Mario with his police dog, Dux, around the time we met.
I met him when I was nineteen years old, working with my friend, Lisa Beutler, the inaugural celebration of Leo McCarthy, California’s new Lieutenant Governor. He doesn’t remember meeting me, since we were in a group of friends, and we were unknown to each other before.
It was two years later, after my life hit a new rock-bottom, when I went to beg for my old job back at a local State Park. He was the supervising ranger, and had just hit rock bottom himself: his marriage had fallen apart and his wife and kids had moved to Kansas. He was in Kansas, trying to reconcile with Cathy, when I was re-hired, out of a nostalgic mercy by another Ranger who felt sorry for me and knew I could do the job. I had just had a baby: Vince. I was determined to get my life back on track for him.
By the time Mario came back to work, I had been on the job for a whole week. I was insecure and wobbly, and (as it turns out) so was he. The reconciliation didn’t work and he and Cathy had decided to divorce and share custody of the boys. He drove up to the kiosk in a state vehicle: a GMC 4x4 with nubby tires and light bar on top. He couldn’t have been more intimidating. He looked like a caricature of a police officer: like Chuck Norris but taller and handsome.
“You’ve been hired illegally,” he told me, his thumbs hooked into his heavy black belt (between the mace and his gun). “It’s a shame, but I’m going to have to let you go.”
“Please let me keep my job,” I said. “I have a baby and I need to work.”
“I”ll see what I can do,” he said, flippantly. “By the way, you need a black belt. You’re out of uniform.”
“%&^# ing +@(#ard!!!” I thought...
Later, in the office, I saw a softer side of him. While all of the staff were approaching quitting time, I cleaned up and listened to them yucking it up with their cop jokes.
“Hey, Janet,” he smiled. “You can keep your job. I’ve pulled some strings.” Everyone laughed at his joke, and then clapped.
“Yea!! Janet can stay!!” they all cheered.
I smiled and said thank you.
Then I went back to cleaning.
This new boss had two sides: the rough and tough cop and a fun, happy guy. I’d have to be careful.
I respected him, admired him, and eventually fell in love with him.
It was only after all of these emotions that we hugged (as friends) and then I felt the explosion of every great force in the universe. This is what poets call chemical attraction.
We married, and couldn’t believe how well suited we were to each other. I couldn’t believe I had scored such a hunk for a husband. I didn’t even have to be in the mood for sex to acquiesce!
We faced a myriad of challenges.
Blending our family.
Making room in our hearts for everyone.... It was not an easy road those for those first few years.
I type this, twenty seven years after that first meeting. I am still in awe of him.
In the years I have known him he has been marked by goodness and calm and mercy and friendship. He is, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest gift God has ever given me. I can never be worthy of living next to this man, this man who loves sincerely, tries his best in everything he does, maintains friendships and focuses on loving people with respect and compassion. Everywhere we go he makes me proud.
It is not easy to say, after 25 years of marriage that your husband is your best friend. There has to be oceans of forgiveness and starting over constantly – from both sides.
I woke up this morning and realized that I hadn’t gotten him a gift. I hadn’t even bought him a card. I stretched and remembered that the night before we fought and he went to bed early and I stayed up and had a martini.
Sometimes life isn’t as good as you need it to be. In my heart, I pray desperately that God would help me love him especially for today. Love that would make him feel special and miraculous.
“Good morning, babe,” he says as I emerged from our room. He was at his desk. He will be teaching a class tonight.
“Good morning, Happy Birthday, babe!” I say, and I can smell my own morning breath.
“Thanks,” he says.
I go to the bathroom and brush my teeth, then go to hug him. He is in work mode, and he has a chart of all of the Biblical Foundation stones spread out on the table. Still, he is receptive to affection, and I prepare myself to be the best wife I can be today.
I kiss him good morning, and we begin our day.
Tonight for his class, he’ll be well-prepared and he’ll have great love and authority in his subject matter. I’ll be proud and serve chocolate cupcakes to everyone who comes, but he doesn’t much care for his birthday.
Later, we’ll come home, and I’ll give him the surprise gift of passion that cannot be wrapped:
A chocolate cake that I've baked just for him.