Every time he heard John Denver, Virgilio thought of Marina.
He would flash back to her smiling from the passenger side during afternoon joyrides in Mexico City, when time, much like the open road before them, seemed infinite.
For Marina, Virgilio usually appeared in her dreams, his face as handsome as it was the first day she met him, when she was certain he was a movie star.
Marina was in her late teens and Virgilio in his 20s when their two-year courtship ended after promised love letters never arrived. While they both built new lives, sometimes, in those quiet moments when their minds refused to settle, they unknowingly pondered the same question: “Will we ever meet again?”
Decades later, after a chance run-in at a Mexican resort, Marina and Virgilio Aveleyra would get their answer and, as luck would have it, a second chance at a first love.
THE FIRST MEETING
From the first time Marina laid eyes on a photo of Virgilio, whom she affectionately calls Lio, at her neighbor’s apartment in Mexico City, she was smitten.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, he’s gorgeous,’” she said. “I had had boyfriends before, but he was different. I asked my friend, ‘Who’s that? Is that a movie star?’ She said, ‘No, no, that’s my brother-in-law.’ I thought, ‘Oh, I would love to have him for the rest of my life.’”
Not long after, they met in person, and Marina was thrilled to realize that her feelings for Lio were mutual. Because Marina was busy with music school — she was studying to become an opera singer — and Lio ran a furniture store two hours away, he would visit one day each week to spend time with her.
During their two years of dating, they talked about marriage, and Lio decided that when Marina returned from her summer vacation in Acapulco, he would ask her parents for her hand.
“He said, ‘Write to me every day and I’ll write to you every day,’” Marina said. “I would write, write, write; I’ve always loved to write. But nothing. I heard nothing back.”
TWIST OF FATE
Marina returned from vacation, and Lio came for his usual weekly visit, but this time, it was different.
“He said, ‘I guess it didn’t work, huh?’” Marina recalls. “I said, ‘I guess not.' I was shocked. He never gave me a chance to say anything.”
In the weeks that followed, Lio’s family members begged her to talk to him, to find out what was happening. Marina would not.
“That was one thing my mother always insisted. You don’t go follow a man, they follow you,” Marina said. “Lio’s sister told me, ‘Please call him. He’s suffering a lot. He’s too proud.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, but I am, too.’”
Lio and Marina, now 101 and 91, both moved on, and in 1948 Marina married a man she had first met in music school in Mexico and joined him in New York. Eventually, they settled in Austin with their four children, Yvonne, Patsy, Alex and Debbie.
“My marriage was not always a happy one,” Marina said, “but I am so in love with all my children. They are all just incredible kids.”
Over time, the cracks in Marina’s first marriage would become more pronounced, especially after a well-intentioned family member disclosed that she had intercepted the letters sent between Marina and Lio during that vacation all those years before.
After much consideration, Marina, an artist who ran a prominent Austin art gallery called Décor, decided to travel to Mexico to talk to her parents about a divorce. During that trip, she also made a quick visit to the resort town of Cocoyoc with a girlfriend.
“In the lobby of our hotel, they had stands of jewelry,” Marina recalls. “I started to turn the stand, and I hit a man who was standing on the steps right next to it. He turned around, and guess who it was?”
Marina and Lio’s eyes locked, and time stopped.
“My friend said to me that it was out of the movies,” Marina said. “I was 48. I hadn’t seen him since I was 17. He was still beautiful.”
Lio had been married previously but was then divorced and single. Once Marina was also divorced, the two reunited.
"My friend said, 'Are you crazy? It's been 25 years and you think he's the same one?'" Marina said. "I said, 'He's the same one!'"
On Jan. 2, 1977, three decades after they first locked eyes, Marina and Lio were married in Austin.
“It was the most amazing day,” said Marina, adding that she would like to publish a book about her life. “It was like a gift from the Lord. It snowed the week before, and everything had crystallized; the whole city was crystals.”
A NEW LIFETIME
Marina’s youngest daughter, Debbie Friess, said she and her siblings were glad to see their mother find happiness again.
"The problems with my mom and dad's relationship were a painful thing, but they were both incredibly loving toward us and never involved us in their issues," Friess said. "We as children feel we were blessed to have two incredible fathers we love."
Friess added that Lio made significant sacrifices to join Marina in the United States.
“He left everything in Mexico to come join in her life here — what a great gesture of love and sacrifice," Friess said. "My dad passed soon after, and Lio has been the grandfather that the grandkids and the great-grandkids know.”
In their apartment at Lakeline Oaks Retirement Community in Cedar Park, Marina’s paintings and family photos adorn the walls. As Lio smiled while flipping through pictures from their honeymoon in Spain, Marina said she wouldn’t change a minute of her past.
“I never regretted anything in my life,” she said. “My children, they turned out to be the most incredible children. They are just amazing. And they love Lio so much. It has been a beautiful, beautiful story.”
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