Maria Vega: Wife Extraordinaire

…whereupon you will enjoy a major aside from living Brazilishly in which the author marries a Mexican woman and chronicles the virtues of her affections.

On June 12, 2014 I married Maria, and have the ring to prove it. Not being a jewelry sort of guy, I was 15 the last time I attempted sporting phalangeal adornment. ‘Twas Christmas 1991. At the apex of an incipient thrash metal obsession, and desirous to bear likeness to Chuck Billy of Testament, Santa Claus gifted me a set of chrome-cast heavy metal skull and spike rings. My flirtation with them lasted the better part of a week, ’til I tired of cleaning cheese and sesame seeds off the spikes every time I ate a Big Mac, a frequent occurrence in those chubby mid-teen days. Even at age 15, I was practical if nothing else. I retired those metallic accouterments, therefore, in early 1992 and until the moment that I committed my life to Maria during a discreet ceremony at the El Paso Country Clerk’s office three days ago, no further rings weighed down my lil’ digits.

The marriage itself was a simple affair. On the morning of June 12, Maria and I conjured ourselves from bed, got ourselves and Zuli ready, dropped Zuli off with the suegra (we’re waiting on her American passport, so our daughter can’t cross international boundaries just yet), and crossed the border from Ciudad Juarez to El Paso. We made a beeline directly to the El Paso County Clerk’s office. We applied for, and were granted, a marriage license, then took it to the 11th floor to seek a judge who would marry us that same morning. The first one whose chambers we knocked accepted. A brief ceremony followed: a few words, quick tears, and then it was official and we were legitimate before The Law. The whole enterprise required less than an hour from the time we arrived at the clerk’s office, and that includes bathroom breaks and administrative processing time. On the surface, it was the single most monumental input/output disequilibrium when you consider the nature of this lifetime commitment. Even if I’m fortunate enough to reach the life expectancy of the average American male, Maria’s got a good 40 years of me to put up with. I ask this question to anyone pretending to possess the answer: how the hell do you get the next four decades from 45 minutes?

Well, THAT’s easy: I love Maria for being the most bad-ass chick ever to take a breath. Not that I’m a checklist kind of guy, but were I to have one, Maria would have long satisfied every romantic and practical prerequisite on it.

We met shortly after my arrival in Ciudad Juarez in April 2011. At the time, it was still the world’s most murderous city. 230,000 people had fled the city (a fifth of its pre-cartel wars population) and an estimated 10,000 small businesses shuttered their doors due to lack of commerce, extortion, or both. The city’s main thoroughfares evinced scant life of any kind. Really, Juarez felt like a ghost city. It was in this context that, my second Saturday in town, I went out site seeing and ended up at a Starbucks after a few hours. And there was Maria, lipstick staining the edge of the hot chocolate her lips were pursing, rayon hair pulled back into a tight bun, laboring studiously on her laptop. Each impressed that the other was actually out unguarded in this most murderous of villas, we struck up a quick friendship.

In the ensuing months, Maria opened a side of Ciudad Juarez to me that few outsiders were privileged to see in those dangerous days. She spirited me away to my first parties locally, drove me to all the lookout points in the mountains ringing the city, took me to my first Day of the Dead celebrations at local pantheons, and invited me to an incessant spate of mom-n’-pop eateries and cafes off the beaten path. She was never one to brag about her accomplishments, and I had to learn to ask pointed questions to draw her out. I discovered quite a bit about her once I figured this out. Chipping away at her PhD, at age 27 she was already an art professor at a local university (by far the youngest in her department). An artist in her own right, her paintings featured in local exhibitions. She had also been volunteering since her teenage years at a local school for blind kids, teaching them to paint and then putting their work on sale at exhibitions and pushing the proceeds back to the under-funded school. Her involvement in art extended beyond the classroom and canvas, though, and she was a semiprofessional ballet dancer to boot, performing throughout northern Mexico. And she did all of this not with the snobbish manner I’ve frequently noted of folks deeply ensconced in the art scene; instead, she was modest and understated, having simply found something she was passionate about and pursuing it full-tilt. Maria’s one of the only artistic types I’ve met more interested in essences than recognition.

Emotional intelligence being her forte, Maria understands interpersonal dynamics and thinks before speaking or acting, conscious of how words or deeds might affect another person adversely, even unintentionally. She treats everyone humanely and courteously, and I’ve never known her to gossip or speak ill of anyone. That simplicity and self-confidence translates into innumerable virtues in her personal life: Maria is low maintenance. She buys clothes on the basis of utility, not style. She is wholly unconcerned with image and I’ve not once seen her preoccupied with people thinks of her. A careful spender, she is loathe to purchase impulsively, and makes sure every penny counts when she does. We keep the same rhythm, preferring to take advantage of the day and hit the sack early instead of hitting the club or bar scene. She’s perfectly content to stay home on a Friday over Netflix and pizza. We read, write, paint, talk, or even sit silently together. The activity matters little; her simple physical presence has always been sufficient to sate my spirit, calm my nerves, and keep the demons – the ones that eventually come to all of us who spend far too much time alone, living as human islands – from creeping under the door.

She had no previous marriages, and had no children, so was not tied down emotionally or otherwise to any past commitments. Like me, she had zero debt, so financially we could start with a clean and healthy slate. She already had a US tourist visa and went frequently on her own, so didn’t need me for her “docs”. She was highly educated, could talk about her own subjects of interest in depth, but was always open to new themes and ideas and never approached them with prejudice of any kind: she took me to see the ballet and art shows, but accompanied me enthusiastically to see Kreator and Vince Neil. She had a solid career already and was making a good living. She held my hand with pride, laughed at my bad jokes out of respect even if she didn’t think they were funny, and looked past the cosmetic features that I despise about myself. Maria viewed in my character a palate of core values and personality attributes she appreciated and identified with, and decided to be with me on that basis alone, without consideration for my career, status, or the laundry list of superficial stuff assuring a broken foundation and wobbly future, at best. She always had time for me, and from the outset of our friendship treated me as an urgent priority in her life. In fact, Maria showered me with dignity and respect far superior to that I’d been afforded at an point in past relationships. Though she was always respectful of my space and never opposed me living a life apart from my relationship with her, from an early stage in our relationship I seldom felt the inclination to spend time with anyone else but Maria when not at work.

It was therefore a natural and logical corollary of this – the two best years of my life, spent in Juarez at Maria’s side – to begin discussing a future together when I departed Juarez in mid-2013. Her dedication and faith made it work even during the long-distance phase, and I owe her a lifelong debt of gratitude for sticking it out and believing in me. She was under no obligation and would have been just fine on her own – and I have to imagine many men would have been honored to make her acquaintance – but Maria cashed in her chips on me. Thank God, for in Maria I have found salvation from solitude and self-deprecating loneliness, the kind wrought from living as a human island far too many years.

But the path was not always so clear. Until Maria, I’d given up the ghost on the notion of marriage. All my relationships prior to her were the romantic equivalent of vampire felching, and consequently marriage was a word I spoke amidst dismissive snickers as the punch line to bad jokes about some other unlucky sucker who took his bad romance a bridge too far. On the pre-Juarez path to Maria, I dated every phylum of basket case out there. I had no luck with American women; the ones I dated were riddled with financial and personal problems, certainly more baggage than I was comfortable taking on. I remember one – a high school educated bank teller who’d never left the US – dropped me off at Dump Street for not being “cultured enough” since I didn’t drink wine or peruse publications like Cigar Aficionado, ordered a sandwich instead of pasta on a previous date, and most importantly, “you don’t wear those cool glasses with thick rims like the guys in DC… Yours are just, so ‘80s!” Another racked up college debt greater than the GDP of most small countries, and it occurred to me that sticking with her for the long haul would likely be an exercise in dodging collection agency goons sent to repo her meager possessions. And the last American woman I was seriously involved with taught foreign forensic teams how to catalog evidence found on corpses; which was fine by me, until I saw the effect that working with stiffs the day long had on her emotional state. One of her dogs died and she spent three weeks holding funerals and remembrance gatherings for it, and frequently awoke during the night bellowing for hours about wanting a time machine, that the flux capacitor might permit her leap back a few days and save the poor mutt. It struck me that she was not the most emotionally stable person, which would not bode well for a life together. My fortune in the international marketplace was likewise poor. There was a Salvadoran who, clean out of sick leave at her job but wanting to take time off to see me, yanked a molar to justify calling in sick. And she GAVE me the tooth as a gift. Then there was a Guatemalan, who feigned affection long enough to gain my trust, then went for broke, offering me $5,000 for nuptials. There was a Bolivian who informed me – on our first (and only) date – that she’d been arrested earlier that day for driving recklessly. Why was she doing that? To get to her shrink. Why did she need a shrink? Well, ‘twas court-mandated, since the previous year she’d tried to commit suicide but also killed someone else in the process. I was afraid to ask any further follow-up questions, since I envisioned they’d invariably lead to incriminating evidence on the JFK assassination. There was a Colombian who, after three reasonably decent dates, squinted at me through suddenly malicious eyes and said she couldn’t see a future for us if “you don’t start spending more money on me.” And how could I forget the Dominican feigned exclusivity until I chanced upon her in a nearby bar, gussied up as if at a Daddy Yankee gig and her hand on the thigh of a mulleted man with a porno ‘stache and trucker cap?

The list could go on indefinitely; the above examples are merely the salient ones. Close friends – some reading this, doubtless – in whom I’ve confided past tribulations of the heart were wont to gawk at me in sad comedic awe, heads tilted to one side like confused puppies. How could one guy dork his way into so many problematic relationships? Nothing realistically explains why an accomplished man with a bright professional future, loving parents and loads of great friends, routinely found himself in such dire romantic straits.

And then there was Maria. So I’d like to thank Maria for being so awesome, and my exes for being so lame; for giving me confidence and believing in me; for letting me be myself; for showing me that it doesn’t have to be hard and, in fact, can be quite easy and enjoyable if you’re with the right person. The result of her patience, devotion, affection and investment in me has been the assurance of a wonderful future with the greatest human being ever to grace my life. Te amo, mamacita.

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