She didn’t speak a word of English. He didn’t speak a word of Spanish. She was a maid in the home of a U.S. government official living in Panama. She earned $20.00 a week and considered herself fortunate. He was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army. They fell passionately in love.
I was nine-years-old and visiting my dad for the summer. In school, history was my favorite subject so, naturally, his palatial one-story home—with its terracotta floors and painted columns—was transformed into a Mayan temple. One evening before dinner, I was pretending to be an archaeologist wandering through a tropical rain forest in search of ancient treasures. Parting the large glossy leaves of a potted plant, I spotted an archway leading into a large cave from which soft, mysterious whispers emerged. I edged closer and took a cautious look inside.
I recognized the maid’s black hair and green uniform, all I could see of her because a tall strong man in a brown uniform was pressing her against him. I realized they were kissing and was thrilled. I had found the temple’s secret heart! I had come upon a Mayan priestess in love with an adventurer from another world! I knew terrible things would happen to them if they were discovered and, sure enough, at that moment I heard my dad and stepmother approaching.
I ran up the corridor and blocked their progress. “Don’t go in there!” I whispered urgently.
“Why, exactly,” my dad asked patiently, “can’t I go into my own kitchen?”
“Um… because… um… Maria’s busy!”
“Busy cooking dinner, I hope.”
“Um… not exactly.”
My stepmother smiled, “Oh, Brian must be here. Maria mentioned he was coming to see her one last time before he left.”
I was relieved, and yet also disappointed. “You know about him?”
“Know about him?” My dad laughed. “If it wasn’t for us, they wouldn’t have been able to communicate with each other at all.”
“Um… they looked like they were communicating just fine,” I observed.
“Come here.” My dad draped an arm over my shoulders and we all walked back to the living room, where he told me their story:
“One afternoon when I got home from work, Maria ran up to me and waved a letter in my face. She told me it was from a young serviceman she had met at a Base dance, and that she couldn’t understand a word, so I translated it for her. Basically what it said was I’m coming back to marry you.
“On the morning of the day her suitor was supposed to arrive, the phone rang at two o’clock in the morning. Maria must have been waiting by the phone all night because by the time I answered it she had already picked up. I heard a man’s voice say I love you. Then I heard her say the only four words of English she knew, I love you too, at which point I hung up.
“In the morning, she looked distressed. Apparently, Brian had explained where to meet him, but she hadn’t understood a word he said! I asked her what Base they had met at, and drove her there. I knew he would have to be waiting for her at the entrance, because civilians aren’t allowed inside. As we pulled up she cried, There he is! and I dropped her off.
“The next day, Brian came to see me. He asked me to explain to Maria that she needed to produce her birth certificate so they could get married. Oh, no, I can’t! she told me in Spanish. If he sees it, he’ll realize I’m five years older than he is! I explained to her that if she failed to produce her birth certificate, she didn’t have any chance with him at all. They were married the next day. He’s leaving for the States tomorrow, and she’ll join him in two months.”
That was a very long time ago. The last time my father heard from Maria, she and her husband were living happily in Atlanta, Georgia with their two children. When an American serviceman stationed abroad falls for a native girl, the question always crops up, like a snake in paradise, is she mainly in love with the idea of living in the United States? This time it really was true love, and it’s a true story.
As to whether or not Maria and Brian lived “happily ever after”, I really can’t say, because even when there’s love (and all love is true love) life is complex, personalities, situations, etc. Life has taught me (the hard way) that sometimes love is not enough because as important as love is the soul’s need to grow and freely express itself. In my experience, the key to a positive, long-lasting marriage is whether or not the people involved grow together and keep up with, respect, and nurture each other’s deepest selves. A good marriage is, above all things, IMO, the most profound friendship possible on this earth.