The Spanglish Girl Diaries
Season Two Diary No. 15
On the dot, right as I landed, Cristiano text me he was waiting at baggage claim. Three weeks had passed since we last saw each other. Truth be told, I could barely remember what he even looked like…
Tired from an overnight flight and drained from the emotions of having to say goodbye to my mother, I began to second guess this whole morning date. My grief was still raw and my sadness deep, so much so that I just wasn’t in the mood to be social.
As soon as I was off the plane, I raced to the restroom to freshen up. Upon seeing myself in the mirror, I cringed: My eyes were swollen from all the crying. My naturally wavy hair was mangled and tattered from resting my head for hours on the plane. And, to my horror, I spotted under my eyes, for the first time in my life, fine lines…
I quickly moved my hands to the area and stretched the skin. I assured myself the lines were due to a lack of sleep and stress, not age…
Overwhelmed by it all, I threw in the towel and called it: I could not see Cristiano today, not like this and not in my current state of mind. I was too down…
I picked up my phone to call Lupe and as fate would have it, right as I started to dial her number, Cristiano text me.
It was as if he had sensed I was about to bail on him because he wrote: “I know you’re probably tired, so I won’t keep you long. We can get breakfast, and then I’ll drop you off at Lupe’s to pick up your car.”
I realized in that moment I was being unfair to him. Feeling like a selfish brat, I reminded myself that the poor guy woke at 5am just to see me before I headed back to Wisconsin.
With that in mind, I gave myself a quick pep talk, reminding myself if he really liked me for the right reasons, he wouldn’t care how I looked and he would be sympathetic about my emotions, given all I had just been through. Assuring myself this would be the case, I pulled my hair up into a bun, splashed water onto my face and made my way to baggage claim.
As soon as I stepped on the escalator, I spotted him. At the bottom of the escalator he stood, smiling. In one hand he held a cup of coffee for me and with the other hand, he waved. As soon as I reached him, I realized I was right. Cristiano didn’t even notice the fine lines, or my messy hair, his first words to me were, “Welcome back. I missed you.”
And although I did see his eyes pause at mine, acknowledging I’d been crying, he didn’t pry. Instead he simply stated, “If you ever need anyone to talk to, I’m here for you. You can tell me anything.”
I took note that his words seemed sincere, but even so, I wasn’t ready to talk about my mom. Cristiano sensed this and didn’t ask more. Instead to lighten the mood, he brought me to laughter by poking fun at his own appearance. He confessed, “I don’t think I’ve been up this early since college. Can you tell?”
I had to laugh because I could tell. He looked as awful as I felt and I wasn’t sure how to take it. I mean he knew he was coming to pick me up, right? I couldn’t help but think to myself, “What? I wasn’t worth showering for…”
Cristiano’s clothes were wrinkled, like he’d literally just rolled out of bed. He wore flannel pajama pants, sandals and a white shirt. His eyes also had that sleepy look to them.
Because he looked so funny, I couldn’t help but smile and point out, “Yeah, so much for the honeymoon phase, you’re already showing up todo arrugado y con lagañas in your eyes.”
Surprised by my honesty, His eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped. He then looked over at me and gave me a taste my own medicine, hitting me back with, “You’re one to speak. You didn’t even bother to comb your hair. Look at you, looking all homeless and shit. Yeah, I’d say the honeymoon phase is over.”
We both broke out in laughter. We continued this back and forth, teasing each other about our morning appearance for a few minutes more as we made our way to his car.
I was so caught up in our teasing that for the moment I forgot about all my worries.
Maybe I was wrong and this whole morning date was just what I needed…
Cristiano took me to his favorite breakfast spot: A diner in Hyde Park which he shared was within walking distance to his apartment.
This was the first I’d heard of where he lived and I became curious. I asked, “Do you live alone?”
He smiled sheepishly as if I had just asked a silly question and replied, “Cristina. I’m like 40. Of course I live alone.”
I laughed, amused by the fact that he was appalled I would believe otherwise. But I reminded him, it wasn’t all that uncommon. I replied, “Yeah, but we’re Mexican. Mexicans live with their parents, forever. ”
At first he smiled, then the smile faded and I noticed a hint of sadness came over him. Before I could ask if I said something wrong—like if the whole Mexican thing offended him—he turned the question on me and asked, “What about you? You live alone?”
I shared with him that I live in the Wisconsin countryside in a country shack all by my little self. At first he didn’t believe me. He even joked, “What, like Snow White and you’ve got little dwarfs to cook and clean for you?”
I smiled and replied, “I wish. The only visitors I get are bunnies, deer, raccoons and squirrels.
Finally realizing I was being serious, his eyes opened wide and he stated, “Oh wow. Now I’m curious. When can I visit?”
Not at all thinking he was being serious—after all it was a good two hour drive from Chicago– I playfully agreed he could come this Sunday, but only if he promised to make me dinner.
Thinking he’d respond with something about how that would never happen, I took a bite of my hash browns, fully expecting we’d move on in our conversation to another topic. But, to my horror, he finalized the plans and stated, “Sounds like a date. I’ll be there Sunday at 3. I’ll bring the main dish, you just worry about dessert.”
I stopped chewing and all but froze. I couldn’t believe he actually wanted to come visit. Why? There was nothing there…
Then, it him me, the mischievous grin on his face, when he stated I provide the desert, alluded to sex. He thought by visiting he was going to get lucky…
Not wanting to give him false hope, or let him waste a tank of gas for nothing, I made it clear dessert would be chocolate cake, not me. I stated, “Oh, I know of a wonderful bakery by my work. I’ll pick us up a cake.”
Upon hearing this, he confirmed my suspicion, a frown formed on his face and he replied, “You’re no fun. I was kinda hoping you could be my dessert.”
I opened my mouth to show surprise and playfully punched his shoulder and reminded him that one, were just friends, but two, we agreed to take it slow.
Realizing I was being serious, and that I wasn’t playing games, he apologized for the forwardness and changed the subject by asking me about my work and future plans to go to law school. I shared with him that I love my job and planned to stay put and work while I went to law school if I could. I explained that my end goal would be to transfer into the legal department.
Our breakfast ended up lasting two hours, and by the end of it, I realized, Cristiano was starting to win me over. What I liked most about him–this became clear to me today at breakfast– was how mature, sure of himself and smart he was. I could tell he was all these things by the questions he asked, the manner in which he listened and the advice he gave me.
It occurred to me that for the first time in my life, I was actually dating my equal…
Cristiano was a savvy as I was smart. He was as ambitious as I was determined. And, he valued my career goals and the sacrifices I’d have to make to achieve them because he too had sacrificed much to get to where he was now. He got it. He got me. And I realized this was something special…
Before I knew it, it was Sunday. I had the front window open and saw Cristiano pull into my driveway. Excited, I raced outside to greet him. Cristiano stepped out of his car and I took note of how handsome he looked. Today, he was all put together. He even joked, “I combed my hair for you today.”
I laughed realizing the irony in that statement and shot back, “Liar. You don’t have hair!” He smiled and held out his arms to hug me.
Still under his arm, in a partial hug, he steered me to the trunk of the car and showed me what he had brought for us to eat. Upon seeing the steak and lobster in the cooler, I screamed with excitement and hugged him tighter.
I could tell he was proud. He playfully then asked, thinking he’d have a better chance now, “So does this mean I get ‘dessert,’ after all.”
I sarcastically shot back, “That’s going to take more than lobster and steak…”
He was quick to reply, “ Like what, just tell what to do and I’ll do it?”
A little annoyed, and disappointed that he was so ‘easy’, I replied, “It’s going to take time. I want to feel loved, first. And not just any love, I want the kind of love that isn’t based on the physical, but on friendship, honesty and respect.”
His eyes deepened and softened. I could tell my words got through to him because he leaned closer to me and kissed me on my forehead before replying, “I want all that with you, too, so I’ll be patient. Sorry I pushed.”
I smiled and hugged him to show I appreciated his understanding. He tightened his hold on me and after a few moments of holding each other in silence, he cheerfully announced, “Let’s get all this inside. I want to see this country shack of yours.”
I grabbed what was left of the bags and lead the way. As we stepped inside, I warned, “My house is a little dated. I hope you don’t mind.”
As he took the first steps in, he took in the living room and a gentle smile formed on his face. To my relief, he looked at me and replied, “I like it. It’s you: cute and cozy.”
I wasn’t all that sure if I liked that I was cute and cozy… But, I’d been called worst things by men, so I took it as a compliment.
I showed Cristiano around the rest of my house and then we began to make dinner. While he grilled, I took care of the side dishes and setting the table. I couldn’t help but notice we were a good team. Once the steaks and lobster were ready, he brought them to the table and we enjoyed our dinner.
Our conversation, like all the times before we had spent together, flowed easily. We eventually got onto the subject of family and he shared with me his mother had passed years ago.
Upon hearing this, I actually had to stop eating because I was so caught off guard. He shared that when he was 15, his mother, like mine, died of cancer.
He stated, “I know what you’re going through. It’s hard. The day I picked you up the airport I saw the pain and fear in your eyes and it brought back memories of me and my mother when she was ill.”
I asked him why he had not shared this with me sooner, like at breakfast. I then remembered the sad look that came over his face when I joked about Mexicans living with their parents forever. It made sense now, it hurt because he didn’t have his mom…
Cristiano didn’t admit to this, but he did explain, “I was kind of waiting for you to bring it up. I know what it’s like, sometimes you don’t want to talk about it. ”
He was right, that morning when he picked me up at the airport, I wasn’t in the mood. But today, especially now that I knew he understood, I did want to talk about it, so I asked, “How did you do it? Get through the pain? I feel angry at God and I feel so sad and scared. My biggest fear is that I’ll never be able to feel joy again.”
We were sitting on my patio table. He was across from me. He put down his fork and reached for my hands and held them as he shared, “It gets easier, I promise. But only because you get used to it. The pain becomes part of you and you feel it less because you forget what it was like not to feel it all. ”
I felt relieved to know it would get easier, but the idea of simply getting used to the saddens, and not ever being entirely rid of it, left me feeling more depressed. I think he noticed this because he paused, looked deep into my eyes, then continued, “You’ll find joy again, but it will come in small moments. For me, the first time I felt hope and joy, after I lost my mom, was the day I graduated from high school. It was a dream she had for me. A dream, I myself wasn’t even sure I could achieve.”
Curious, I asked why he doubted he could graduate. What he shared only made me like him more, to the point that I decided in that moment, I was going to give this relationship an honest try…
Cristiano explained, “My mother caught the cancer late. By the time we found out to when she died, was a period of six months. During this time, I was just starting to get initiated into a gang. Then, she got sick and I realized just how sacred life is. I mean she had no choice. Cancer took her, but me, like a dumbass, I was throwing away my life on stupid shit. ”
Tears formed and rolled down his face. He didn’t hide his emotions or shy away from them. Not at all embarrassed, he wiped the tears away and shared more, “From that moment on, I changed my life. Once my mother passed away, my siblings and I moved to live with our Dad and I took this as my second chance. My dad worked on a dairy farm near the Illinois/Wisconsin border, so I moved to an area where I could start over. No one knew me. I took this as my opportunity to make my life worthwhile, something my mom would be proud of. So I finished high school, went to community college, then to the university—that’s where I met Adolfo—then the rest you already know. I bought the parking lot and now own the club.”
His story showed me a side of him I could admire. He noticed I was quite and asked, “What, you like me less now because I was almost in a gang?”
I quickly responded, “No, not at all. It actually makes me like you more. Not everyone can walk away from that life.”
He conceitedly replied, with a grin on his face, “ Yeah, well, I’m pretty amazing like that. I hope you finally see it…”
I smiled, fully taking in he was partly bragging to lighten the mood. I then surprised him, by walking to his side of the table and giving him a hug.
After dinner, we cleaned up and then headed to the lake to walk. Spring was in full bloom: the grass was green, the lake glistened and the sounds of birds filled the air. It took us about 30 minutes to make it around the entire lake. The scenery around us was so beautiful, neither of felt the need to speak for most of the trail. Walking hand in hand, we admired the beauty around us, silently.
As we neared my house, I stopped at the mailbox to check my mail. Cristiano made mention that it was odd to see mailboxes actually lined up on a curb. I laughed and reminded him that these were the perks of living in the countryside. He smiled and teased, “Mailboxes, clean air and deer. I can see why you love it here…”
I saw him eye the deer road crossing sign. I sarcastically responded, “It sure beats smog, crime and traffic.” He smiled but didn’t argue.
When we reached the mailbox, I pulled a stack of letters out. One in particular caught my attention. It was from my childhood friend Carina who now lived in Indiana.
I handed Cristiano the other letters to hold and began to read the letter from my friend. Why Carina would write me a letter instead of just calling seemed odd. Cristiano asked if everything was ok. As first I didn’t answer, but as I read more a smile formed on my face and he could tell I had received good news.
Cristiano asked why the smile. I responded, all but shouting with joy, “I’m going to be a Madrina!”
A smile now formed on his face, too and he stated, “See, I told you someday something would happen and you’d experience a moment of joy again.”
He was right. I was so excited about the prospect of being a Madrina, joy filled me and, for first time since learning I would be loosing my mother, I felt it in my heart that I would be ok.
In a sad , but comforting way, I realized, this is life. Despite pain and loss, love moves you forward. And for me, this love would come from my god daughter, friends and family. They, I realized, would help get me through my saddest days to come and remind me that laughter, joy and love are still a part of me.
Next diary to be posted May 6th.