Monday, June 15, 2015

Charlie Chaplin, Meet the Love of My Life

This is the story of when Matthew and I first met in person. I dug it out from the archives to share with you in honor of our wedding anniversary this week.

Yesterday, I was watching my husband's face as he listened to our good friend. She was telling us lively tales about couples she knew, and his smile in response was broad. Of course, a true smile, as opposed to just a contrivance of the features, ignites the eyes, has magic. My husband's smile is a million watts; it could illuminate the city of Phoenix in a blackout. It could exert a superhuman power to influence people if he unleashed it fully. I am mesmerized by his handsome face when he smiles, and I wonder sometimes if he can see my blatant admiration and therefore wonders why I don't act upon it more often.

Seeing his smile yesterday made me desirous to share a story of the September evening we met in person eleven years ago. I brought Charlie Chaplin along for the occasion, and Matthew smiled.

Maybe it was because we had only spoken on the phone for a few short months with a few thousand miles between us. Or maybe it was because he had implied during one of those friendly conversations that he was unimpressed with the picture I had sent to him, my very own Mr. Darcy (she's tolerable, I suppose...but not handsome enough to tempt me), but I sure as heck wasn't going to show up to our first face-to-face meeting alone.

My sister Annie had orchestrated our meeting by asking Matthew within moments of seeing him for the first time, "Do you like brunettes?", meaning me. Having introduced us via old-fashioned telephone network, she was coming along to officially introduce in person, of course. In fact, a legion of curious friends, family, and people I did not know were coming on my blind date - a chance to go out for Mexican food in a Tex-Mex town, enjoy margaritas and watch the spectacle of two young people getting to know each other at no risk to themselves.

I needed additional support, though. Dumb support. I needed Charlie Chaplin, that talented, lighthearted fellow. So I took him with me. I didn't ask; I just cut him out of a magazine, dressed as that lovable tramp, folded him up and carried him out to my sister's car where he lay on my lap during the drive downtown to San Antonio's River Walk. When we exited the vehicle, my sister cast me an incredulous look.

"Don't bring that," she said and pointed in disapproval.

I hesitated, but nope. Though 20, I would be a child. I needed my talisman. So we walked into the restaurant, Mi Tierra across from Merchant Square, with Chaplin all wrinkled and sweaty in my hands.

Through the double doors, and there he was by the bakery cases. Matthew who I knew by voice and by a dark picture of him in ball cap, standing by a grill with a barbecue utensil, smiling. Matthew, the Catholic to my Protestant, the Hispanic to my whatever-the-heck-I-am, the young professional to my bum writer.

He had on the worst long black shorts. He was very casual actually. Chaplin was more dressed up than he. I, on the other hand, had something to prove after the picture I'd sent of myself - hair mussed, holding my pet rabbit, and my cousin behind me with red glaring eyes and a wicked smile. My folks jumped to the conclusion that I had sent that ugly picture of myself to sabotage all hope of a relationship with a normal guy. Honestly, I don't know if I did or not. I had certainly said as many stupid things as possible to sabotage it. But whether I had subconsciously done myself in or not, I had my pride, and I was not going to be found lacking in the flesh. That night I was going for the make-him-weep-and-apologize-for-implying-you're-ratty look. With my short printed summer dress, dewy face and basket-weave heeled sandals, I hoped I had succeeded. If Matthew's million-watt smile was the indication, I had - though I could discern no signs of remorse for earlier implications. We stepped toward each other.

I don't remember what was said in those first moments. At least not until I shifted Chaplin from one hand to the other in order to shake his hand.

"What's this?' said Matthew.

I regretted my company then, but I held it out and said nervously but with chin pointed, "A talisman."

It was my misfortune that on the other side of Chaplin was an advertisement for southern whiskey. Jack Daniels to be precise. It was this that Matthew saw first, and he and his friend Nathan began to tease me.

"So you bring a picture of whiskey to our first date? I guess you like your alcohol."

I flipped it over.

"No, Chaplin. I love Charlie Chaplin."

"Oh, sure," he said with that smile. I was too flummoxed to appreciate it.

We soon made it into the bar to wait for our table. I lost track of Chaplin after that. I don't know where he went or what he did. Maybe I shoved him into the depths of my purse with just the Jack Daniels for consolation, but I no longer worried about him. Nor did I need him except perhaps to distract one of my sister's coworkers who turned to me and said genially, "If things don't work out with this, maybe you could meet my son. You two would hit it off."

Matthew was right there across from me. I glanced at him and back at her and mumbled a polite response.

When we finally sat down to dinner, I made sure, very gracefully of course, that Matthew settled on my left, my best side. It would have been very unfortunate if he'd taken a seat on my right; you can see how crooked my nose and mouth are on that side, and I try to surprise people with my flaws little by little, so there's a better chance of acceptance. I remember worrying about my profile, and also worrying about whether I was pronouncing the entrees right from the menu of "authentic" Mexican food. I didn't know then that, although his pronunciation was good, Matthew didn't actually speak Spanish at all. Ah, well. I got splashed with the light of his bright smile every time I got nervous over my words, so all in all, my embarrassment was worth it.

When the evening wound down, and we strolled slowly out of the restaurant, our tongues momentarily tied, Matthew guided me over to sit on a bench beneath the gloam of a tree. Shielded from the flourescent glare of the street lights, he asked me out on a date for that Thursday night, just the two of us. I didn't say no. Perhaps I had a premonition that all was going "to work out with this".

It was less than a year later that I met him before the altar and was greeted by that smile I love so well, at its most brilliant. The photographer caught the moment and gave me my favorite wedding photo. In that picture and in moments shared between us, Matthew's smile is destined to make me feel like a day-dreamy schoolgirl for years to come. Nothing's better than that.

Not even Charlie Chaplin.


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