I am a very fortunate person – I have had not one, but two Great Loves in my life. Today is the birthday of one of them.
I was sitting at the bar in a Mexican restaurant on my way home from work one evening in the early '80s when in walked a gaggle of women. They were a mixed bag to be sure, but a couple of them were cute and one of them was gorgeous to die for. Most of the party sat at a table in the other room, but being who they were they couldn't be bothered to wait for a waitress so two of them came up to the bar and stood by me to order pitchers of margaritas (of course). One of these was the gorgeous woman, a petite, sultry Latina that looked to be in her mid-20s.
I had to talk to her, of course, so I muttered something inane to her. I do remember what it was, but I am too embarrassed to put it into print; suffice it to say that I was not then the silver-tongued devil I am today. The woman smiled at me and told me she and her pals were here for a nurse-midwifery conference, which field at that time was new enough that I hadn't heard of it. We chatted for as long as it took the bartender to make two pitchers of margaritas, then she went back to her table and out of my life forever, as I thought with some regret.
Two days later I was walking down Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis with a couple of friends with whom I was to have dinner. We were in fact right at the spot where Mary Tyler Moore throws up her hat in the opening of the TV show; there is now a statue of her there if you can credit it. At any rate, I saw the lovely woman I had spoken to earlier walking down the street and I blurted out to my friends, “I know her!”. The friends, thinking I was better acquainted with her than was actually the case, said “Go ask her to join us for dinner.” And I ran after her.
This was much more unusual at the time than it might seem to those who know me now. I was very much an introvert in those days, but I decided what the hell and chased her down and said, “You probably don't remember me; my name is Mark and I thought you might want to have dinner with my friends and I.” She smiled. “Of course I remember you. You were the guy at Esteban's the other night. And I'm sorry, I already have plans for dinner.” My heart plummeted into my Adidas and I resolved on the spot never to be the least bit bold ever again. “But I'd love to meet you for a drink later. Let's rendezvous later at Esteban's.” My heart leapt back aboard the express elevator and took it to the top floor as my mouth stammered out some form of acquiescence.
We met for drinks later that night and we fell in love, and to a very real degree are still in love to this day. She – Carmen – eventually moved from Brooklyn to the Twin Cities with her two beautiful daughters. For me, it was like “buy one, get two free.” Carmen and I and the kids lived together for a number of years, happily for the most part. We were married then later divorced, more because C and I were alike enough to have the same faults than for any other reason. We have remained on the best of terms ever since, however, and still see each other when we can. Her kids and I still love each other very much, a fact for which I am grateful every single day.
So that, in a larger nutshell than I had anticipated, is the story of when Carmen and I met. It is sort of an odd one because, while nearly everyone dreams of finding the “one person meant for them,” it is disconcerting to find that person against all odds, marry her, and then split with her. It sort of leaves you feeling like, “Jeez, I guess when I was wishing for the woman of my dreams I should have been a little more explicit about the ending.” Fate, ever the trickster, found the loophole: not only should I have wished to find her, I should have wished to keep her as well.
Happy birthday, Carmen. You're still the most beautiful woman I ever met, inside and out. I always had a little bit of trouble believing that someone like you could ever be in love with someone like me.