My parents met at my aunt’s wedding, that is, my dad’s little sister. Somehow because of family friends in common, my mom ended up being a bridesmaid because in the very late 1970s, there were still not so many Cuban families in South Florida and they all seemed to know each other, having fled in the 1960s on airplanes as opposed to the rafts now seen on tv, just before the Mariel boatlifts that brought a mass exodus of Cubans to the United States. My mom came to the United States from Cuba when she was little, four or five, with my grandparents and they settled in the middle of the country, Indiana, where they experienced their first winter in a non-tropical climate. My grandpa’s first job in this country was chopping logs in the snow. They grew used to the weather and made a home, falling in love with this new country they found themselves in. My dad was also born in Cuba but left as a young man, escaping through Mexico and then making his way into the US. Somehow both of their families found themselves in Florida almost twenty years later and sharing similar histories. The world is small.
The wedding was at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. My dad, having been out of town for a while, was not a groomsman but he sat near the front of the hall during the ceremony. He told me that he noticed my mom when she stood at the altar during the ceremony but thought she was too young, 21 or so at the time (he was 30 or so). His eye kept drifting to her throughout the night as she danced with other men and laughed with her friends. The younger members of the reception drifted out towards the pool, including the bride and groom, and they drank more champagne on a balmy May night.
My mom told me she caught my dad looking at her and winked just before she jumped into the pool still in her bridesmaid dress. Some of the wedding party followed while the rest of them laughed and watched from the edge of the pool. My dad reached a hand out to help my mom out of the pool and lifted her out. He gave her his tuxedo jacket and they talked quietly as they went back inside. My abuela caught sight of my mom’s soaking wet dress and smeared makeup and fumed. My parents talked quietly at the edge of the dance floor, laughing at the puddle she was making with her wet dress. With her veil tipsily askew on her strawberry blond curls, my aunt tossed the bouquet and it landed in my mom’s hands without effort. They laughed about it awkwardly and too loudly, the way you do when you first meet someone. She left with flowers beginning to wilt, he left with her phone number.
They dated and got married a year and a half later. She now remembers that she was nursing a broken heart from her first love around that time and he recalls being charmed but unsure about commitment. They almost divorced a few years later, had their one child, me, and finally did divorce twenty years after meeting. They were still family and even friends after their divorce; my dad was one of the people there when my mom took her last breath. Both my mom and dad told me my entire life, especially after they got divorced, to never settle for anyone less than who you are madly, passionately in love with, to live my life and go to college and know who I am and do the things I want to do and be independent but to never settle for anything other than the person who would kiss even your spleen if they had the chance. They never really loved each other like that but damn did they meet cute.