But with no ring, Patty thought Ray was joking. So he asked her again.
And she thought he was kidding, again. As Ray tells the story, this question-and-laughter went on for a few rounds.
Ray is a blogger, a writer published in magazines and read on radio, an aspiring novelist and a public speaker. I met him through his appearances on Chicago’s storytelling circuits, where his fables of students can be both hilarious and grievous in the same speech. After my session with his family, he unspooled a special tale just for me: how he won Patty’s heart, her mind and (after a few tries) her hand.
Ray and Patty were promising young educators who studied under the same professor; in 1997, they were both invited to speak at a conference in Sacramento, on a panel about culturally relevant teaching. Both were thrilled to be part of a panel...neither expected much from the other.
“We knew of each other,” Ray told me. “To be honest, we weren’t crazy about each other.”
Until he sat next to her on the flight to Sacramento.
“The first thing I noticed about her were her eyes,” he said.
"As we sat next to a drunk guy all the way to Sacramento, Patty and I talked. It was comfortable."
At the conference, Ray listened to Patty speak, and he promptly updated his opinion of her. Patty’s “rebelliousness” and “confidence” captured his attention.
That night, the conference had a dance. Ray remembers that Patty wore “that coffee-brown short dress.” That dress left a stain on his mind like a grande-sized cup spilled on a white shirt. They danced, and discovered that they both love cumbia music, and La Sonora Santanera especially.
“After dancing for hours, we kissed,” Ray said. “And that was it.
“I realized two years into our relationship that I could trust Patty with my dreams, and she had faith in my ambition. She made me a better man.”
Two children have followed. Adrian is in middle school, playing video games and taking vocal lessons.
“I never get tired of listening to my little boy sing,” Ray said.
Angela is a third-grader, and taking on the traits of her mother. “She has a strong sense of justice on the playground,” Ray tells me…and a strong rhythm on the dance floor. Angela is learning the flamenco, and carries herself like Patty: “Confidence and poise.”
“I could watch her dance forever,” Ray tells me.
Someday, of course, Ray and Patty’s little girl is going to dance her way into some guy’s heart, and someone else’s little girl is going to transform their video-gaming young man into a better man. Those outcomes are many years away, though, but Ray said he is confident today in how his family's future will unfold, because of the girl who loved him empty-handed.
“She would be someone who could help me dream,” he said. “She was the one.”