If you haven’t read My Immigrant Story, then I suggest you click on that link to get a rundown of what happened prior to this.
It was August of 2011. My mom and middle sister Tin, had just left after a weeklong visit. My sister had just given birth to her first son, my first nephew a little less than two months prior and she had shown me photos of him and they both told me stories of home. I hadn’t been home since I left in 2008 and their visit had changed something in me. A deep seated fear began to settle at the pit of my stomach. The realization that I would not be able to go home to Manila again, not without suffering a US ban from having overstayed my visa. If I did decide to go home, it would be for good, with no intentions of setting foot on US soil again. I wasn’t ready for that. I didn’t think I would ever be ready for that. In the 3 years since my arrival in New York, I had settled in enough to built roots here. Sure, I couldn’t sign a lease, open a bank account or never get a non-cash paying job but this was home to me now. I was on my own, paying my own way, stumbling and surviving the Big Apple. I cried a lot a week after they left. I already knew before this that the only way I would ever gain legal status in the US would be through marriage. I had not dated since my ex-husband left me three years ago. I didn’t feel like dating and I never go out enough just to meet people. I was in a comfortable bubble of my own making and my family’s visit was forcing me to get out of it. What would I do if, God forbid, anything were to happen to my mother? To anyone in my immediate family? Would I be ready to drop everything in NYC and fly home? This question was eating at me. A few days of this, and knowing how introverted I am, I reached for my laptop and signed up for Match.com.
So I wrote my profile and made it as elaborate as I could explaining my previous marriage. Anybody who knows me knows I am straightforward and I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time, specially mine. This was way before Tinder ruined online dating for everyone, when people would pay for Match and E-Harmony accounts to seriously look for love. This, I believed, was my only hope to meet someone. I had “met” a few people within a few days of signing up, some I’ve had lengthy conversations with that never led to a meet-up. One had asked me out and we met up in Greenwich Village. He was much older and had two kids from a previous marriage. Sparks did NOT fly and all I wanted to do was go home. I hadn’t been on the site long and I was already getting bored with the small talks and lame intros. A few chats, then they disappear and on to the next. Then I get a short message from a guy saying something about my beautiful smile. I roll my eyes HARD. How LAME. But I’m on a mission here so I lightly play along and respond. This one was eager to talk. He asks me questions that further annoy me because they were information I had already written on my profile. DID HE NOT READ IT?! UGH. We exchanged a few messages and soon he invites me to dinner. I say sure. I pick a weekday so I had an excuse to end the night early because of work if the date sucked. He tells me where to meet him and I agree on a time. I had been on Match for less than a month and was still on the free month trial period. I had no idea I was about to meet my future husband.
We met on a Thursday. I was working as a nanny at the time and I had brought my date clothes to change into after work. I wasn’t going to try too hard. My expectations were low. I commuted to the city from Brooklyn and headed to the now shuttered Great Jones Cafe in NoHo. I was walking to the restaurant when I saw him walking towards me from the opposite direction. We both stopped in front of the restaurant at the same time. He cocked his head to one side and with a massive smile on his face gave me a very cheerful, “HIIII!!!” What the fuck?, I think to myself. He sure is cheery. Who cocks his head like that? Weird. We went inside and sat at our table. I don’t say much and reach for the menu. I don’t remember the conversation at all. I just remember him grinning the whole damn time. He carried the conversation mostly and I kept my answers short and concise. The man wasn’t getting that I wasn’t feeling it. Our food soon came and we began to eat. He continues talking then suddenly goes, “Hey can I try that?” and before I realized what he was asking, he takes his fork and reaches out and starts stabbing at my plate. That was strike one. I do not know this man and he is eating off my plate. Oh HELL NO.
I must have kept my expression neutral this whole time because the man was oblivious. After dinner, he enthusiastically asks if I wanted to go the bar around the corner for a drink. I don’t know why I said yes, maybe I needed a drink. But off we went. It was a bar called Von on Bleecker st. The bar was in the basement and there were a few people in tables and at the bar. I remember thinking that it was brightly lit for a bar. He orders a vodka tonic and I get a whiskey on the rocks. We weren’t even at the bar for 5 minutes when he says, “Let’s Dance!” Okay, so yes they were playing music. Yes, there was an open area in the middle of the space which must be the dance floor. But NO ONE WAS DANCING. I look around at the dancer-less dance floor and say, “No thanks. You can go ahead.” And you know what? He did. He walked to the middle of that floor and started dancing. I don’t mean two step bounce kind of dancing but DANCING. Strike two. I was baffled. Who the fuck was this guy? He didn’t care is no one was dancing. Music was playing and and he wanted to dance so he did. And I shit you not, not long after that, people started to join him. The floor got full enough that when he asked me to come over, I felt comfortable enough to go. We danced for a bit but I don’t do well talking in a loud bar while dancing. After a while, I used my weekday excuse and said I needed to go home because I had an early day at work. We walked out the bar and turned the corner. He asked if I was taking the subway and said I was going to hail a cab. Then he said, “Alright, goodnight, BYE!” Then crossed the street and LEFT. He didn’t even wait until I hailed a cab, he just went. We’ve hit strike three. I stood there, watched him walk away and told myself I’m never seeing him again.
Two weeks passed after that ridiculous date. Then he texts me. I remember looking at my phone confused as to why he was still messaging me. Why I responded, I cannot tell you. I don’t even know why. Maybe it was for my amusement, who knows anymore. He messages me everyday for a few days before he asked me out again. Now I was really confused. What is he playing at? I was at home, sitting at the dinner table with my roommate Mica, who knew all about him at this point. She knew I wasn’t interested but says, “Just go. Get a meal out of it.” I accepted for reasons I can’t even explain. We met up at the East Village, not far from where we live now. It was raining and I was hungry and he suggested we grab Takoyaki from this small Japanese stall on 9th st. He suggested we head to a bar on 5th called The Scratcher, a dimly lit dive bar he frequents often. He knew the bartender and we sat at the bar and had a few drinks. Might have been more than a few drinks because when he said, “Want to come over to my apartment to smoke (weed)?” I must’ve said yes because we started walking towards his apartment after that. By this point I was starting to notice his vibe was different. A LOT different than our first date. He was still the same smiley, enthusiastic person I met but I was no longer averse to him for some reason. I was actually having fun. We head up to his place and smoke a bowl then he again suggests we go to this other bar on Ave A. We walk over and saw there was a pool table at the back. We decided to play. I don’t play pool. I don’t think he does either. I don’t know how, but we did it for fun. Me met two other guys at the bar who played with us. We drank some more and had a lot of laughs. Then Mr. Suggestions had another one for us, he said we should all walk to UCB East and watch some Improv and he would buy us all tickets. I don’t even know what time it was. But we all seem to have agreed because we walked down there and saw a show. It was not funny. After that, the drinks and the weed had gotten to me and I was mad tired. He asked if I wanted to sleep over. I am out of reasons to tell you at this point but I said sure, apparently. We didn’t sleep together that night, if you’re wondering. He slept on the couch and he let me have his bed. We woke up the the next day and had brunch together before I went back home. I didn’t know what was happening but felt like something was starting.
For a solid year after that 2nd date, we saw each other probably 350 out of the 365 days of the year. If he wasn’t sleeping over my place, then I was sleeping over his. All the hours outside of going to work was spent together. I had never been with anybody like him before. He had an enthusiasm and energy that I had never experienced from previous relationships. He had been seeing other people while dating me but soon stopped seeing them less than a month after that second date. He had met a girl who lived somewhere in Arizona or New Mexico (one of those) and had bought a ticket to come see him and stay with him in NYC in a couple weeks. He called her to say he couldn’t do it anymore because he had met someone. The girl was FUCKING pissed because her flights had already been booked. I felt bad, but at the same time didn’t. I’m not going to lie because while all of this was happening, I still didn’t know how I felt about him. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue it. But it was very evident how much he felt about ME. The man feels his feelings and shows it. I was so not used to it. He was soft and I was hard. I had always been anti-PDA but that never stopped him from showing his affections. To this day, we are disgusting in public. He softened me up big time, my friends all like to tell him this. That he was the only one who gave this rock a heart. And it’s true. I don’t even know when I fell in love with him. It happened over time. We met in August and come December he was sitting in a van filled with my family members on a 22-hour drive down to Mississippi to spend Christmas at my aunt’s house. Slowing down was never part of his game.
I soon told him of my undocumented status and mentioned what I needed to gain legal standing in the US. I didn’t want to waste both our time if that wasn’t an option for him. He didn’t run. About one year after we started talking on Match.com, we were on the Staten Island Ferry with his mother telling her we had decided to get married the month after that. There was no engagement. It was a conversation. His mother knew why we were getting married so soon. I owed it to her to be honest. I promised Vien we could end it at any point he felt uncomfortable and that I was very grateful for his help. We became husband and wife on September 30, 2012. About 13 months after we had met. I remember jokingly asking him after I received my green card, if he wanted a divorce now that I was finally legal. He said I was stuck with him forever.
Our story is not romantic. It’s a story filled with chances given and risks taken. It’s a story I love telling. I wouldn’t change it any other way.