Loving Ingrid - Chapter 1
To have and to hold.
By Janine Zeitlin Thursday, Jul 14 2011, THE NEWS PRESS
OK stupid, he thought. This is your chance.
There, standing in the hallway at Penn State chatting to a fellow graduate student, was the gorgeous 20-something German language teacher.
Craig Heller had been admiring her for months.
His office faced her classroom. His persistent glances had failed to entice her to make eye contact, but he had seen her name scrawled on the board:
Her chestnut-brown eyes flashed with intensity. She had the kind of dark curls that made salon owners drop what they were doing and call dibs on her mane.
Craig timidly passed by the pair. The red-bearded grad student wasn't the type to pick up a woman in the hall. Or at all.
But he craved to know her. Now or never. He turned and inserted himself into an unremarkable conversation.
We should all have coffee sometime, suggested the teacher, Ingrid Martinez Rico, before rushing to class.
That was a Friday in 1990. On Wednesday, they went to a cafe; Thursday, a jazz concert.
The next day she moved in.
Both had been seeing other people at the time.
Ingrid and Craig bonded over a disdain for conformity.
Born Maria Angeles in Germany, she adopted the name Ingrid after her family returned to their native Spain when she was 7. The new name set her apart, as did her Heidi-style braids.
Complacent with his nerdiness, Craig proudly sported purple Converse shoes in high school.
He fell for Ingrid's passion and brilliance. She was fluent in three languages and studying comparative literature. She had been offered work teaching undergraduates in exchange for tuition.
She liked that Craig's apartment was clean and he didn't own a TV. Unlike the other men Ingrid had loved, Craig, the fourth son of a Minnesota family, knew how to listen.
Macho did not describe him. His doctoral work was in women's studies and higher education.
Loving Ingrid was never boring. Nor was it easy. Their first fight erupted within a week of moving in together.
He poured himself the last bowl of Raisin Nut Crunch. Ingrid glared.
If a woman could shoot daggers with her eyes, Ingrid could hurl broad swords.
What did I do? he asked.
A courteous person wouldn't serve himself first, she told him, especially the final bites.
Squabbles over household chores could tornado into shouting. But she thought a little yelling between lovers was OK.
That Thanksgiving, Craig and Ingrid drove to meet his family in Minneapolis. Lester Heller could see that Ingrid and his little brother shared a strong bond and a desire to make the world better.
"Craig and Ingrid represented to me one being," he would say.
• • • •
They graduated with doctoral degrees on the same day and moved overseas. They worked at a hospice for HIV-positive orphans in Kenya and observed elections in Lithuania.
In 2000, they landed in Fort Myers. Ingrid was offered a job at Florida Gulf Coast University, where she and Craig organized trips to the Dominican Republic. There, FGCU students taught children living on the streets music, reading and even yoga.
In some ways, Ingrid and Craig's union has followed the arc of many couples: from enamored bliss and adventure to parental obligation and daily strain.
In other ways, their marriage has challenged what it means to love.
• • • •
The Christmas after Ingrid and Craig met, they visited her family in northern Spain. During a walk to a bustling harbor on a rocky coast, he asked her to marry him.
He never dreamed someone so appealing would choose him. Shy and inexperienced with women, he had never been with a woman so sophisticated.
Men had a habit of falling in love with Ingrid. They seemed to hover like flies.
Craig had to hold on.
Yes, she said.
In his arms, she felt a sense of belonging in a world where she was torn between cultures.
He was her home.
"I thought of the possibility of our 'story' to be just a dream. It was like an abyss, a feeling of emptiness, nothing·nada!" she wrote to him around that time. "If I say I love you, it doesn't sound right because it's more than that. I love you is like painting in only one color and I like to paint with all colors and even create colors of my own."
The day after Thanksgiving, in 1991, Ingrid and Craig committed to each other before family and friends at an almost century-old courthouse in St. Paul, Minn.
She wore a cream size 6 linen dress. Baby's breath graced her curls. Craig sported a bow tie and a herringbone jacket Ingrid had picked out.
Privately, she promised to cook him something more than beans, make a nice home or even a baby.
"Should something terrible happen just because things are going so fairly well for us?" she asked him in a note.
"Oh, I know, 'How Spanish!' But I think it and it helps me savour more what I have."
• • • •
Ingrid's desire to start a family led them back to the states in 1997 for fertility treatments.
Before they began, the couple became pregnant with son Victor. Craig warmed to fatherhood as soon as he heard the baby's heartbeat, and cried.
Life was speeding by them like the blur of the world from a train window. Melancholy would hit Ingrid, and her heart of a poet.
At night, Ingrid and Craig would hold hands, floating to sleep and fending off her fears of the dark.
The prospect of death would become tangible in those quiet, dreaming hours. She wanted enough time to do something useful with her time on Earth.
When apart, Ingrid would stay up into the early morning to pen letters to her husband.
"Why do we live our lives as if we were immortal?" she wrote him. "You always say there is a lot of time to live. Lucky you who thinks like that? I, on the contrary, feel that life is too short, way too short."