I'm proud to say I've been married three times. I'm glad to report, all three times were to the same man.
I never set out to marry him over and over again. In fact, I wasn't one of those little girls who dreamed of my wedding. Instead, I dreamed of my Nobel Peace Prize speech, but that's another story.
I met my beloved husband while attending a Native American Peace Elders gathering in Puerto Rico in spring 1995. A few years earlier, I'd embarked on a journey to learn about my indigenous culture, and reconnect with my ancestral roots, so when I read about a Native American gathering in Puerto Rico, I had to go.
Armed with my Gucci bags, Armani shoes and Ralph Lauren ensembles, I set off from L.A. to go explore the tropical jungle and mountains of my motherland. I had been to Puerto Rico many times as a child, but now returned with a different mission. This was my spiritual quest.
An old Volkswagen bus, barely legal, took me to Otocovis, a small mountain town. I sat between Ted Williams, a Tuscarora Native American elder, and his handsome sidekick, Carmelo Ramos. The verbal banter began.
Ted was clever and witty, a man who always said the right thing at the right time. Perhaps that is where Carmelo got his quickness. Our conversation had its bumpy moments, much like the drive along the narrow winding roads of my enchanted island. Carmelo called me a "separatist," as I was a card-carrying National Organization for Women member who only practiced spiritual work with women.
I called him a "purest," for he was a total vegan and a food snob. Yet, as the weeklong gathering unfolded, so did my heart. I began to look forward to sitting next to Carmelo at the nightly drumming circles. I found myself saving a space for him at meals and even bringing him tea. If any of my feminist sisters had seen me, I might have been burned at the stake.
But real love has a way of melting away all the labels we use to define ourselves, and tearing open the boxes we put ourselves in. That week, I found more than just my spirit. I found my heart. On the very last night of the gathering, when I asked Carmelo to walk me back to my tent, he replied, "Why, don't you know your way back by now?" (He later told me my spandex and high fashion had made him skeptical).
When I asked him if he wanted to kiss me under the beautiful starlit night sky he said, "No, isn't it you who wants to kiss me?" Our kiss felt like an explosion of stars brightening the night sky. His comment was that morning had just arrived.
And so our romantic adventure began. We had a telephone relationship, talking for hours, getting to know each other. Around the holidays, I sent him a gift. As I was eating dinner with my dear friend, Marie , I ranted about his neglecting to thank me. In her thick French accent, she said, "He will call darling, when he hears the music in his heart." She was right. He called the very next day.
"You're going to marry me," I blurted out. He asked why I thought so. "Because you are my destiny; there is no one else for you in this lifetime but me," I declared confidently.
Several months later, Carmelo came to L.A. to visit. When he told me he lived in Rochester, I thought he said Westchester. He invited me to attend another Native gathering. There, as I was kneeling before the altar to put away the animal skins, I found a ring. Thinking someone had forgotten it, I called out to Carmelo in a panic. "It's yours," he said. "No, it's not," I replied. "Yes, it is. Will you marry me?" "Now wait a minute; then why am I the one on my knees?" I said yes, once I stood up to kiss him.
Three months later, we met in the Amazon jungle to study with the Chapiba Indians and there our first wedding took place. The chief of the village insisted upon marrying us. The women made me a wedding dress and beaded headdress. The headdress covered my eyes to remind me that we go into marriage blinded by love. Carmelo was given a ceremonial leaders robe to signify he was now the head of our family. I was walked through the jungle to the community hut where all the villagers has gathered with their musical instruments and where our spirits were woven together; two separate melodies played on one flute.
We danced past midnight, never sitting, as is the custom and begged our American friends to leave so we could as well. But much to our surprise, the musicians followed us to our hut and played all night until the first rays of sunlight penetrated the thick forest canopy.
Our next wedding, held in an organic L.A. coffee shop, featured an all female rock and roll band, and 20 belly dancers and drummers. A high priestess and an atheist officiated.
Our third wedding, in Rochester, had more of the traditional elements: minister, caterer, fancy cake. So I always say to "husband," as I call Carmelo, "There is no divorce, only 'til death do us part for three more lifetimes." Now almost 17 years later, we have danced together down the winding road of marriage to our own separate melodies, played together; we have been blessed with an amazing daughter, and know we would marry each other again for three more lifetimes.
Annette Ramos is education services manager for Young Audiences of Rochester, director of Wolftrap, artistic director of Rochester Latino Theatre Company, a storyteller, teaching artist, playwright, actor and community activist.