It all began with a friendship, as great relationships do.
My then friend, Mike, was newly divorced and I was married…to someone else. What?! Yeah. M and I worked together, he in the mail room and I, an Assistant (Secretary). He was dating and I was pregnant with Alex. My feet swelled, I was tired, worried I would lose Alex, because I’d lost my baby the year before. I don’t talk about that often.
Mike and I have a lot in common, both Puerto Rican, both from Brooklyn, both grew up during the same time and have a lot of the same pop culture references. He’s only a year older than I am. I am funny, he is funnier, but that was it. I didn’t think of him as anything other than M. I didn’t even call him by the name people in his personal “circle” called him. I wasn’t a close friend, but a work friend.
I gave birth to Alex and that was great. Really great. I remember every moment acutely and vividly. I was alone when they brought him to me in the middle of the night to nurse. No one woke me up to let me know he was being carried down the hall to nurse. I sensed Alex coming, turned on my night light and began the painful process of inching myself upwards in the bed to hold him properly. I had a c-section and was still pretty immobile. I could linger here in this memory for a very long time. It’s one of my favorite early memories of my special Alex. It’s here that I feel closest to our Mother, Mary. I have other Alex memories that I will share with you over time. They are the diamonds in my memory jewelry box.
The moment I had Alex, I knew my marriage wasn’t going to work. Literally, the day I brought him home. I tried. I stayed. But I knew it wasn’t good. Just like I have diamond memories, I have black coal ones. That day, was a black coal memory day for me. Eighteen months later, I was moving out on my own. I got a new apartment closer to my parents, an artist loft. I didn’t need the room, but I got it in the hopes I would maybe give voice lessons. Maybe?
Within the first month in our new place, I had cramping in my abdomen. I didn’t think much of it. The night went on and the pain got worse. I didn’t have many people to call and I didn’t want to bother my parents at such a late hour.
That’s a strained part of my life.
I remember being in the bathroom, crawling down the little hall and then …
I woke up with my face in a pile of clothes and Alex sitting next to me saying “ok? mama ok?” It was about 5AM and I thought, I have to call my parents, something is wrong. I passed out from the pain. My stepfather brought Alex to the car and then carried me down the stairs. I couldn’t even walk. We drove to their house and to leave Alex with my mother so I could go to the hospital. While he was bringing Alex inside, I called my boss, co-worker and M to leave messages. That was office protocol. The message was just to say I wouldn’t be at work, I was going to the emergency room and I would let them know what was going on as soon as I found out.
We made it to the hospital and the pain was so excruciating, they made a quick diagnosis that it must be my appendix. My stepfather, after hearing me scream in pain (I didn’t even scream during labor, honest). He kept stepping back and away from me because he couldn’t believe the pain he saw me in. I must have started bleeding because they figured out that I had cysts that were rupturing. A lot of them. I have endometriosis, so none of this is a real shock, but it was a shock, kind of. I had procedures done before to remove adhesions and its probably why I lost my first baby.
This time, I basically had to bleed out. My stepfather left and I was sent to a room to recover. I was put on a morphine drip. Ever have that? I don’t like it at all. I was having full on conversations with myself and then in a moment of lucidity, I realized I was in a room alone. I remember the room was dark.
I received a text message from M indicating that we needed to talk. The “text-versation” went something like this:
Mike: When you get better, we need to talk.
Me: What do you mean, we need to talk?
Mike: We just need to talk.
Me: Well what are you going to tell me? You’re really a woman? If you have something to say, now’s the time, because nothing will shock a morphine drip.
Mike: OK. I love you. I’ve loved you from the moment I met you and I can’t see you in pain and by yourself with no one to take care of you. I want to be that guy.
Still Me: ….
Me: I’ve always loved you too.
In those “….” I can’t begin to explain what I saw. All the times he was around. All the times we laughed. All the times I gave him dating advice (ok, so I imposed my opinion). He never shared his feelings with me because he knew I was married and he respected the sanctity of that. However, being married at the time, I didn’t think to look there. You know, at any possibility. In fact, I was still looking through my married glasses well after the fact. But, in that span of his response and mine, I looked back with my unmarried glasses and saw that I loved him, so deeply that it was basic, deep, foundational and very real.
He went on to say that he would watch me walking down the hall with my swollen feet and thought I was the most beautiful pregnant woman he’d seen. Meanwhile, he would make fun of a belly chime I wore so Alex would hear a sweet sound as I walked. He said how he would get a rose for every assistant in the office just so he didn’t have to come up with an excuse as to why he gave me one. He would just staple his business card to each rose, signing only mine. I didn’t know. He would sit in the break room at the office and watch me work during his lunch break. He said he loved to just see me. I never even noticed. He said he knew, and made sure I wouldn’t notice until he was ready. He kept all of those things to himself. For years. There’s Mary again.
Some time during our “text-versation” I passed out. Morphine, remember? He came the next day to see me. I remember looking at myself in the mirror in my hospital room and thinking, how am I supposed to dress up a hospital gown? I pinched my cheeks and pressed my lips together to get some color. My hair? Forget it. A mess, similar to a rat’s nest. When he walked in, there was a light behind him or around him. He was just glowing to me. I remember feeling such a sense of relief at seeing him. He stayed in the hospital room with me even though he wasn’t allowed. My nurse knew something special was going on between us and said if anyone asked, he was my cousin. Mike slept on the floor and held my hand all night. He cleaned me up, walked me down the hallways for exercise. He took care of me. When it was time to go, no one was available to get me. No one had the time to pick me up and drive me home. Mike said, I’m here. I’ll take you home. He held my hand as I was in the wheelchair and he called us a cab (NY’ers don’t have a car if they can take public transportation) to go right to the pharmacy and fill all of my prescriptions.
I was put on disability and he took some time from work to take care of me. A few days later he said he had to go home. I told him that I didn’t want him to go, he said he didn’t want to either.
And we’ve been together ever since (7 years now). He will do anything for me, including come to mass every week and on holy days of obligation, be excited for me when I receive communion, move me closer to the church so I can cantor. Marry me in the Church. Raise my children in a Catholic home, even put the Lord’s Supper over the mantle because he knows I’ll love it. And he makes coffee like nobody’s business.
I never thought I would end up with a Puerto Rican man. I was raised to think that I should want to “shoot higher”, and “want more”. Whatever that means. This is as good as it gets and I need nothing more. We make more sense together than we ever did apart. This is my vocation. This is my most precious calling. I’ve learned so much from him. So much fruit has been born from this union. I know he was one of God’s most precious gifts to me.
Remember that big apartment? Mike has three children of his own and I had Alex. They all came to live with us. And now we have Gabriel, together.
I call him by his personal “circle” name now. Meet Mike. Or wait. Miguel – you gotta be in his personal circle to call him Mike. Sometimes, still today, even I slip up and forget.
If he told you this story, it would be a paragraph. He cracks me up. And he kept the phone with our “text-versation”. He’s romantical like that.
To read more about how we navigate through the waters of being unequally yoked, have a gander at this post all about the yoke-y goodness of our marriage. Be sure to sign up and receive updates via email (or follow me on Twitter) because I’ll be sharing my secrets on how you can make an unequally yoked marriage work.