|The night before we got married: December 28, 1987.|
I was 25.
This year, Mario and I will be married for 24 years. During this year, I will reach the point where I have been married to Mario longer than I have been not married to Mario in my life.
Sometimes folks ask me how I knew I was in love and what it was that convinced me that Mario was the one I should marry. The question is usually asked by people who genuinely want to know if there was a time of actual realization when I knew this was “my person”...the person that was “the one”. After all, with marriage’s success rate (not impressive) in this world, how was I to know if we “would work”?
I know the answers I am supposed to give: “Love is a verb. A commitment. A decision, based on a real desire to make it work with someone.” These are answers of highly successful couples.
After all, a covenant commitment to someone else (the word covenant comes from an ancient Hebrew word: bris or brit) used to involve the shedding of blood to show the most committed devotion. The central idea behind the word is that God made an agreement with all humans. He challenged us to do as He did, making certain promises and commitments. The agreement, like a marriage, is based on a mutual love.
This is the answer I know is right.
But...in my heart, I know the moment when I knew that I would marry Mario. It is the same moment I knew I would surrender to him. It was a moment that showed me that I would be given supernatural power to love him with everything I had inside of me. This moment, which took me completely by surprise, was the moment of our first hug.
When I got to know Mario he was my boss. I worked for him as a park aid (see how I don’t capitalize my job title?? It was that insignificant) and he was the park’s Supervising Ranger (capitalized). I was a single mother of a young son, a baby who gave me new purpose and a life worth living. Even though my life was filled with love, I found myself single and penniless and in need of a job. Living with my parents, I quickly realized I was cliché, and I knew I’d have to get serious about building a future.
I took the only job I could find: my old one, working at a nearby State Park. The new supervising Ranger (Mario) was known for being a cop, rather than a conservationist – Rangers were either one or the other, and I preferred the latter.
I was amazed at Mario’s ability to manage crucial things: he didn’t care much if people liked him or not. He was more concerned about following the letter of the law. In my eyes, Mario was kind of a classic cop type, complete with mirrored sunglasses and big moustache.
Even so, Mario was a good boss, and appreciated my work ethic, as well as my predicament. He was also a single father, only two years separated from his ex-wife and two small sons.
As with most situations, Mario was exposed to my personal life and I was to his. He seemed to have a great deal of female interests, all well-educated and successful women who would call with titles attached to their names. They didn’t seem like a gaggle of swooning females, but it was obvious he had interest in them and vice-a-verse.
Much later, Mario told me that he was under the impression that I had quite a large following myself. Since I am genuinely friendly (a positive for a park employee) park visitors (mostly young men about to ride their dirt bikes) would always ask me out. Mario saw me as young and pretty and flirtatious. He hadn’t been exposed to many girls who were friendly without a hidden agenda. Being friendly at work was good, but at the end of the day, the only man in my life was my year-old son.
It was during my first months working for Mario, I had a very strange dream.
In it, I dreamed I was getting married, and in my beautiful gown, and behind a veil, I walked down the aisle of a church holding my father’s arm. Behind the veil, I could see my husband waiting for me, and when I got to the front of the church, he lifted it. There was Mario. I woke up quickly. I was a little grossed out: this was my boss! Also, he was so OLD!! Both things were insurmountable and I wondered how I could have dreamed such a thing.
At work, I was embarrassed. I felt like he knew what I had dreamed. I started to wonder why I would allow my brain to dream this. Mario moved, normally about the office, while I tried to type and look away. In a few days I was over the embarrassment of my dream, and went back to functioning as I always did.
On June 12, 1987, my ex-boyfriend (the father of my baby) called me at work. He sounded gentle and sweet. He asked to see the baby, tomorrow, even offering to come and pick him up if I couldn’t bring him. I was angry. It was so typical of him, asking the day before he wanted something, as if I had no life or plans. I coldly told him it would be impossible.
“If you want to see the baby,” I said , “why don’t you give me a little more notice? Maybe a week’s notice so that I can make arrangements.” I tried to sound collected, but he had a way of rattling me. Instead of arguing, he said he would give me more notice in the future and then he hang up.
I immediately felt guilty. While I had complained that my ex didn’t know how to ask me for visitation (or anything, for that matter), nicely, he had just done so, and received my cold “no” without argument or objection. In about ten minutes it dawned on me that the next day was his birthday. THAT’S why he wanted our son to be there. THAT’s why he only asked the day before...because I didn’t offer. WHY? Because I FORGOT!! Why did I forget?? Because I was a lousy, disorganized, heartless human being.
I went into Mario’s office to tell him what just happened. He was gone. His residence, a few yards away, was lit up with life. After work, I went over to ask his advice. These work conversations were becoming more and more frequent. He was the single parent I turned to for advice, and I trusted him.
When he answered the door he looked surprised. I was surprised also, seeing Mario in civilian clothes (a t-shirt and jeans) and with his dog. I quickly went into the reason I was there: the phone call, the details... he decided to ask me inside.
I sat down on his couch and told him the whole story, and he listened intently. I felt very guilty, not just for forgetting my ex’s birthday, but for leaving him, and with a baby. I knew it was the right thing to do, but – I asked Mario – what would he do in a situation like this?
Mario looked at me intently.
“I will ALWAYS remember November 5th,” He said, finally. “That’s my ex-wife’s birthday.”
“Now I feel worse...”
“No,” he smiled, realizing it had a reverse impact. “The mother of my children is very important to THEM,” he said. “You have to mark your calendar and make a habit of reminding your son. Remind him to call his father, remind him that his father is special because he had him.”
I couldn’t help tearing up. It was good advice, but I had already blown it. “Should I let him go see his dad tomorrow?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Mario said, finally. “What is your main objection to letting him go?”
I started to explain my reasoning, and Mario gave me his perspective. The conversation broadened quickly and became something deeper. We began sharing hopes and dreams for our children and ourselves. We shared about our pasts our hopes for the future. I admired a genuineness and solidity in him. He admired the fire in my heart and how I instinctively loved people.
It was then he said: “I know everyone at work can tell how we feel about each other.”
I could see he was still talking...but I couldn’t tell what he was saying. Did he just say that he knew everyone at work can tell how we feel about each other?? FEEL about EACH OTHER?? Do I have feelings for him?
I respect him. He’s a great boss. He’s good looking. I even married him in my dream....
Does he have feelings for me?? What the HELL does this mean???
I was perplexed and dumb until I heard a LOUD knock on the door.
Mario stopped talking and answered it. It was a park visitor (one who had asked me out before). He looked at Mario, then at me, then said:
“You better get back down to work!! All hell’s breaking loose!”
Mario switched into the work-mode that was so familiar. “I’ll get changed. You wait in the truck and you’ll have to dispatch.” With that, he flew down the hall and shut his door. He came out minutes later, looking like a cop again, buckling his gun belt.
We raced into the park, where we saw a scuffle happening between some folks, including one of the rangers. Mario was already on the radio, and within five minutes, he had arrested someone. I still remember the truck racing, the dust surrounding us and me running into the office to do dispatch. In a few minutes, everything was calm again.
While two rangers (Mario and someone else) took the suspect to jail and another ranger shut down the park, I sat ready to dispatch, should anything be needed or go wrong. It was quiet....
My head was returning to the conversation between Mario and me. It probably wouldn’t ever be resolved.
Mario (nine years my senior and my boss) had at least three girlfriends. I had no desire to be one in four. Mario may have meant that he admired or respected me. I didn’t know why I was so hung up on this...
It hit me.
I was hung up on what Mario said because I knew what I wanted. I wanted a wonderful, faithful husband: one that I could share my life and heart with, like my dad did with my mom. I wanted a father for my son who would love him and be there for him. One who understood the balance of his biological father being in the picture. I wanted a husband, not a boyfriend. I wanted a solid, steady, dependable man – not a boy.
I wanted someone just like Mario.
I wanted Mario.
Mario had the dispatcher from the jail call the park, telling me that “Your officers have just booked the suspect and are returning home. The Chief officer has asked if you would stay until they return.” I agreed.
When they came back, there was the obligatory tale of how the suspect was detained, chatted on the way to jail and booked... then we shut the office down. As the other officer was leaving, Mario asked me quietly if I’d like to finish our discussion.
We went to his place again, where he offered me leftover chicken and rice. We ate, talked and he shared a bit more of his heart. I asked what he meant by him “having feelings” for me... and he answered.
“I like you,” he began. “I think you’re amazing. I like how you are with your son and with my kids. I like the way you work. I like the way you are with other people....” he went on. I couldn’t believe how much he was admitting to. It is so nice to be liked...to be seen as someone with loads of potential.
But...I stopped him.
“Mario,” I said, almost apologetically. “I think you’re amazing, too. You’ve probably heard that I am a desperate single mom and I’m just looking for a husband and a father for my son. Whoever says this is right. I’m looking for just that, and if that’s not you, then tell me now. I’d rather you hurt me now than later.”
Mario looked at me carefully and smiled. “Janet, that’s not me right now. It may not be me anytime soon. I’m not ready to make that commitment to anyone right now. I want to be truthful, and so I have to say... let’s just be friends.”
I smiled back. Inside I was disappointed. In my heart, I had hoped for another answer. Still, because of the openness of my question- the ultimatum, if you will- I was happy for a clear direction.
“I’m glad to be friends with you,” I answered. “I need your wisdom.”
Mario stood up and walked me outside to my car. We chatted about the next day
when we would see each other and be friends...
“Can I have a hug?” he asked, walking toward me. “Hugs are cool between friends, right?”
It didn’t sound like a good idea. I felt vulnerable and soft... but he was walking toward me. I laughed and received him just before getting into my car.
What happened next was indescribable...but I’ll try. Mario’s arms went around me and my arms went around him. As we embraced, I fit perfectly into his chest, and my face cradled into his neck. He smelled like soap, and I loved him instantly. It was like heaven opened and angels descended and harp music began to play. I was home in his arms, and I felt ever fear and grief and happiness he had ever felt. I felt like a little girl who was rescued from drowning.
The hug lasted for about five minutes.
When we eventually let go of each other we just looked at each other...and I knew.
“Yeah, hugs are cool.” Mario said, and I thought" "Yeah!! It was good for him, too!!"
So...our covenant has survived the depression, the boredom, the hideous selfishness in both of us. Death, anguish, addiction, blended families, poverty, debt, and opposing forces who have tried hard to separate us.
Love is a decision. It is a verb. It is a covenant.
But if it weren’t for that hug, we could have missed how perfect we are for each other.