The first time I heard his name, I knew something was going to happen between us.
I had been in my new home of Watsonville for about four hours and was enjoying my first chavella with my new house mate Bryan. A chavella is a Mexican drink made from beer, clam juice, wine and tomato juice garnished with shrimp. Yes, they are amazing and one of my favorite first memories of home.
He looks down at his phone and laughs. “It’s already started,” he says.
“What’s stared?” I ask.
“The questions. My friend Sante just sent me a text: ‘Quit holding out on us. Is she cute?’ ”
I laugh. Not that this guy wondered that. I get it. I’m new and that’s interesting. What I’m laughing at is that I just took the “red-eye” Greyhound bus up from L.A. I’m feeling pretty gritty. I need a few more showers and nights of sleep before I could pass as cute, as far as I’m concerned. But still, Bryan snaps a photo and sends it to his friend.
Since this was in my man-eating phase, I’m pretty sure that the something that would happen between us would be that we’d go on a few dates, I’d keep my walls up while he fell for me and then I would stomp all over his heart. It was pretty much my M.O. at the time, and though I’m not proud of it, I broke quite a few guys’ hearts.
I met Sante a few days later when Bryan invited me to lunch with a few of his coworkers. They were going to Phil’s in Moss Landing, which is this fish joint that’s basically an overpriced tourist trap, but everybody’s been there. And Bryan figured I should probably check it off my list.
We arrived and ordered at the counter. I got fish and chips. Some of the other guys order lobster and appetizers. I sit down and am formally introduced to Sante for the first time. He’s sitting across the table from me. Not directly across from me, thank goodness.
I’m having a hard time looking at him, which is weird for me, because I have what some people call a staring problem. And generally when I find someone attractive (which I definitely felt with him), I have a habit of boring a hole into them, kind of fixating on them.
It’s kind of creepy actually. And it’s not just men but women and animals too. If I think you’re attractive, I just enjoy looking at you. I catch myself and have to remind myself that when I’m on the opposite end of this exchange, I get very annoyed.
At any rate, I’m having a hard time looking at this terribly attractive man, so I distract myself with the conversation at hand, which, as it always does with these guys, is completely inappropriate and I’m laughing out loud on several occasions. After an hour of boisterous exchange, we all pile into cars and head back to Watsonville.
There’s something that happens to you when you move to a new place (at least for me) in that you kind of forget that you’re going to see people again. At first you just feel like you’re on perpetual vacation and that you’ll be getting on a plane any moment and won’t ever see someone again.
I felt that way about Sante after that day. Well, it was nice to meet him, but I guess things weren’t supposed to happen between us. Like that one exchange was the only chance I had to get his phone number and get to know him.
So imagine my surprise when a few weeks later we meet again at the dirt track races. It was dirty, loud, we’d smuggled some whiskey into the stands and things were promising to be loads of fun. There were about twelve of us, most everyone from Bryan’s workplace.
Sante came to the track on his motorcycle, which to me was a HUGE deal because aside from moving across the continent, I had one goal that summer: Get on a motorcycle.
Now this goal was looking like it wasn’t going to happen, mostly because I didn’t know anyone with a motorcycle in California. So when I saw Sante with the bike, my first thought was about meeting my goal, which if you know anything about me, is kind of a driving factor. I love goals.
Never mind the fact that he’s in this motorcycle jacket looking all sexy. Never mind that for whatever reason, I’m a bit tongue-tied around him. And never mind that I could barely look at him. All of that left my head with the sight of knocking that off my list.
“Ooooo could you take me on a ride?” I asked.
“Yeah, we could probably do that,” he replied.
I put his phone number into my phone and ask how to spell his name. And then I ask his last name. It’s a habit from having multiple people in my phone with the same name. It’s frustrating. Plus, I like to know people’s last names.
This exchange takes place in front of everyone and somebody gives me a hard time about asking about a last name.
“What? You think you’re going to meet another Sante?”
Looking back on this, I smile at those words. Another Sante? Impossible. This guy is one in a gazillion.
Before we go on the motorcycle ride, Sante and I meet at the beach with a few friends. We’re chatting and he says everything I’m about to say. I’m not kidding.
I’m about to bring up Curb Your Enthusiasm and he brings it up. Are you serious? It’s maddening! I’m desperately trying to not be one of those “Oh, me too” girls, but he’s making it next to impossible because we have so much in common.
He drives me home and lets me smoke in his car. For some reason this is a big deal for me. He doesn’t smoke. Smoking is not at all OK, but he’s just so nonjudgmental about it. This I like, of course.
I bring up the motorcycle ride again and he’s a little vague about it. I implore him, letting him know how important it is to me, especially because it is one of my goals. He smiles and says he won’t bail on me because it would be so mean.
“It’d be like saying to a puppy: ‘You wanna go for a ride?’ and then walking away.”
That’s right folks. One of us supposed to be a dog in this situation. I am. I am the dog.
But it’s hard to be offended when the analogy is just so good. It’s the writer in me.
It took a few more weeks, but we did finally go on that ride. And then we hung out after the races one night. We kissed that night, but I didn’t want to get involved with my housemate’s friend, which he didn’t quite understand.
“Who do you date then?” he asked me later, when I explained it more. And I had no answer. Or rather, I didn’t want to tell him my answer.
I had spent all my time dating guys that didn’t match me. And didn’t match my criteria for a man. A while before I met Sante, I wrote a list of all the characteristics I’d like my man to have.
At that point, I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend, but after swarms of alcoholic, drug addict and suspected murderer types, it seemed like a good idea to have something to strive for as opposed to settle for. Gotta have goals, right? Plus I met a really great guy while in the middle of my heart-breaking and a little light went on. Even though he wasn’t the right one, he had the recipe. Smart. Driven. He made me want to be better, and I liked that.
Sante matched my recipe. Smart. Ambitious. Funny. Good looking. Likes mushrooms and onions. Wants to be healthy. Cares about the environment. Cares about politics without being a zealot. Loves to be outside. Likes me for me. Active. Likes to travel. Doesn’t want kids. Open minded. Kind.
There’s more on the list, but really, I got pretty specific. And he matched. And that was a little scary at first, I guess, because I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend. But really, did I think I was going to find another Sante?
I remember the night I realized it. Sante and I had had one of our first actual dates. But he was more leery of us as a couple than I was. I mean, c’mon, I was a self-proclaimed man-eater and a bit wild. I don’t blame him.
I was out with some friends and Sante was out of town. There was this dude chatting with me who was hitting on me pretty hard. He was cute and kinda interesting, so I was having fun with it, flirting.
But after awhile, I caught myself thinking This isn’t going to go anywhere. Why would I date this guy if it might mess things up with Sante. He’s so not worth it.
Plus this dude spoke with a French accent, which meant I couldn’t take him seriously at all. All I could think of was the French chef from The Little Mermaid.
Man eater tamed.
After dating for a few months it became clear that he had things I didn’t even think to put on the list. That is the best part.
I love that he loves the moon as much as me. I adore that he will cheer with me for the chipmunks crossing the street. He takes me camping in the mountains all the time. He loves to kiss me (His coworkers asked if we had a quota to fill each day when they saw us say good bye one morning). He has a motorcycle. We like the same kind of beer. He doesn’t eat dairy: I’m allergic and he’s intolerant. Match made in heaven?
It was two years ago we started dating and thirty years ago Sante was born. I’m so happy for his existence. It’s one of my favorite birthdays to celebrate. Sante makes me want to be a better human being, which is one of the most important qualities you can have in a friend or mate.