I am 50 years old today. Certified gold.
And in honor of that, I was hoping to maybe get a personal birthday shout-out. Just like that gorgeous commercial made several years back where you sang “Happy birthday.” The one I posted from YouTube to my Facebook wall this morning. Maybe you could do something like that for me, your number one biggest fan in the world.
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
There’s just no way this random, newly turned 50-year-old teacher from rural Ohio can be my biggest fan. I’ve traveled the world. I’ve SEEN my biggest fans, you’re thinking. But you’re wrong.
It is I, Ricky. For realz.
And everyone, it seems, knows. Except for you.
I mean, my husband knows. So does my ex. My children know, too. In fact, all my family and friends know. My education colleagues across the nation know. My students, especially my students—all of them, current and former—know (and that’s a lot after 27 years of teaching). Actually, I’m pretty sure most of the tri-county area—maybe even state of Ohio—knows.
I get texts, phone calls, and e-mails about it. It’s all over my social media: Facebook posts, hashtags and tweets, forwarded Instas.
I AM YOUR BIGGEST, MOST LOYAL FAN, AND I LOVE YOU.
For almost 20 years now! (That’s longer than my first marriage, Ricky.)
The year you became a global superstar: 1998.
Years I had been teaching by then: 6
I was in the heart of Europe—Warsaw, Poland—on a Holocaust study tour when I heard you chant, “Go, go, go! Allez, allez, allez,” every morning for a week on MTV Europe—the only Polish channel I could understand. I was enchanted.
Who was this beautiful man with the velvety voice and energetic dance moves?
Two weeks later, the song still echoing in my brain, I repeated the lyrics to an Israeli music store salesman to find out who it was that I had fallen in love with.
A smile immediately crossed his face in recognition.
“Aaahhh, Ricky Martin,” he responded, handing me a compilation CD with “The Cup of Life” on it.
But then I returned home to real life, my third pregnancy and teaching, and you were forgotten.
Until February 24, 1999: The forty-first Grammy Awards.
You re-appeared out of nowhere from once upon a time: still beautiful, still energetic, and still singing the same catchy song.
Oh my God, it’s him, I thought, and I was quickly under your spell again.
Years separating us in age: almost exactly three (Happy Belated Birthday! We’re both Capricorns!)
Miles separating us in distance:
2,319 if you’re at home in Los Angeles, California
But only 1,808 if you’re visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico
Times you’ve gone on tour: 12? (or do you count your Vegas residencies, too?)
Times I’ve seen you on tour: 2
In less than a year, I saw you in concert in both Cleveland (December 6, 1999) and Columbus (seven months later on July 6, 2000), Ohio. In Cleveland, I sweet-talked a security guard into letting me get close to the stage to snap a quick photo. I even developed it into a glossy 8 x 10 and framed it. Before the Columbus concert, I not only spray painted a sign to hold up—one that you would surely see: “Ricky, please sing Perdido Sin Ti!”—I actually made contact with your publicist to interview you before the concert. I was the high school newspaper advisor, and a couple of my students were also attending. The interview never happened, but I did score a pretty sweet publicity packet for you new album, “Sound Loaded.”
Number of photos of you on my classroom walls, circa 2008: 51
Number of posters of you now on my classroom walls: 4 (I guess schools have fire codes?)
Times you have played a teacher on TV: 1
The amount of time I have left playing a teacher in real life: 10 more years
Times you reference a Shakespearean leading lady in a song: 1 (Juliet in “Shake Your Bon Bon”)
Times I have referenced you while teaching about a Shakespearean leading lady: 80 (Desdemona’s Good Cousin “Livin La” Lodovico—get it?!—in Othello)
Times students and colleagues have filmed videos or made phone calls or written letters to Oprah and Ellen and you trying to arrange a meeting for me: 5 that I know of
Times those videos or phone calls or letters were successful: 0
“You’re obsessed,” my students used to tell me. “Choose. Your husband or Ricky,” they used to say. I’d just laugh.
“What if he’s gay?” they used to ask.
“I don’t care,” I told them. (Another great song of yours, by the way!)
And then 2010: A life-changing year for the two of us, Ricky. I told my husband of 18 years I wanted a divorce and had a heart attack three days later. A month later, while writing your autobiography, Me, you came out publicly as a proud gay man. After another few months, I was involved in a near fatal car accident, rounding out my personal trifecta of shit which became the subject of my future memoir, Permanent Marker. Yours was published shortly thereafter.
“Did you know he’s gay?” students now ask me.
“Did you know his great-grandmother was a teacher, and his grandmother was a professor who wrote a couple of books?” I ask them back.
Number of music awards you have won: well over 30
Number of teaching awards I have won: 4 (I am a 2018 National Teachers Hall of Fame Finalist, and 14 years ago, I was a Disney Teacher Awards honoree.)
Disney heroes you’ve been the Latin voice of: Hercules
Disney princesses I’ve been photographed with: Cinderella
Languages you speak: 5
Languages I speak: 1 ½
Tattoos you have: 6
Tattoos I used to have: 1 (Yeah, used to. I’ll tell you the story in person.)
“Who’s that guy?” students sometimes ask when they see your life-sized cardboard cut-out beside my desk now. They don’t know you anymore.
So I tell them our story and our history and how much we have in common (you as a worldwide humanitarian, helping rebuild homes after disasters or saving children from human trafficking, and I as a dedicated, national Holocaust educator), or I sing the lyrics to “She Bangs” or “Livin La Vida Loca.”
Then they know who you are.
And they love it. They love that their middle-aged, Shakespeare-teaching, crazy English instructor is in “love” with a gay, Latino singer.
It makes me unique. It makes me human.
And in my humble opinion, it also makes me you’re BIGGEST, MOST LOYAL FAN. I’m keeping your celebrity alive with younger generations.
Which is why it’s finally time for me to make myself known to you—unless of course you’ve already seen my name pop onto your social media accounts a time or two. For 20 years, I’ve been relying on circumstances or connections or luck to make it happen, but unfortunately that just hasn’t worked.
So here it is, Ricky. In writing. (Sorry—I couldn’t fit it all in a tweet.)
Maybe it’ll go viral. Maybe you’ll even read it. Maybe you’ll want to meet me, and in honor of all of our amazing connections.
Which reminds me: congratulations your beautiful newest addition. Lucia will light up your world like no other, I promise. That’s what’s happened with my newest love and first granddaughter, Layla.
As you once sang in “The Best Thing about Me Is You”: Life is short, so make it what you wanna / Make it good, don’t wait until mañana.
I’m not waiting any longer.
Come visit my classroom. Or let’s have lunch. How about a baby play date?
Then I can meet you and hug you (I bet you smell amazing) and cross something else off my bucket list. Or yes, okay, I’ll settle for a birthday shout out, too.