|Mario and I last night
Four open books, two spiral notebooks, the year-end issues of The New Yorker, The Sun, The Paris Review, a cup of tea gone cold, a bottled water mixed with microgreens, and two new coasters I got for Christmas are part of the clutter on my desk, all of which distract me as I type. I look across the room at Mario’s workspace, neat and organized. His daily planner and a sharpened pencil lay next to his marble-base desk lamp. I need his help. Tonight, exhausted with a bit of writer’s block, I call out to him across the hall.
“Yeah?” he answers from our bedroom, then comes into our office.
I raise my eyebrows at him. “What should I write for our anniversary blog?”
He thinks, then walks to the vertical files next to his desk—where manila folders are sorted alphabetically—and grabs a book—made from letter-sized printer paper and separated with tabs—that he gave me last year on our Anniversary: The Unique Marriage of Janet and Mario.
“Here,” he says. “Why not look at this and get some ideas?”
He hands me the book and kisses me, encouraged by my enthusiasm.
“Where did you get that? I didn’t know you kept it there!”
He gave me this book last year at this time, but in the busy-ness of the holidays and the exhaustion of graduation, I forgot where we put it. He created the book for me—for us—with his whole heart. It’s half-memory album, half-statistical research that mathematically proves how we are unique and special as a couple.
I can’t stop smiling. It has been two hours since I started this blog; I’ve been looking at the book ever since.
Mario is now relaxing outside, bundled up in winter clothes, drinking a hot cup of raspberry tea (with a scotch chaser), smoking a good cigar, and playing a mindless game. I am supposed to be blogging in here, but I am remembering why I love him. I am not supposed to be this distracted—but I love this 30th Anniversary Notebook. I wish Mario was here sitting with me so we could look at it together.
The book is divided into eight sections: 1. Brazen Princess (a commemorative blog I published on the day we celebrated 30 years); 2. By the Numbers (my favorite section—I’ll tell you why soon); 3. 30 Years Ago (What was happening in the world in 1987, the year we married); 4. Tested (trivia quizzes that test how much I know about our time together); 5. Marriage (articles and letters from and about couples who have endured); 6. Over the Years; 7. Unique Utterances (We love to quote each other); 8. Where Do We Go From Here? (a challenge to us to continue adding to the book).
As I read The Unique Marriage of Janet and Mario, I remember falling in love with Mario, more than 32 years ago.
30 Years Ago: What was happening in the world in 1987, the year we married?
In 1986 I had just come out of a turbulent, destructive relationship. I needed a job so that I could support my new baby (Vince) who had just turned one-year-old. Since I didn’t have a college degree, my job-options were limited. I took a job at a local State Park as a Park Aid—Mario was the supervising State Park Ranger.
Mario was a very good boss and recognized that I was a good employee—able to do more than work the entrance kiosk and perform low-level office duties. One day, Mario handed me two large books—DOS Manuals—and told me to learn everything and explain it to him. I did. Later that week, after learning Multi-user DOS commands, I taught Mario and all the other Rangers about the new PC, including what prompts and commands were. I didn’t know then, but this knowledge of DOS would later help me build a quasi-career.
Mario genuinely liked me and believed in me. We were both single parents and had guilt about failing our former partners, and ultimately our children. Nevertheless, I didn’t really think of him romantically. He wasn’t really my type—even though he was incredibly gorgeous and hilarious—an athletic, Republican, introverted, logical, moustache-cop. He was also much older than me (I was 23, he was 32). By the time I realized I was falling in love with him, I also had to admit that he was way out of my league.
Then, after work one night, I asked Mario for advice on a parenting matter. He offered his opinion as a friend, not my boss. The subject matter led us into deep conversation, and when it was time for me to go, he walked with me back to our cars.
“Alright, Goodnight,” he said, then added: “Can I give you a hug goodbye? Hugs are cool between friends, right?”
I almost said no. I knew I was in love with him and I knew if we hugged he would be able to tell. But we were drawn together like magnet and steel. I fell into him, my face against the warm glow of his neck, our bodies fitting together like puzzle pieces. It was like heaven opened and the skies parted and angels came down and drenched us with stars and music.
When we let go—about two minutes later—Mario looked at me, stunned.
“Um, yeah. Hugs are cool.”
I smiled broadly.
This is still one of my favorite “unique utterances” of Mario’s.
|Us in 1987
After the hug, we had to rethink everything, including our workplace. We had chemistry that was unlike anything I had ever experienced, and it was very hard to ignore. I had hope that our relationship was something more than just physical attraction. We worked well together, knew each other’s values, and most importantly, we had already seen our long-term relationships fail and we didn’t want to repeat the past. Thoughts of Mario constantly danced in my head.
One day, not long after we had agreed to take our new relationship seriously, I was cleaning the office and thinking about how much I loved Mario. We had already told each other “I love you” and were still in that blissful state of newness and realization.
Because the office was quiet and the other ranger was out in the field, I decided to cross a major boundary and go into Mario’s office and tell him I loved him—again. When I stood in his doorway, he didn’t look up, but continued typing on his desktop PC. Because I was so 23, and believed every Cosmopolitan article I ever read about a woman’s ability to derail her man with body movements and innuendo, I wasn’t discouraged.
“Hi,” he said, suddenly, looking up from his work. “How can I help you?”
“Um,” I said, trying to look coy. “I was curious about something.” I walked over to his desk and knelt down next to him, an action which made him uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I persevered.
“I think of you all the time,” I whispered. “How much do you think about me?” I was smiling, excited to be close to him like this at work—it felt forbidden and dangerous. Instead of the Cosmo reaction I was hoping for, Mario looked up to the office ceiling.
“Hmmm,” he said. “That’s an interesting question. Can I get back to you?”
Mario’s businesslike answer was clearly meant to sober me up, which it did. I stood up, feeling foolish, and started to leave the room. He stopped me.
“I’m serious,” he said. “I’ll think about it and get back to you.” Then, he returned to his work.
I tried to keep busy the rest of the day, as Mario continued to type away in his office. I chided myself for my immature behavior. Mario and I had agreed to keep our work environment professional and our relationship on the down-low. That afternoon, I was too embarrassed to say goodbye.
“Wait,” Mario called from his office when I tried to sneak away. “Are you leaving?”
“Yeah,” I said, keeping my hand on the doorknob. “I didn’t want to disturb you again, and…”
“But I’ve been thinking about your question,” Mario said. I heard him stand up and then he appeared in his doorway. By now, all of our coworkers had gone home, so he seemed less guarded.
“You asked how much I thought about you, and I was thinking it’s pretty close to ten per cent of the time.” He smiled triumphantly.
Because I was already embarrassed, I didn’t feel like joking around. From the way he was watching me, like he was waiting for my reaction, I suddenly realized he was serious.
“You think about me ten per cent of the time?” I asked, letting go of the doorknob. The door closed behind me.
Mario nodded, but he seemed to notice that his answer offended me. “That’s a lot!” he said, ready to defend his answer. “Ten percent of the time is a big chunk of my day.” He looked in the office cubby holes for new messages or mail, almost nervously. I had never before seen Mario nervous.
“Really?” I asked, my face reddening. “Because to me, that seems like…not a lot.”
I left, and he didn’t try to stop me. I made the long drive home, crying big, hot tears that I couldn’t stop. I knew that Mario didn’t love me like I loved him—the kind of love that makes you want to marry that person. By the time I picked Vince up from the babysitter, I was a mess—and this whole thing was breaking my heart.
By the Numbers:
I walked in the door and my Mom told me that Mario had called, very concerned about me.
“He asked me to give you the message to call him back as soon as you get home.”
I called him.
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Mario said. “I know you’re upset, but I want to apologize.”
“Okay,” I said, relieved, but still mournful. “I shouldn’t have done this at work.”
“Yeah,” Mario said, and I could tell he was relieved I said this. “We have to be professional at work, even if we’re alone.”
“But I’ve been thinking more about your question, and I realize now that I think about you at least twenty per cent of the time.”
I froze. Was he joking? There was silence on the other end of the phone.
“Because I was thinking that I sleep about a third of my life, so that’s thirty-three per cent right there.”
I wasn’t sad anymore; I was angry.
“Mario, listen,” I said. “I’m going to save you a lot of heartache and grief here. The next girl you date, just tell her you think about her all of the time. That’s all you need to say, Okay?”
He sighed. “But that would be a lie.”
“Just say that. Girls like hearing that.”
Then, I hung up.
I went to work the next day, accepting that Mario and I were not meant to be. When I got to work at 8:00, Mario was already there—he wasn’t scheduled to arrive until ten.
“I need to talk to you after you hang the flags,” he said, authoritatively. He stood up straight, looking a little like Chuck Norris.
“Alright,” I said, casually.
After I hung the flags, I went into his office. He shut the door and asked me to sit down. When I did, he took a manilla file folder and handed it to me—inside was a pie graph.
The pie graph was literally drawn in pencil and crayon, since Mario had young boys with their coloring stuff at his house. He had color-coded the graph to show how he saw the division of his time.
“When I say I think about you twenty percent of the time, this is what I mean,” he said. "Do you see this? That percentage is you and this is how much I think about you and to me that’s a whole hell of a lot. Here’s where I sleep, and I don’t consciously think of you, even though sometimes I do dream about you…”
I smiled, which relaxed him.
He pointed to each piece of the pie graph, showing me how logically minded he was. As he spoke, I wondered about something: what if Mario was serious? What if twenty percent of the time is a whole lot? What if I have a logical man who will not lie to me just to make me feel like the heroine in a romantic comedy? I wasn’t sure what I was going to say, but I suddenly wondered if this man in front of me, showing me a crayon pie graph that took a lot of time to think about, measure, and present to me… what if he really did love me?
That would be the best thing ever.
So, you see, "By the Numbers" is my favorite section because only Mario can make numbers soothe me. This section shows me that even statisticians can learn how to schmooze a woman, after years of living with her.