The game was up, however, when little Lizzy clomped into the room and snuggled into bed beside me: "Até? Ma-pa? Papa?" She eventually matched my title to me: "I missed yooououooouuoouu..." I gave her hugs, as my cara spoza smirked with her eyes still closed, unwilling to give up on her restful moment.
"Isabel," I declared gravely, "you look just like your mother: so beautiful." Another smirk. The little one was restless, however, so I deflected her from her mother by telling her a story.
"Do you know the first time I ever said: 'I love you'?"
She solemnly shook her head, giving herself completely to the coming story.
The first time I ever said "I love you" it wasn't even in English. You see, the first time I saw your mother was in the choir. She was smiling so beautifully, and there was kindness in her eyes. I knew, right then, that I loved her.
After an uneven start, including the postlude to our second first-date (I took her to coffee then drove up to Connecticut to celebrate my birthday for that weekend. While there, I wrote a three-page letter declaring, in rather exuberant language, my love for her. My little sister watched me for a while, then, after she pressed, I allowed her to see the letter.
Me: "What do you think?"
Beki: "Do you ever want to see her again? She'll think you're a psychopath. Don't. Give. Her. That. Letter!"
Why is it that I must be lectured to in one word sentences?), we took to walking the trails of a nearby park. We prayed the Rosary together, talked about many and diverse topics, and sometimes held hands. This special time drifted forward calmly, a river meeting the sea, for several sweet months.
At the time, I worked at Coast Guard Headquarters with CWO Maglalang. His last name translates to "the Creation" from Tagalog. I asked him how to say "I love you" in his language. He cautioned me: in the Philippines, this was not something to be said lightly, I learnt that this declaration would commence courtship.
Fine by me.
As Diane and I walked back to her home that night, I was unusually quiet, averting my eyes. We arrived at the driveway, and she asked me about it.
I took her hand in my hands and looked into her eyes: "Mahal kita." I said. I love you.
She ripped her hand out of mine and jumped back five feet in an instant, shock written across her face. She quickly collected herself, leaning forward, leading with an angry index finger. "You had BETTER know what you're saying!" she shouted at me.
Isabel tinkled with laughter.
It was not the response I was expecting, but then, she always surprises me. After all, I was everything she didn't want in her life: American (the cultural and media juggernaut) and Military (the oppressor). To her, I was a walking nightmare of a stereotype. She didn't want marriage; she didn't want us; she didn't want a mommy van with the kids (yuck! she thought) in baby seats. She just wanted to finish her post-grad work in the U.S.A. and return home safely to the warmth of her family, and to a country where all her instincts weren't backwards and where the people spoke in her first language. She craved home.
Yet. For all that, and all that, she looked beyond herself, and she looked at me, and gave me herself. All of herself.
That's why I'm the luckiest man in the world. She gave me everything, and went against everything she thought she wanted in her life, and then gave me so much more, and now we have two living daughters that we like and we love. We have a house and we have our dreams, ... and we have hope and happiness.
She gave up everything for me, and I'm working as hard as I can to give her it all back, because when I said "I love you", and kept saying "I love you", she responded quickly one month later on the 4th of July, of all days, with a sighed "I love you, too."