I caught a pretty face in a flash on the TV screen, quick and easy, like a mirage in a desert of vast emptiness. Perhaps the pretty face was an oasis for my parched and lonely soul. That was in May 1984, right after I lost my wife, Tinette Rivera, who died of cerebral hemorrhage. I suddenly found myself a widower, shocked, confused, desolate and mourning.
The moment I saw the pretty face on the TV screen, I felt a strange heartbeat inside of me. Maybe the pretty face would be my next wife, an incredible auto suggestion in my subconscious. Ah, banish the thought! I didn’t know her from Adam. That pretty face was a mirage, alright.
The passing of my wife made me realize that my two daughters, Karen (14) and Claudine (9), had lost a mother. I pitied them. How could I take the place of a mother? My intuitive resolve was to be close to my daughters in time, place and personal caring. We left our house in Parañaque and moved to Greenbelt, Makati, in a rented flat above our offices, so I could be available to my daughters at all times.
To be close to each other, we heard Mass offered for my late wife every Sunday at the Santuario de San Antonio. During the mass, it felt like we were a complete family again, a kind of psychic togetherness. I also took my daughters, all beautifully dressed up for dinner in five-star restaurants.
The best advice I got on how to raise daughters came from my father confessor: “Easy, just love them,” he said.
Guys at the office worried about me. They didn’t want me alone and lonely. They tried to fix dinner dates with their unmarried (or separated) women friends. I tried going out with them a couple of times, but none excited me. I was not in a hurry to fall in love again.
There was one thing I was sure about. If ever I got married I wanted to have a child, a boy at that. I was in my early 50s, president of the hottest ad agency in town, but fearful of being afflicted with the Peter Principle. I needed a second wind to feel lean and hungry again.
When I started a family in 1968, I became a driven man. I worked late nights to come up with superior advertising for my clients. I had a wife and children, and the upliftment of my family was all that mattered. I didn’t mind working my butt off. I enjoyed growing our agency’s revenues by dint of hard work.
Serendipity! In 1990, on my sixth year as a widower, the incredible thing happened. I saw the pretty face in person, exactly the way she looked when I saw her on the TV screen six years ago. She was a guest performer in a product launch for Firestone tires produced by one of our account groups. I felt exactly the same, strange heartbeat of life I felt six years ago.
I didn’t waste time. I asked the head of our media department to fix a foursome lunch date at the Bahia, Intercon. Finally, I met her in a pleasant atmosphere. She’s Encar Benedicto, then host of a TV children’s show, “’Yan Ang Bata,” and co-host at “Kwarta o Kahon” variety quiz show.
I left for Hamburg, Germany, to participate in the World Advertising Congress. My trip included visits to Zurich, Copenhagen, St. Petersburg, Prague, Istanbul and Kathmandu on the way home. Traveling by my lonesome self brought mostly solitude. It was not fun being alone in a crowd. One night in my hotel room I woke up teary eyed in the middle of the night. God! I gotta get married. The pretty face flashed quickly in my mind.
As soon as I returned, I launched a fast-track courtship. I called Encar every day and visited her on her location shoot and her TV program. I got to know her better between breaks.
When I came along during the shoots, I made her a bowl of salad with prawns, peaches and potato to her delight.
Encar was a single parent raising an 8-year-old son named Mark. I asked her to bring her son (for pogi points) on our first dinner date at Truffles, Billy King’s restaurant in Greenbelt, Makati. Mark was a pleasant and well-behaved kid, a champion swimmer at the Quezon City Sports Club. I also met Encar’s father, Dr. Cito Benedicto, a dentist and a gentleman of the old school. (Pinasalubungan ko siya ng sinaing na tulingan galing sa Lipa, for more pogi points!)
I enjoyed Encar up close, at all angles. She had excellent dress sense and a neat appearance that enhanced her creamy smooth skin, her happy face, her small frame, and of course, beautiful legs.
Her smiles are easy and her eyes bright, disarming people instantly. I began to see the pretty face in all its beautiful details. I became a captive of her femininity and vivaciousness. I was on the brink of closeness, and everything about her was becoming a part of me. Nakaka-in-love.
The day she caught a bad cold that kept her in bed with a high fever, I felt softhearted and extremely caring. I had my favorite Thai restaurant cook for her Tom Yum Khung, the chili hot and pungent sour soup heavy with the aroma of galangal and lemongrass, guaranteed to pipe down a bad cold. Nothing like a hot, sour soup to warm the heart of a woman on the throes of falling in love (with me).
When she got well, I tagged along to hear Sunday mass at the gothic San Sebastian Church. Right after communion, while kneeling beside her, I whispered those earth-shaking words, “Will you marry me?” The silence was deafening. My heart froze, unable to distinguish whether I was scared or daring, humbled or proud.
I pressed for an answer the next day, and Encar said yes. I pressed further, I wanted to get married in January, a mere three months away. “Can we hold it next year?” she asked. I answered, “I haven’t got much time.” (I was 54 going on 55).
We got married in January 1991. A year after, she gave birth to a baby boy, and we named him Nicollo. With Nicollo and Mark, I became a proud father with two boys instantly. Oh boy, when it rains it pours!
Last January 2011, we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary with a few close friends. Pretty face is as pretty as the face I first saw on the TV screen in 1984.
She’s God-sent. Someone to watch over me. Nakaka-in-love.
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