and left her hoping for a fresh start.
One reason Sharri was attracted to Joe was that he was ambitious. She liked that quality. To her, ambition did not mean that he made a lot of money or had an impressive-sounding job. She liked men who wanted something and went after it hard -- whatever it was. It reminded her of her father, Chuck, a longtime Merrill Lynch employee who helped invent the original squawk box. I'd like to think I have some of those same qualities that Joe and Chuck did.
Everything just flowed. Life was easier with each other than it was without each other. Soon, I wanted to marry Sharri. I was ready to live together, but she didn't want to live together unless we were engaged. She was extremely careful about dating with Devon, her son, around. She didn't want a man being around her house all the time if it wasn't serious.
We had a running joke. Sharri would say, "I want a ring big enough that I could eat off of." It was just her way of teasing me.
I ordered the engagement ring, and the jeweler told me the day before that it was ready. As I went to pick up the ring and then meet Sharri, I felt the same way Joe must have felt when he proposed. The combination of a bumpy flight and butterflies in my stomach left me frantic. I got to my apartment and quickly packed for my trip out to Long Island. I got in a taxi as I headed out to Sharri's house. She came outside when I arrived, but I had to hold back. I had a plan.
We went over to Devon's school. I was his show-and-tell project for the day. I met the kids and recommended they eat their fruits and vegetables and talked to them about being everything they wanted to be. Sharri sat in the back, smiling.
That night, I sent Sharri out for a massage while I stayed home with Devon. He was six years old at the time. I had decided to take Sharri's teasing about the size of the ring all the way to the end. I had purchased two rings: a really cheap one with a stone of cubic zirconia that was so small you could barely see it, and then the actual diamond.
I had to rehearse everything with Devon, make sure he understood what was happening and the gravity of it. I showed Devon one of the rings.
"Are you going to marry my mom?" he asked.
"I'm hoping to," I said.
We rehearsed his part so that he had it perfected by the time Sharri got home. And when she did, I approached her with a gift in hand.
"I have something to show you," I said.
And with that, I gave her the cubic zirconia ring.
She looked at it, looked genuinely excited, and said, "Oh, I love it. I love it."
And she did, sincerely. Had that been the ring, she would have said yes and thought nothing more of it.
But then I had Devon walk out of the kitchen and into the lobby to serve up the real ring - on a big silver platter. On the platter, surrounding the wrapped box, was a fork and a knife, and Sharri looked at Devon and the platter, totally confused. Then she opened the box on the platter and had a similar reaction to the first, with more tears, more hugs, more kisses, more emotion.
The real ring wasn't big enough for her to eat off of, but she was just as happy she had found her second husband.