MANILA - I always thought it unfair that I'd been called the Elizabeth Taylor in our family, even before marrying my fifth. Admittedly, I had been legally married three times, and like Elizabeth to her Richard Burton, twice to the same man, husband No. 2 and No. 4.
I've been likened to the iconic actress of my generation not for reasons I really wouldn't mind, like her collection of jewelry from her many Valentines, but more because we seem to share the propensity for marrying our lovers.
My parents Francisco Roces and Nisena Ortiz had me, their first daughter and second child of seven, christened Maria Isabel, the Spanish version of Elizabeth, little knowing they may have inadvertently set me off on a long, arduous journey to what seemed, until now, my elusive, personal happiness.
This time, at last, everything seemed to be going my way. My eldest son Rick, now a superior court judge in Los Angeles where my father, now 91, has been living for at least two decades, would officiate.
At Thanksgiving dinner last year in his daughter's house, Jerry, my fifth bridegroom-to-be, a Wall Street lawyer, and I found ourselves reminiscing about how we met and how our relationship had evolved over the past 13 years, when suddenly, like revitalised young lovers, we got all excited about the idea of getting married.
We had been living together in New York since 2005, so we already knew why; where and when were minor details, quickly dealt with.
It was to be a simple ceremony with my children, on the 26th of December, while the city was fabulously dressed for the holidays. We agreed to exchange vows at the Terranea Resort surrounded by the waves of the Pacific Ocean, where the horizon would be our altar. Located at Rancho Palos Verdes and a stone's throw from his residence, Rick had surveyed the area and determined the exact spot on the hill.
Early December, Jerry took me to Cartier on Fifth Avenue for the engagement ring. Refusing to wear a wedding band because I was not changing my surname (I figure, my father cannot divorce me), he gave me the pleasure of picking something in its place. The Trinity design caught my eye because it symbolizes love, fidelity, friendship. Although the seven-band ring, "boasting a timeless design devoted to life's most memorable loves," was tempting, I picked the three-band version.
After informing family, except dad, who we thought we'd surprise, and a circle of friends, we were all set. Jerry's best friend met us for cocktails and dinner to celebrate the season and good tidings. A bachelorette party out of the question, I was treated instead to a girls' night-out. At some point in the evening our cocktails of margaritas and mojitos took over sobriety, and the bride-to-be was publicly introduced as "Elizabeth Taylor."
I have walked down the aisle in three exquisitely beautiful bridal gowns, each time with high hopes. The first was done by a cousin of my dad on his mother's side, the venerated couturier Ramon Valera. The second by Santiago de Manila, my dear friend Ernesto Santiago. This I wore when I married my real-life Prince (Tenku) in Malaysia, who made me an official, if not real-life, princess, complete with a new name and title-Cik Mariam Binti Abdullah.
The third gown was "something borrowed" from daughter Margie, an enterprise risk management analyst at Franklin Templeton, SFO, hoping it would bestow on me the same luck it did her.
However, the delicate gown, created by second cousin Malu Veloso, turned into "something blue"-the wedding bliss ran short of forever. I've wondered if perhaps I passed on the curse to Margie, because after 21 years of marriage, she, too, got divorced.
For my fourth wedding, I unceremoniously wore no special wedding attire, not even a ring, but I married him twice, anyway, and had another daughter, Ysette, now a doctor of Philosophy, quite different from the title of filosofa I earned when I was a teenager.
Deciding to break the cycle once and for all, I went off-white and off-the-rack at Bergdorf's-a no-frills chiffon gown which would permit the December winds to playfully flow through its folds on that joyous day.
Rick clocked the ceremony with precision so that we would be exchanging solemn vows just as the boldfaced red-orange sun buried itself in the deep dark-blue waters of the ocean in fiery surrender, while Celine Dion's "Prayer" calibrated the breeze through everyone's iPhones.
With roses from her mother Kathleen's garden, Megan, Rick's daughter, made my precious bouquet. I was about to toss it in the air after the ceremony when suddenly Rick's warning voice froze my hands, "Wait!" And from out of the line of bouquet catchers, he quickly yanked his 16-year-old Megan, the all-around athlete who, heaven forbid, surely would have caught it.
During cocktails by the fireplace at the hotel lobby, dad, who had been unaware of our plans until the drive up to the Terranea, loudly whispered (he's now slightly hard of hearing) in my ear, after nosing his cognac and recounting my wedding episodes: "If anyone needs a marriage counselor, hija, I would highly recommend you."
For dinner we all proceeded to the Versailles Restaurant at Manhattan Beach where the singer serenaded us with familiar Spanish songs while strumming his guitar. We sang along, then other guests joined in and the place got livelier. We did not order dessert because one celebrator sent each of us a slice of her birthday cake. At the end of this wondrous day I thought of my mother, who died in 2005, and prayed. "Rest in peace, mom, this one is forever!"