Good thing, because the petite English major spent a lot of time with strangers. In addition to attending classes, Marlleen, then 24, worked as an aerobics instructor, a bartender and a promoter for Miller Lite products.
It was the Miller Lite job that kept Marlleen on her toes while she hawked swag in college bars, thanks to her uniform of high heels and a super-short skirt.
"I learned not to take anyone seriously," she says of the job. "I certainly never thought I'd meet my husband in one of those bars."
Enter Rafael Montelongo, a 27-year-old engineering student. He happened to be at one of those bars where Marlleen was working during the spring of '97. When they started talking, Marlleen mentioned she was an English major. Rafael, a native of Mexico whose first language is Spanish, said he wrote poetry. Would she mind, he asked, if he sent her some of his work?
Rafael says he really was interested in Marlleen's opinion of his writing, but he admits to other motivations as well. "She was HOT," emphasizes Rafael, now a manufacturing engineer for Intel, in an email he sent from Malaysia while on a business trip.
Remembering what she'd been taught, that zero-tolerance policy toward phone numbers, Marlleen instead offered Rafael her address. She didn't think he'd show up at her doorstep (he didn't), and she didn't believe he'd actually follow up and send her any poems (he did, three weeks later). While she admits she was delighted to see the poem in the mail, Marlleen also remembers feeling suspicious.
"It was a pretty poem, and I was moved," she says. "But I also thought it was some line, that he probably copied it out of a book."
In truth, Marlleen's misgivings didn't really matter: Seems Rafael--the strange poet from the bar--didn't include any contact info. "I never thought I'd see him again," Marlleen says.
But the two ran into each other again, this being southern Texas and, more specifically, McAllen, a next-door town to Edinburg, where Marlleen attended the University of Texas' Pan American campus. This time, Rafael requested something else of Marlleen: He wanted to take Latin dancing classes and needed a partner. How about it? he asked. On the strength of those lessons, a relationship began.
About a year later, the couple faced a decision when Rafael was offered a job at Intel's Hillsboro hub. Would Marlleen trade the hot, arid climate of southern Texas for the soggy Northwest? Though she'd lived in Texas all her life, Marlleen says her heart told her to go with Rafael. "I knew I loved him," she says.
The couple spent three days driving in separate cars on their way to Oregon. Marlleen soon found a job in telephone sales for Sprint (a job she says she hated), and she began acquiring a community of friends on par with what she'd left in Texas. Eventually she ditched that job (now Marlleen is an outsource manager at Intel), and, in September 2002, Rafael proposed.
It was this new circle of friends that helped the couple decide on the location of their wedding. They knew more of their extended group of friends and family might be able to attend a wedding if it were held in Texas or Mexico. "But we've lived in Oregon five out of seven years being a couple," Marlleen says. "We wanted our friends at our wedding."
Rafael--ever the joking poet/engineer--wanted to marry on Leap Day, a move Marlleen struck down. Instead, the couple agreed to an early-February wedding date and were married in front of 65 friends and family in Oregon, their adopted home state.