Have I ever told you the story about how I met my Venezuelan Cowboy (VC)? Everyone has a 'how we met' story, don't they? My story is more unusual than most... a true Love At First Sight story if there ever was one...
The background you need to know before I launch in, is that I have a 'thing' for Latin men. I can't explain it, its just a fetish I guess. I think it has something to do with the dark features, the carinoso mannerisms, the love of family, and possibly the most impressionable, the accent.
Before meeting the VC, there were lots of latinos in my life, going back to my very first crush on Eric Estrada from Chips. I think somewhere in my subconscious, I relate everyone back to good ol' Poncharello (that was his name, right?)
Before meeting the VC, the most influential latino boyfriend in my life had been from Nicaragua. He and I dated for 3 years exclusively, and perhaps if we had been alittle older than our early 20s, we might not have broken up and would still be together. But that didn't happen and we did end things, about a year before I met the VC.
During the 3 years I dated the Nicaraguan, I felt like a real member of his family. I still love them like family all of these years later, just because of the wonderful memories we shared during those years. He had a little sister that I adored. She wasn't little, mind you; just younger. Young, and insanely beautiful.
Even after we broke up, I stayed close to the family. He wasn't around, he had moved to DC a year before our breakup, and I remained in Houston. I still went to the house for dinner, out to the theatre with his Mom, lunch with his Aunts and his cousins were my closest friends. The summer I met VC, I had even hired his beautiful little sister to work as a receptionist at Ethan Allen, where I worked as a designer and assistant manager.
The sister (lets call her A) knew how heartbroken I was over her brother, but tried to keep my thoughts averted. We didn't discuss him. We talked about fun things like makeup, clothes, and SATC (she was 18 at the time, me? I think I was 24)...
From time to time during my years at Ethan Allen in Houston, I would need to use my spanish. I was the only person on staff that had any remote idea of how to converse with our rather large spanish-speaking list of clients. I had taken several years of spanish while at Rice, however I never went to class, so I didn't speak as well as I should have! However, I was able to get by and do quite well because of all the years hanging around the boyfriend's house and listening to their spanish conversations.
When I hired A to work the front desk for the summer, her spanish came in handy on more than one occasion, giving me a much needed break. However, she didn't have a design background so after simple niceties were exchanged, she'd hand them over to me.
One day I was tackling a lighting project for the store. I was re-drawing the current lighting blueprint of the store and writing a proposal to re-light the store based on my new lighting system. It was a project that I was going to present to the owners and required a substantial amount of money to get done, but I believed it was necessary and important for the showroom. I had been working on it for weeks. I was engrossed in the project, well- until I heard my name of the intercom, asking me to call A at the front desk.
I called, "What! You know that I'm trying to get this project done for George today!" (I snapped at her like any older sister might snap at her annoying little sis)...
"Well, there's a family in the store from Venezuela, a son and his mother. You need to help them."
Ah, I thought. They don't speak english and so she can't call on one of the other designers, she needs me- "Oh, they don't speak english, huh? Nothing? I'm really busy here!"
"Well... its not that the son can't speak english....but I think you should still help them. The mother speaks no english, so I think you need to help".
"Wait, if the son speaks english, call another designer. I can't be bothered. Leave me alone!" and I slammed down the phone.
Only 2 seconds passed, and she paged me on the intercom again...."Casey, please call the front desk", in her sweet, sing-songy I-know-you're-pissed-but please-help kinda way...
"WHAT!?!?!?!?" I screeched into the phone.
"Well, I know you're busy, and its true the son speaks english, but you gotta trust me on this... YOU NEED TO HELP THEM"- she was an insistent little snot!
"Is there something you're not telling me about this?"- I was catching on... maybe there was more to why she wanted me to meet this son and his mother... Or maybe not...
"No, forget it. I'll call Karen" Click. Her mood had flipped 180. Now she was the one pissed that I hadn't trusted her judgement, or that I hadn't picked up on her 'code talk'. I decided to get up from my desk and go investigate just what was so important about this son and his mother.
By this time, Karen had introduced herself and was showing the mother sofas. The son was sitting in a chair, flipping through a magazine and looking quite bored... and extremely, extremely handsome...
Now I knew why A had been so insistent! She knew a hot guy when she saw one!
I still remember what he was wearing. A navy blue short sleeve Nautica shirt with a light, white windowpane plaid... khaki dress pants and Polo shoes... His shirt sleeves were rolled up to his elbows and he had very tanned arms.
I walked by, trying to catch his eye. Didn't work... I made a lap around the store and did it again. Still no luck. He didn't look up.
(I don't know what I expected to happen if he had looked up. Were we going to lock eyes and instantly fall in love? Was I just trying to flirt with him? A approving glance? I'll never understand what my motivation was, it was something larger than me, compelling me...)
I must have worn a path in the carpet, traipsing back and forth, trying to catch his eye. He never looked up. During one of my laps, I passed the front desk and acknowledged what A had been trying to do... "You sly little devil, you! He's HOT! Why didn't you just TELL ME THAT!"
"Well Casey, I couldn't. He was standing right in front of me, flirting with ME! But he's way too old for me, and he's perfect for you.... oh hell, my brother would kill me if he heard me say that"...
True. It was an interesting predicament. My assumed sister-in-law was trying to introduce me to other men. Odd.
Anyways... VC never looked up the entire time he sat in that store. He looked bored to death that he had accompanied his mother shopping. I never thought during my pursuit of him, to even look at his Mom. I had zeroed in on my target and had Tunnel Vision...
What I did next surprised everyone, even me... I pulled out my business card, turned it over and wrote my home phone number on it (this was before I had a cell phone) and gave it to A. "Give it to him before he leaves. I don't care how/why, make sure he has this card before he leaves this store".
She stared at me in complete disbelief and started to stammer, "Uh, I can't- but, what would he (brother)... but, you didn't meet.. he's going to think... WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? HAVE YOU LOST YOUR DAMNED MIND!"
"Just do it, please?"
She rolled her eyes and put the card on her desk and I waltzed away...
About 10 minutes later, she called me at my desk, "Well, he's got your card now, but he thinks its MINE!"
"What? How could that be, what did you say?"
"I told him that I have a friend who works here that saw him in the store and wanted to give him her number, so here it is... I handed him the card and he looked at the name on it, then looked at my nametag and kind of look confused... but then he smiled and said he'd call ME later and walked out"...
I was deflated. He thought A was hitting on him. A is extraordinarily beautiful, and being from Nicaragua, him from Venezuela, they had their spanish and customs in common right from the beginning. He might call the number, but as soon as he figured out that I wasn't A, it was dead in the water...
He called 2 days later.
We didn't have much to say to one another. Complete strangers! At least I had LOOKED at him before, to him, I was anybody. He had never laid eyes on me, he was talking to a complete stranger... well, if you could call it 'talking'. His english at that time, was AWFUL. My spanish? Worse. Somehow, and I don't know why, we made plans to meet the next night for dinner at a cool spot in Houston, and we would each bring a friend.. his request? Please bring A. "You know that she just turned 18?" Oh yeh, he knew...
Stupid, stupid me... I took A with me the next night to meet he and his friend Luis, for dinner. Luis was a pilot raised in Venezuela, VC a cattle rancher who had just graduated from TCU and heading home in 2 weeks to run his family's large cattle ranch. I was smitten. Sounded so intriguing... a cattle rancher? Who wears a Rolex? I instantly had visions of Southfork and the Dallas series from the 80s...
I was instantly ousted at the dinner because those 3 rattled on in spanish and I was way behind. After a few drinks however, I found that I didn't care. I just laughed... and laughed. I don't know if anything was funny, but I was drinking and didn't care. When it came time to pay the bill, the credit card machine had gone offline and while they worked to fix the problem, they continued to serve us free drinks. Big mistake.
After the successful blind date-with-friends, we went to a club. I still don't know how A got into a club only being 18, but she did. I vaguely remember drinking a margarita with a candy worm in it... thats about it until I remember VC folding me into my compact car and ordering A to drive me home. I drove a 5 speed Mazda Miata and A didn't know how to drive a standard transmission. Somehow in my drunken stupor, I yelled "clutch!" everytime she needed to clutch, and we made it back to my house, where we both crashed in our partyclothes on my bed instantly... until the doorbell rang.
It was VC. Followed us home to make sure we were safe. Checking to make sure everyone was okay before he headed home. Aww shucks, what a nice guy-
By the way, at the club? I was sure he liked my WAY YOUNGER 'sister', but I kissed him anyway. I don't know what came over me... I kissed him a lot that night.
The next day I woke up in my party clothes and realized that I had to somehow get in the shower and to work. A had the day off. I left her sleeping at my apt and with a very heavy head and queasy stomach from all the tequila, I took off for the store. When I arrived, I was shocked by the reception I received. All the other designers and staff were smiling in a "we-know-something-you-don't know" kind of way as I made me way to my desk....
There, sitting on top of it, was a HUGE bouquet of flowers with a card that said 2 words "Great Night"
Of course the staff had all read the card before I arrived and God only knows what they thought I had done to get flowers delivered first thing to work that morning. I'll never know, all I know was that I was smitten. Flowers? For ME? This was something new... I wasn't accustomed to this!!!
He called later that day and asked if I wanted to have coffee... I think we both were thinking that the night's event were fun but it might have been as a result of so much alcohol, not each other's company. He suggested something innocent like coffee. I agreed to meet him but told him that I could only stay about an hour (lie! I just wanted an 'out' if I needed one).
Its funny looking back... his english was so awful and my spanish was worse. I don't know what we talked about... and back then, I didn't drink coffee either! Our one hour coffee turned into 5 hours of conversation. We realized on that coffee date that we liked each other- a lot.
"Well, I go back to Venezuela at the end of June (this was June 6, 1998) and during the week, I am helping some friends run their ranch about 1.5 hours north of Houston, so I won't get back to town until next weekend. Can I take you out again then? Can you dance?"
"Uh... well, I can't dance, but I can learn! And I'd love to go out next weekend"
So the week passed. Sometime during the week, I got another bouquet of flowers as a reminder for our date on Saturday night. I was over the moon-
We went dancing that Saturday night with a group of his friends. I was quite uncomfortable at first, as the whole group knew each other, they were all latinos, and I was not. We went to Elvia's Cantina, a place I had gone several times with the ex-boyfriend and his family (never forget my first time there, after having gone to the Consular Ball with his parents, dressed in evening gowns and tuxedos!), and drank and danced while listening to a famous Houston band, Mango Punch.
And I danced. That night I learned to salsa, merengue, and mambo. VC was a great teacher, an amazing dancer. Somehow these long, gangly and clumsy legs kept up and my hips too! We were quite a pair- it was obvious to us as well as to the group we were with. After awhile out on the dance floor with VC, throwing caution to the wind, and having fun- I was accepted into their 'group'... He took me home that night, and we kissed a little at my front door... okay, I'm lying, we kissed a LOT, and I went inside. Perfect gentleman. A great night. We went out the next night too, just dinner, just the two of us.
Our dinner was pretty shocking to me. We went to Morton's. Until this moment, I didn't know such an expensive dinner in Houston existed. I was nervous and surprised to read a menu where entrees were more than $60 a plate and lets not even talk about the wine list... it didn't faze VC. One of the most endearing things about him is his easygoing demeanor. He is as enthusiastic about a .99 cent taco from Taco Bell as he is about a $99 Osso Bucco at Morton's. He's genuine. He doesn't put on airs. He's a real manly man, and genuine and honest with each and every person he meets. That night I observed how comfortable he was in in this elegant and overpriced restaurant, and how he still acted like a cowboy, albeit a refined one.
And I'm not going to lie- I was loving the pampering! I couldn't believe we spent $600 on dinner that night, what a life!
I knew the following week would be his last in the US, and I was disappointed. I was not 'in love' at this point in time, I don't think, but totally smitten. Flowers to work? Expensive dinners? Drinks and Dancing? This was fun! I knew it all had to come to an end, and I was okay with that. Disappointed, but okay. He had to go back and run his family ranch (whatever that meant) and we would say goodbye the next weekend...
Not so fast! It doesn't end there (obviously)!!
The next week he called several times, and once he asked me to choose 'A' or 'B'. Huh? What does 'A' represent, and what is 'B'? "Leap of faith, just choose one"... I chose A. "Ok, can you get Friday and Monday off of work?"
At this point in time, anything was possible at work. The whole store, including my wonderful general manager, was caught up in my fairytale with the cattle rancher from Venezuela. I knew he'd grant me the 2 days off, no problem... "sure, I know I can"
"Great... oh, and do you have a passport?"
Uh... wait a minute buddy... "Where are you taking me? Do I need to tell my folks?"
"Nah, we won't be gone long... just a quick little trip"...
That Thursday, he flew me (remember the pilot friend?) to Jamaica. We spent 4 days in Ocho Rios... it was all a complete surprise to me. Me, the little Midwestern girl, was laying on a private beach in Jamaica with her Venezuelan boyfriend and no one in the whole world knew it...
Four days of bliss. It was amazing. I had never seen water so blue until that trip. Didn't know it existed... Paradise. Fun...
Some time during our 4 day vacation, I asked, "I keep avoiding this subject, but have to ask: aren't you supposed to be going home to Venezuela this week?"
"oh yeh, but I decided to extend my trip for another 2 weeks for you... I don't want to leave yet"
YES! He wasn't going home yet! 2 more weeks of this exciting lifestyle sounded perfect to me... I was falling in love and knew it, despite my attempts at controlling my emotions, who, in their right mind, could keep from falling in love with this amazing fairytale? Certainly not me...
While we loaded our luggage into the plane to fly home from Ocho Rios, we laughed and joked and he off-handedly said, "te quiero mucho" (i love you)... we both stopped dead in our tracks, just like in the movies. I think he said it without thinking and shocked himself! "I love you too-"
That was it. Done deal. Signed, sealed, and delivered. I was hooked.
So was he- or so I thought...
That was June 1998. He was supposed to return to Venezuela that week to take over the family business. The whole reason the family had sent him to TCU was to get the presitigous degree in Ranch Management from TCU to come back and apply his learning to the family business and help them continue to grow and prosper. As you can imagine, as he continued to delay his return to Venezuela, his parents grew more and more angry...
How long did he stay in the US, you ask? Our little 2 week romance turned into... 4 months! In September, his mother finally said, "OK, we want to know who She is. There must be some woman involved in why you're not coming home. I don't care what excuse you give us, you are COMING HOME NOW!" So in early October of 1998, we said our tearful goodbyes at the airport as he boarded the plane for Caracas...
At this moment in time, I thought I was going to die. He was also heartbroken, but many years later he told me that he had just assumed that his heartbreak would vanish as soon as he reached home, as there are beautiful girls to distract him everywhere (its true, Venezuela is known for their amazingly beautiful women)... Anyhow, his heartbreak didn't vanish. It grew.
Despite our daily phone calls (and phone bills of more than $2000/mo) we couldn't live without one another. He left in October and by November 1, he had sent a first class ticket to me to come to Venezuela 'as soon as possible'. I took 2 weeks off of work and jumped on a plane...
He picked me up in Caracas and we took a 3 day car trip through the country as we made our way to his hometown of Merida, nestled deep into the Andes Mountains. Along the way we went to the beaches of Tucacas where I saw beaches more amazing than Jamaica and water as clear as crystal. We visited his grandmother's vacation chateau in the mountains... we explored the amazing countryside of Venezuela.
Of course I was in culture shock. Aside from my 4 days in Jamaica at a 5 star resort, I had never been out of the country! Now, in a 3rd world country, trusting only this foreign man who had stolen my heart, I was completely at his mercy! Somehow, even knowing that, I was completely at ease. I knew that no matter what happened, he would take care of me.
Driving through the Andes, listening to U2's With or Without You, VC started talking about how many children we were going to have... and I said, "we'd have to be married before you start talking about children with me!" and he said, "Well, how 'bout it then?" and I said, "is that a proposal?" and he said, "well, I guess it is!"...
So thats how it happened. We were engaged in November 1998, only 5 months after having 'met' at Ethan Allen. The following year, I planned a wedding in my hometown, while he worked in Venezuela and planned our life after the wedding. Its funny, aside from the trips back and forth to visit one another during that year, our relationship flourished by phone only. Proof that long-distance relationships can, indeed, work...
On August 1, 1999 I married my Venezuelan Cowboy and spent my honeymoon on a month long European Tour! A dream come true-
My dreams of a fast-paced fashion career in New York City came to a screeching halt the day I spotted the handsome cowboy out shopping with his mother in Ethan Allen 10 years ago- the day that changed my life forever!