Loving Ingrid - Chapter 2
Marital, job create chasm
By Janine Zeitlin Friday, July 15 2011, THE NEWS PRESS
The second Craig Heller set foot in the ranch home the color of sunshine he knew: This was a space where he and his wife could build their life.
Summer light streamed through broad windows. The yard was a canvas of grass with space for a pool. A perfect spot for their curly-haired toddler, Victor, to grow.
Craig raced in his rental car to a pay phone to call his wife, Ingrid Martinez Rico, who was in Georgia where they had been teaching. He wanted to make an offer.
"Trust me," he said.
Neither one knew much about Fort Myers. It seemed hot and flat.
And their knowledge of Florida was limited to Miami and Mickey Mouse.
But Ingrid had been offered an assistant professor job teaching Spanish at the fledgling Florida Gulf Coast University.
It had been the only job that came through for either of them after applying to dozens since Craig's stint at the University of Georgia had ended.
That summer of 2000, Ingrid and Craig unpacked the boxes filled with books, baby toys and art from their travels.
In their 30s and married almost a decade, Ingrid and Craig were growing from intrepid adventurers into caring parents.
They were a family.
For better or worse.
The possibilities seemed as sprawling as the landscape of the place they now called home.
They settled in quickly.
Craig was hired as an adjunct professor.
On campus, they kept a professional space. To students, Ingrid and Craig introduced each other as Dr. Heller and Dr. Martinez Rico. Some days, they grabbed Subway sandwiches for lunch, but students and colleagues wouldn't find them kissing on the lawn.
Ingrid lived like a woman short on time, juggling projects, often working past midnight.
Life was fleeting, she thought, and hers must have a purpose.
She translated poetry. And wrote it. She helped migrant workers. And the homeless. She was a faculty senator. And advised the Spanish club.
Beautiful. Outspoken. Trilingual. Fun-loving. She commanded attention as soon as she walked into a room.
Some students complained about the piles of homework she assigned and her lofty demands.
"I have never felt so anxious about a class in my history as a student," one student would write in a class evaluation.
Many more adored her. She was the smartest woman they had ever met.
Ingrid had given undergraduate Shannon Maitland a D on her first paper. Shannon thought of dropping the class, but toughed it out.
Ingrid would become her role model.
"I want to be just like her when I grow up."
Not long after they had arrived at FGCU, Ingrid and Craig decided to start a study abroad program that incorporated service.
What about the Dominican Republic? Craig suggested. The spring before, he had volunteered at orphanages there.
We should work with children, they agreed.
Ingrid hashed out details with Dominican leaders about how FGCU students could help boys who work and live on the streets. Craig handled the logistics: booking tickets, organizing the transportation and fundraising.
The students taught children things like the dangers of drugs and how to use computers.
Eight months pregnant and almost waddling, Ingrid led 16 students on one trip through neighborhoods where kids ran barefoot past shacks. Merengue blasted from radios.
Craig lingered in the back, taking photos and caring for Victor.
Let's go! she called out. What's next?
At the hotel, during daily reflections, Craig would push students to question ideas: Why do people live like this? What's our responsibility?
Ingrid would twiddle her curls like a schoolgirl when he spoke.
At times, her eyes would glisten when students shared their experiences.
One had met a boy who had been chained up by his mother.
Another bonded with kids by making friendship bracelets.
Some students felt overwhelmed by the poverty. Why try to fight something so big?
You have to do something, Ingrid and Craig would tell them. Hay que hacer algo.
Back in Fort Myers, Ingrid and Craig's roots deepened. They had made friends, welcomed baby Casandra and began remodeling their home on Coconut Drive.
At FGCU, Craig had been hired full time, started the gender studies minor and taught civic engagement classes.
Their ambitions were humble: They wanted to be good teachers.
Ingrid earned a promotion to associate professor after compiling a 4-inch binder of accomplishments with endorsements from colleagues.
"I count her among our most valuable faculty members," wrote Joe Wisdom, the chair of her department, in a letter backing her promotion.
In the fall of 2006, Craig was preparing lessons on women's image in society and censorship.
One day, university officials began to examine his computer. They found pornography and forced him to resign.
He said it was research for his classes.
Ingrid was embarrassed. And furious.
Sometimes I wonder if you don't bring it on yourself, she once told Craig.
It didn't make things easy at home.
Craig traded lesson plans for an oven mitt, but it didn't bother him that his wife was the breadwinner. After all, one of the stickers on his 1990 Dodge Caravan read "Men who change diapers change the world."
But her expectations felt impossible: dinner on the table, clothes ironed and house spotless when she returned home.
She wanted him to be strong like her father, a self-made businessman in her native Spain.
Craig looked for posts at other colleges in town but couldn't wrangle work. Insecurity plagued him. Why can't I keep a job? Why do my relationships fail?
Craig longed for his wife's loving touch.
After dinner, Ingrid would slip away to translate poetry or prepare classes until 1 or 2 in the morning — long after Craig had gone to bed.
If you think there's someone better out there, go try to find him, Craig told her at one point.
Some nights, Craig would drive by the gun ranges on Fowler Street and contemplate how he might kill himself.
He started therapy.
Before Christmas 2007, Ingrid came to him: I really want to fix all this.
She agreed to try counseling. They would find a way to salvage their love story.
Ingrid had heard about an opening at a college in Washington that seemed perfect for her.
A new city. A new job. They had started looking at schools for the kids. This could be the fresh start they needed.
The gulf that had widened between Ingrid and Craig over the past months seemed to be closing. Tension no longer marked their evenings.
There were too many plans to be made.
Ingrid had scored an interview at the college, and she and Craig had started brainstorming ways to help the less fortunate there.
More money was coming into the household's coffers after Craig had found temporary work preparing tax returns.
Just before 10 a.m. one Tuesday in February 2008, the phone rang as Craig headed out the door to his job.
He glanced at the caller ID: Lee Memorial Hospital.
Did something happen to one of the kids? he thought, then quickly picked up.
"Are you Ingrid Martinez Rico's husband?" a woman asked.
"She's been in an accident. We need you to come over right away."
A burning sensation swept up his face and into his temples.