By Ernie McCray
I recently wrote about a few wonderful things in my life for which I’m grateful, and I’m still in a thankful frame of mind, thinking, particularly, of Maria Ester Nieto Senour, that super-fine sweetheart of mine. I’m so thankful for having someone to age with me as my everyday valentine.
I don’t know where in the arc, of the amazing occurrences in the cosmos, Maria and I began heading in each other’s direction. But I’m glad it happened.
I do know, though, that there was a time, beginning in July of 2009, that I was as low as a man could be. The love of my life was gone and I was singing the “Woe is me” blues. For a while, when I walked, pretty much all I saw was my shoes.
It was all like a hazy blur, those days. I see a flurry of images of myself in my mind, trying to keep on down the line: creating rhymes and dramatizing with kids; acting stories on stage, here and there; tending to my breathing and performing yoga stretches to ease the tension of my sorrow as I faced each tomorrow; learning how to cook some recipes; laughing every chance I got to break the funk I was in; waving at thousands of Arizona basketball fans, with my image giant-sized on a teletron, as they cheered and clapped their hands; feeling proud of my son’s masters degree; writing stories for a magazine and a couple of blogs; complaining about the treatment of hogs; basking in the love of my children all along, so pleased with how they came through for me and for themselves in our numbing daze…
I was carrying on the best I knew how in a year of relentless emotional suffering and at the end of that year, as the pain slowly eased, I was in a relationship with an attractive fun loving woman who got me really going again. I introduced her to my theater crowd. We got into the music scene. We conversed about books and politics and all kinds of worldly things. I met new friends. But after a while it all drifted in the wind, a chapter’s end, and my life moved on, carrying with it fresh and cherished memories.
I was, at the time, at a new level of grieving, I’ve come to believe, a level, thank goodness, sans the heaviness of the first two years by large degrees. I was at a stage where I needed to be alone and I, to my surprise, found joy in that. But I needed someone to love because I get more of an inner glow, a soothing of my soul, way more so out of loving than being loved. I love the very act of loving.
But where on this earth was she? And how was I going to find her, considering that I wasn’t beating the bushes seeking anyone?
Nevertheless, after a while, I hung out, for a while, with a lovely woman, a remarkable woman, a few too many years younger than me, who is now a friend, and somewhere in there, out of thin air, so to speak, Maria walked in.
It started with me saying “Looking good, y’all,” in reference to a picture of her and her brother on Facebook. She, in return, got back to me with “Could we meet for coffee or tea?” wanting to see how I had coped with losing someone I dearly loved, a soul-mate, something she, too, had experienced a year ago.
I was so up for that in that Maria is a hero of mine. We had met many years ago but hadn’t seen one another in a very long time. We got together at Clair de Lune and had a real nice time, talking about our situations, and a little bit about what was going on in the nation and the world at large. And I found out I was a hero of hers, too. That made me feel nice through and through, not to mention she was looking as lovely as roses in bloom in that spacious room.
The hero element was based on our admiring each other’s humanistic approach to our work as educators over the years, our dedication to social justice and helping students understand themselves and others and the need for them to work towards a society that appreciates its diversity. We both have spoken loudly and clearly for education that is relevant to all learners’ lives.
That sitting down together was like, in retrospect, “get on your mark, get set, go!” in our relationship, as our paths, in days ahead, started merging somewhat quickly. She came to see me do a poem in support of “Save Ethnic Studies” in Arizona … We ran into each other at a party that overflowed with activists of all kinds of stripes and types … She was in the audience again, as this time I did poetry for Occupy …
I was beginning to look forward to seeing this woman whenever I could. She met my kids and later I met hers and all that turned out good.
One night after a nice walk at La Jolla Shores she said “It would be cool to be Ernie McCray’s girlfriend.” That put my heart in a spin.
I tucked those words away in a place that made my feelings for her grow fonder by the day and we started getting around town, soaking in the Latin Jazz scene in Barrio Logan; the San Diego Symphony’s tribute to Ray Charles; plays; movies; art shows where her work was on display; events honoring her contributions to our world; gatherings where she was greeted by hordes of smiling folks, her students, who peppered her with kisses and hugs. I remember thinking that she’s got to be some kind of special to engender that much love. Look at what I had gotten myself into.
I was hooked and one night I said to her “I love you” and she was lost for words. Later she said she needed to clarify a few things (there was another man in the picture) and I said “I ain’t going nowhere. Clarify away.”
And I stayed put and she never pushed me away, but let me into her heart more and more each day as we kept doing things together, helping candidates who shared our progressive ideas, promoting issues that advanced our notions of a better world, speaking at a forum about justice and equality…
I introduced her to some of my dearest friends at a wedding in Santa Barbara and that went over real well, just like it has been with me and her friends.
From Santa Barbara we went to Morro Bay and on the way back to San Diego we spent a couple of days in Malibu. Since then we’ve been to Alaska and to her beautiful home in Zihuatanejo, Tucson, Seattle, Hawaii – and with the notion that traveling can “make or break” a couple it has fit snugly in what we’ve got going, like everything else. We’re comfortable with each other.
Life. Who ever knows what’s going to happen, huh? I went from thinking, at one point, that there was no more romance for me in the Milky Way but, hey, here I am with a woman who charms my soul, who makes my day. I dig that we’ve got each other as we make our way in our 70s, so far making growing old a pleasantry. We’ll take what we can get, knowing, from years of living, that reality can change in a heartbeat.
But with two old hearts beating as one what do we have to lose? This love song ain’t about the blues.