Carlos grew up in a well-to-do family in Mexico, living part of the time there and part of the time in the United States. I met him when I volunteered to help with a fashion show to raise money for HIV education for women of color. He was a nice guy who was able to hold his own with me in the quick wit department.
Still, we had grown up in different worlds, which was most succinctly demonstrated in this conversation:
““Do you remember the first time as a child when you felt grown up enough to talk back to you maid, gardener, or chauffeur?”
““Yes,” I said. “They were all my mother and she spanked me so hard it turned me off of S&M for life.”
As February 14th approached, I mentioned I had actually never been dating anyone on Valentine’s Day before. “Let’s not make a big deal out of it,” I said. “It’s okay to give a card and a bit of chocolate, but, seriously, let’s not go overboard.”
On Valentine’s Day night, after I had shown up at his apartment with my token Valentine’s Day card and chocolate, Carlos announced he was taking me to dinner at my favorite restaurant. I was intrigued. I was neither aware I had a favorite restaurant, nor did I recall mentioning one to him. He blindfolded me and led me down the stairs to his Miata.
All through the drive, I kept going over all the conversations we’d had over the previous weeks. I couldn’t remember even casually mentioning a restaurant I wanted to try, let alone a favorite. I feared he was taking me some place expensive and I was going to feel guilty.
After the car stopped and I heard him switch off the ignition, he asked if I was ready. I assured him I was. By the point, I was dying of curiosity to know what my favorite restaurant was. He removed my blindfold and I saw that we were outside the Wendy’s on Lemon Avenue. I turned toward him and Carlos was beaming with pride. “I noticed every evening you came to rehearsals, you had a cup from Wendy’s, so I figured it was your favorite restaurant.
I burst out laughing. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I went to Wendy’s because it was quick and on the way to where we rehearsed.
Carlos eyed me, suddenly second guessing himself. “Are you okay?”
““We’re wasting time sitting in the car, talking,” I said. “Let’s get inside and order.” I probably put it on too thick, but the last thing I was going to do was embarrass him.
Once inside I made another startling discovery. Carlos looked around and asked me how we ordered. “Haven’t you ever eaten at Wendy’s before?” I asked.
““I’ve never eaten fast food before.”
Another nervous laugh escaped me. I wasn’t sure I wanted the responsibility of introducing someone to fast food. It was like being forever remembered by someone as the guy-who-turned-me-on-to-crack-cocaine. I regained my composure and pointed out the menu and explained the concept of the combo meal. After some trial and error, we ordered. Carlos was amazed that it cost so little, and he insisted upon carrying my tray to the table. In turn, I showed him where the little white paper cups were and gave him the knowledge of how to operate the ketchup pump.
Being Valentine’s Day night, Carlos and I had the whole place to ourselves. We sat across from each other, nibbling on burgers and fries, together. “This is tasty,” he said. “I can see why you love Wendy’s.” It gave him such joy to make my Valentine’s Day special, which made it special for me. Even though our relationship only lasted a few more weeks, Carlos gave me a special Valentine’s Day memory that has stayed with me ever since.
Wherever you are now, Carlos, I hope you’re well … and still trying new restaurants.
What is your most unusual Valentine’s Day surprise?