The Story I Don't Tell

The Story I Don’t Tell

Written and photographed by Jackie C

When people ask me how my husband and I first met, my answer is always the generic one: “Oh, you know, we met through mutual friends and hit it off.” It also tends to come with a small white lie—that our love blossomed in the summer of 2017. But the honest truth is that I knew I loved him by March 12th of that year, less than 48 hours after only a single conversation with him that left me feeling absolutely furious.

It’s not everyone’s idea of a fairytale, but it’s the start of my fairytale. This may seem cliché or exaggerated, but when I look at who I was then compared to who I am now, it’s very clear that I’d locked myself away in a tower, of sorts. I think it’s a good story that deserves to be told. So here it goes:

Our First Meeting – Forgetting English

Once upon a time, Ricardo was just a strange boy in overalls who forgot English every time I spoke to him. Back in those days, my occasional free evenings were spent with my college friends, who at that point had all graduated and managed to find jobs in the city.

I, on the other hand, had just begun a daunting Master’s program earlier that fall. Phrases like “top of my game” and “shining star” echoed in my head, dangling like carrots in front of every assignment and every lecture. My plan was to eventually land a great job and move to a major city like New York or Washington D.C.

But the work was grueling. The climb of my first semester left me feeling incredibly lonely and worn out. So by the start of my spring semester in 2017, I was trying to re-incorporate some semblance of a social life. I also really missed all my friends.

Not long before, my best friend had started a new job and took a real liking to a colleague named Ricardo. While I’d been busy in my program, Ricardo had settled right into my social circle. Most of my friends had immigrated to the United States at a young age, and I was the only one who was not bilingual.

I remember the glow of streetlights and the cool breeze of early spring. Ricardo would come walking up with some friends, laughing and chatting about something I couldn’t make out. Then we’d make eye contact, and he’d smile and nod. It felt like we’d been friends forever, without ever having spoken a word. But I couldn’t reconcile that sense of connection with the reality that he and I just couldn’t seem to hold a conversation.

Like this one night, we were all meeting up at a favorite Korean karaoke joint. Some things just never get old. Throughout the night, I’d try and say something interesting to Ricardo or ask him a question. He’d just look me in the eyes, nod his head cheerfully, and then freeze. Moments later, he’d start whispering to one of our friends in Spanish. After a couple of attempts, I gave up. Maybe his English skills weren’t there, or maybe he just didn’t have anything he wanted to say to me.

A friend eventually caved and revealed a secret: Ricardo hadn’t stopped asking her about me since he saw me tagged in a photo on Facebook several months earlier. Apparently, one look at my smile had been enough for him. And I had been so busy with my new program that I’d missed all of this. And he was so nervous around me that he would freeze and forget English.

The First Date – The First Rejection

It was adorable, but I was immediately concerned. My program was too demanding, and I really hadn’t dated before. I especially didn’t like the idea of dating someone who already seemed to like me so much. He could only ever be disappointed, I told myself. In my mind, there was no point. I’d open myself up to him, and he’d realize that I simply couldn’t live up to his expectations.

When a text message finally arrived from him asking me on a date (yes, a text message), suggesting either burgers or a movie, I turned him down as politely as I could. But I still felt so bad. He avoided me for a few weeks after that, and I felt somewhat relieved when things got busy with school again. It was a lot of discomfort for two people who had never even spoken to each other before.

But that was just the beginning. Almost immediately, my friends planned a road trip to the Grand Canyon, and they made sure the timing aligned with my spring break. They insisted that Ricardo was over my rejection and that it would be a fun trip. I reluctantly agreed and then counted down the weeks, then days, then hours.

I remember sitting in my apartment with my bags packed, waiting for them to pick me up. The Expedition that we had rented pulled up to my building on a Friday evening. We were going to try and make as much headway as we could overnight. I approached the van and saw that Ricardo was driving. And the only spot left for me was in the front passenger seat beside him. I shrunk back a bit. I had sensed that it would be a bit uncomfortable for both Ricardo and I, but this was a different level. I climbed up, shut the door, and watched the road before us as the sky turned increasingly dark.

The Beginning of Our Adventure – The Infuriating First Conversation

By midnight, our friends had fallen asleep, but I was still wide-awake. The navigation system offered a soft light between Ricardo and I, and a gentle rain began to fall. I watched through the windows as the weather grew worse. Before long, the rain was descending onto the windshield with a fury. It only amplified my uneasiness.

“Jackie,” Ricardo whispered.

It felt as though I was hearing my name for the first time. His eyes remained fixed on the road.

“Yes?” I managed to squeak out.

“I’ll be very careful, and I love driving in the rain. I’m used to it; it rains a lot where I’m from. So you can just relax and rest.”

His words were so crystal clear. I jumped at the chance to finally talk to him.

“Yeah, they told me you’re from a small town that’s really pretty.”

“I am. One day I’ll take you there, if you like?”

I felt my heart flutter. Did he still have feelings for me?

“I… that would be so nice,” I stuttered, being very careful with my words. “Hopefully, I’ll have time to break away.”

“You must like to be very busy. We were all kind of surprised that you even came on this trip,” he said.

I felt a bit taken aback, although I wasn’t sure why.

“Well, yeah. If I want to be successful, I’ll have to work really hard.”

“Even if it makes you unhappy? Even if you don’t get to see your friends?”

I gave an uneasy laugh. That was incredibly presumptuous, and I felt myself getting defensive.

“I want to be successful. Everyone in my family has been super successful. They’re all lawyers, doctors, journalists, you know… they’re all the best at what they do. I want that.”

He thought about this for a moment.

“So, if you’re not the best at something, they’ll kick you out?”

I burst out laughing, and he smiled.

“What if I told you that I like your company the best? Would that make you feel successful?”

I didn’t like where the conversation was headed.

“You don’t even know me,” I said, trying to speak quietly. “I think this might be our very first conversation. You asked me out in a text message.”

“I’m shy,” he whispered.

“Yeah, I know. You forget English. Except to tell me I’m unhappy and naive in the most obvious ‘negging’ attempt of all time. You’re still trying to ask me out after I told you, ‘no.’”

“You already turned me down. I have nothing to lose.”

There was another brief silence.

“And I’ve decided that I’ll still want a date with you in 10 years or whenever you realize that you are unhappy,” he continued, which caught me completely off-guard.

“But I don’t want to wait that long if I don’t have to. I might as well try one more time.”

I felt my heart flutter, but I was also angry again.

“What do you even like about me?” My question felt more like an accusation.

“I have a feeling.”

“Oh, you have a feeling.” I echoed mockingly, not even trying to hide how insulted and confused I felt.

“Do you have a feeling?” He asked. The rain was beginning to subside.

“I feel tired.” I snapped, turning my back to him and looking out the window. I wanted to cry so desperately.

“Hmmm,” he said quietly, “makes sense, makes sense.”

The Realization and the Beginning of the Rest of Our Lives

I didn’t talk to him at all the next day. Once we arrived at the Grand Canyon, I found myself still fuming about what a misogynistic jerk he was and how relieved I was that I hadn’t gone on a date with him in the first place.

But by Sunday afternoon, the fresh air had gotten to me. I managed to admit something to myself that I had been denying: I was so unhappy in that program. My life felt directionless. I didn’t know what I wanted, besides to be successful. More than anything, I was embarrassed that my own failure (because it felt like failure to me at the time) was somehow so obvious to a complete stranger.

I also admitted to myself that Ricardo wasn’t a bad guy and that I hadn’t reacted so well to the things he said. I decided that I wanted to apologize. I approached him while he was separate from the rest of the group.

“I’m sorry for getting so upset with you the other night. But you assumed a lot about me. I want you to know that I want a career because it’s something that’s important to me. It’s always been important to me.”

He looked surprised and nodded slowly. His eyes drifted from my face to the scenery behind me. He looked so serious for a minute, and then his face softened and he looked back at me.

“Burgers?”

A smile began to form at the corners of my lips, and I rolled my eyes slightly.

After a moment, I shook my head, shrugged and said, “You’re good.”

He laughed and also shrugged, saying, “Maybe, maybe.”

And just like that, Ricardo went from being a complete stranger to an arch nemesis to a person who seemed to know me better than I knew myself. The funniest thing of all for me is that these days, two dogs and two kids later, we never seem to stop talking. It’s such a complete switch from those early days that sometimes I look back and can hardly believe it myself.

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