viernes, 30 de enero de 2015

When It All Began . . . And Why I´m Still Here

After the fun of Christmas, January is often a let-down for a lot of us.

I could easily succumb to the post-holiday-blues, too.  But, for me, January is a time to reflect on so many life-changing "firsts".

  • the first time I stepped foot in Mexico:  January 7, 1999
  • the first time I came with a one-way ticket:  January 3, 2003
  • the first time I became a mom:  January 28, 2007
But that "first" that I want to focus on today is the first time I met my husband--January 21, 1999.

I came to Mexico for a study-abroad semester.  On considering the study-abroad semester, I honestly wasn´t over-the-top excited about it.  While I´ve always been a fan of travel in general, I thought that four months away from my friends would really cramp my style .  Unfortunately for me, I had decided to get myself a minor in Spanish, and I also thought that it would be a bit lame to claim to know a language but have no practical experience speaking it.  So, to Mexico I went.

I was one of six women from my university that went to Puebla to study during the spring semester of 1999.  Our second day in Mexico, our first full day in Puebla, I was in one of the university´s cafeterias with my five fellow adventurers.  It was dinnertime, more or less.  I tried to find out what the hot dishes were that the cafeteria servers were dishing out.  I couldn´t understand them and was irritated as all get out that I couldn´t understand them and couldn´t find anything to eat that was vaguely familiar.  Out of frustration, I got a cup of yogurt from a self-serve refrigerator, despite that I was much hungrier than a mere cup of yogurt would satisfy.

Little did I know, a guy with a very long, curly ponytail was mesmerized by the shapeliness of my nose.  Did you know I have an exceptionally good-looking nose?  Neither did I.  You know it´s love-at-first-sight when you´re attracted to someone´s nose.

The next day, I joined my fellow international students in a walking tour of the town surrounding the university.  I thought it was a shockingly long walk (and by US standards, I´ve always been a pretty undaunted walker).  But they took us to the market, and there I fell in love with the flower selection. And their unbelievable prices.  Little did I know, our walk mirrored Mr. Curly Ponytail´s daily walk to school.  Mr. Curly Ponytail noticed me again.  He was friends with the tour guide and plied him for answers as to who I was.

Since the tour guide didn´t notice that my nose was anything out of the ordinary, he didn´t have any information to give Mario.

At the end of the month, I was sitting in the library, churning out my first round of end-of-the-month assignments.  In one class I had to write a short paper about the Toltecs.  In the middle of reading a college-level text to re-digest into my elementary-level Spanish, Mr. Curly Ponytail worked up his courage and plopped down on the coffee table in front of my couch.

Oh, please--he´s the most confident person I´ve ever met.  I bet it took him all of 3 seconds to work up that courage.  But that´s not the way he tells it.

Very quickly, he said something to me in Spanish.

I didn´t catch it.  So I asked him to repeat it.

He switched to English.  Grrr . . .

People were always doing that there.  How´s a person supposed to learn Spanish at a university where students have to pass the TOFEL in order to graduate?  Everyone spoke English better than I spoke Spanish.

As he tried to keep talking, I slowly got over my irritation.  Eventually, I agreed to meet him for lunch.  And then I went out with him on a Saturday.  And every Wednesday for the half-price movies (with his friend and girlfriend . . . because Jakob had a car.  Thanks, Jakob!).  The longer the semester went on, the more weekends I spent with him, and then, before we knew it, the semester was over.

And I went home.

Thanks to the magic of email.  We kept in contact.  However, Mario being Mario, we were only in contact maybe once a week.  Or every two weeks.  He did not have a phone, so phone calls just did not happen.

The following Spring Break, I convinced my roommate and two other friends to come with me to Mexico.  Roommate and I spent a week in Puebla and then our other friends joined us for a week in Acapulco.  Thank goodness roommate came with me, because Mario was an uncharming bum that first week.  But then he decided to join us in Acapulco, and became charming again.

So we continued our long distance relationship.

Then he decided to visit me in Indiana for a long weekend that fall.  I was student teaching in East Chicago, so while I was at school, I put him on the commuter train and told him to have fun in Chicago.  He did.  Chicago is now one of his favorite cities.  Unfortunately for him, he planned his trip on my university´s Parents´ Weekend.  He about peed his pants when he found out that he had to meet my parents.  Poor guy.  ;)

It was a great weekend, and we continued our emails.  Except he was working full-time while finishing his undergrad thesis and often wouldn´t write for weeks at a time.  That didn´t leave me much to go on.

As my graduation was looming, my plan had been (since I met Mario) to go back to Mexico and teach at the American School there.  Then, that Spring, I decided that wasn´t actually what I wanted to do.  It seemed to me that we weren´t going in the same direction.  So maybe it was time to pull the plug.

So I did.

Except that even though we broke up, we still kept writing--probably more than we did the few months before we broke up.  When he asked if he could visit me that summer, I agreed.

It was a good visit.  It was either another long weekend or maybe a week, at the most.  At the end of it, we decided that we be "in a relationship" again.  Except that we were still awfully long distance.

That fall, we were rather uncommunicative again.  I began to wonder if we did have anything in common.  I questioned whether he had a sense of humor.  Because when you spend 90% of your relationship with a person over email, it´s easy to forget a lot.  Or embellish other parts.  And really question what is real.

I was able to take Spring Break again that year.  I met his family, and it was good for me to meet people who thought even more highly about him than I did at the time.  In the context of his family, he really made a lot more sense.  And he definitely had a sense of humor.  Then we spent the rest of the week in Puerto Escondido with a German friend of his.  Great week.

Except for the car ride back from Puerto Escondido.  Between Oaxaca and the coast is the windiest, curviest, most speed-bump-ridden road in North America (and if there is another road that´s worse, I don´t want to know).  Between Mario enjoying driving fast through curves and then slowing down for the speed bumps, I threw up three times in about as many hours.  If I go to Puerto Escondido again, it will be by airplane.

Too bad, though, because it was beautiful.

We were able to talk a lot that week and figure things out.  I found out that a number of the areas where I thought we were incompatible, we actually were on the same page.  He´s an odd mix of contradictions, that Mario.  But maybe I am, too.

A few months later, he came to visit me in June.  It was another long weekend, but a good one.  At the time, my plans were up in the air for the following year, as I was at the end of a year-long, full-time volunteer program.  I was beginning to start to make plans to look for a job in the midwest, when my roommate stopped me.

He sat me down and said, "Jill--what you´ve got with Mario--that´s what the rest of us are looking for.  Maybe you should go to Mexico and find out where that´s going."

On reflection, I decided that was pretty good advice.  I was also very excited about working with a children´s home I had found out about through the internet.  However, my application got lost in some paper shuffle, so I put that on the back burner and applied to the American School of Puebla.  A week before I was going to go to Puebla, I found out that I was, indeed, invited to live and work at the children´s home.  So I taught 5th grade for a semester, spending 6 months in the same city as Mario.  Then I packed up and moved 2 hours away in favor of 700 orphans that I had never met.

I guess I liked the long distance relationship.

After two years at the children´s home and seeing each other roughly 3 weekends out of every month, Mario finally asked me to marry him.

Then he left to go to grad school in Sweden.  Not being able to get a job there, I went back to the midwest.

His program was only supposed to take a year.  He finished his courses in Sweden and moved back to Mexico, having a number of promising interviews lined up.  But that was the summer of 2006, and Lopez Obrador decided to contest the presidential election that summer.  Fearing a country in unrest, many companies decided not to hire new people that summer, not knowing what the immediate economic future would hold.

Therefore, we still couldn´t make concrete wedding plans.

Eventually he got a job.  I had already quit mine and had series of temp jobs (which was waaay more enjoyable than the "real" job I had the year before).  Thanks to those temp jobs, I was able to take off for the entire month of February and August 2007 to visit Mario, set up our apartment, and get used to the idea of living in Mexico again.

Then we got married in November 2007, and here we are.

Often people are shocked at the fact that we had a long distance relationship for 9 years.  In some ways I liked it.  It taught me patience.  Given all those years we spent in a relationship through email, it taught us how to listen to the other person´s response, question if we understood that response correctly, and how not to get our knickers in a knot if something wrote something that made us mad.  Because given the nature of email, language barriers, cultural differences, and personality differences, it was quite likely that whatever might have been written that gave offense, was the result of one of those barriers and not an intentional slight.  Or if a slight was intentional, it gave us a slow, unheated means of working through those differences.  It gave us lots of time for reflection and breathing space.  Sometimes we need some more of that breathing space now that we live together and our conflicts are played out in the span of minutes, instead of days and weeks.  

Then again, as another friend in an international, long-distance relationship put it, "either we were going to get married really, really quickly [after meeting] or we´d take a really, really long time.  That couple did it really, really quickly.

We took our time.  Given our ages, where we were in life, and our personalities, that just made the most sense.

Not that that was planned out.

Life just happens and we did, too.  With quite a bit of intentionality thrown in there.


2 comentarios :

Katie dijo...

Oh my goodness this post brought me back to my study abroad days in Puebla. I had forgotten about half price Wednesdays at the movies!
Thanks for sharing your story.

Jill dijo...

Thanks, Katie!

That is precisely why this was fun to write--so many things I hadn´t thought about in awhile.