When I first met Marco, truthfully, I wasn’t swoony, but I was…compelled to stare. He was (and is) handsome, maybe even obnoxiously handsome. I’m not usually attracted to distractingly handsome men, so that was sort of a red flag. He was reading what appeared to be a textbook, if the dim lighting and basic book design offered any clues. However, he also sort of looked like he’d gotten dressed in adult-sized children’s clothes in the dark, so I was…. a little weirded out.
I was at a British-meets-Belgian bar in Pasadena on a weeknight waiting for my friend to get off work at her museum job at the Norton Simon to finally show up. If I went outside and threw a rock I’d probably hit some part of Caltech… and suddenly several things made sense.
Handsome Mediterranean-looking man dressed like giant child in bright colors and oddly fitting jacket was probably affiliated with CalTech in some way which, if ‘only-while-flying’ viewings of the Big Bang Theory had taught me anything meant that he was likely brilliant, in his own happy textbook-or-science-book world, and probably wasn’t going to make eye contact or look my way, so if I wanted to stare I could keep doing that and if I wanted something else to happen I was going to have to make it happen and… Where the hell was Olivia?
Olivia’s fiance worked at CalTech. Handsome man dressed like child was probably a buddy. I was being set up.
My suspicions were confirmed when at like, stare #6, he whips out an index card with I THINK THIS IS A SET UP? printed out in block lettering, and… we end up talking for hours. To play along with our respective friends (me: Olivia, him, as it turns out, Olivia’s fiancé, Owen), we kept texting them all night asking when they were finally showing up. No one answered. We didn’t care. I learned several things:
Marco had, in fact, gotten dressed in the dark.
Marco liked bright colors. He knew probably at some point in his professional life this was going to be difficult, but a nuclear physics postdoc could wear whatever he wanted, and what he wanted was to wear the same outfit he wore when he was 7.
Marco was Italian. Kind of. His dad was from Rome, his mom was from Massachusetts. He had very little to no idea how “handsome Italian man” stock image he was.
So we talked. He was a little awkward. I was a little awkward because at that point in my life I didn’t talk to scientists very often. It got less awkward, lots of laughter, and then – suddenly something seemed wrong. He said he was sorry, but needed to go to bed. It wasn’t even 11, so I assumed something had gone awry. He asked me if my drive was far (it wasn’t, but it wasn’t close), and after telling him where it is he asked if I would drive him home, 8 blocks away. A little surprised, I did. I parked and then he asked if it would be all right to get me an Uber so he could drive my car back to me in the morning?
No one has ever asked me anything like that before and normally I would be REALLY weirded out but somehow I took a (in retrospect, a rather crazy) chance and…
He showed up. With pastries. That he had baked, by himself, from his grandmother’s recipe.
I did not want him to leave. When he did, I went with him. When I did, he came too. And so it has gone now, for several years.
Now we’re in the same place, and Marco working as a researcher for the department of energy. I’m designing books, and we don’t seem to notice our acute differences anymore: we just accept them. He accepts that I keep hours like a vampire and don’t like the morning, I accept that he would be totally happy to be sleeping in bed at 9:45pm and wake up early to bake, run, and potentially go sailing. We find the in between. I don’t want to re-make him.
There is something about Marco that is simultaneously swashbuckling, brave, and childlike. He’s a kind of fairytale handsome and yet, he wears clothes like an 8 year old with unmatched socks.
He’s his own hero, and also mine. I gave him the POET COAT OF ARMS necklace because I thought it might suit him. It did.