The two 73-year-olds were acquaintances before they each contracted COVID-19. They texted each other from their individual rooms at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital in Valencia, bonded over the experience, and soon after they were discharged, they got married.
Marlene Cagatao and Marnie Lacsamana, who currently reside in Sun Valley, spoke together with The Signal over the phone about how something good actually came out of the pandemic for them. But it might not have ever happened.
“We met two years before COVID,” Cagatao said. “It was at a friend’s party. But we didn’t, you know — nothing happened.”
In other words, that seemed to be the end of their contact with each other. The two moved on with their lives.
Cagatao had been divorced almost 10 years, and Lacsamana was a widower since 2017. He’d been married 46 years. Neither really felt it was in the cards to become romantically involved again at their age. But they’d agreed with friends of theirs to go to this party.
“The friend that brought me there was a real estate agent,” Lacsamana said. “This group — almost all of them are real estate agents.”
Cagatao is a real estate agent. Lacsamana is an investor. But his going to the party wasn’t real estate or business-related. Lacsamana said he was hoping to meet some people who could talk about the Bible with him.
“The friend that invited me — my Realtor friend — said, ‘Let me introduce you to some of my colleagues. And maybe we can start talking about the Bible.’ Because I am a born-again Christian.”
It turned out that Cagatao was also a born-again Christian, and she, too, had gone to the party to talk about the Bible. But upon first seeing Lacsamana, she had no reason to pay close attention, she said.
“He was with a friend,” Cagatao said. “I thought that — well, we all thought — that they are an item. You know, they are together.”
Cagatao didn’t really engage with Lacsamana, nor did he with her, as she was with friends, too. And neither talked about the Bible, nor did anyone else.
“We just ate and socialized, that’s about it,” Lacsamana said.
The night came to an end, and both Cagatao and Lacsamana went their separate ways.
Two years later, COVID-19 hit and the lockdown went into place. Cagatao and Lacsamana each said they’d turned to Facebook to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances. One of the ways to communicate on the social media platform was to play little games, and one particular game was to post pictures of places they’d been for others to guess.
“I was putting out on Facebook my travels, and whoever could guess the travel, you know, would get a Starbucks,” Cagatao said. “He was the one all the time guessing right, so he got a Starbucks.”
She described one picture that he guessed correctly as a big barrel of wine in Germany. Lacsamana posted that it was the Heidelberg Tun, a 57,000-plus-gallon wine vat built in 1751 in the cellars of Heidelberg Castle in the city of Heidelberg, Germany.
“I guessed that because I’ve been there, also,” he said.
“I thought nobody would be able to guess that picture,” Cagatao added.
“So, then, after my turn, I have to collect the Starbucks,” Lacsamana continued. “So, I said, ‘You forgot I have a Starbucks,’ and she said, ‘Come to my office.’ So, at the back of my mind, I was thinking when I got to the office, she will hand me a gift card for Starbucks. But when I got there, she said, ‘Oh, the Starbucks is down below, a few yards from my office, so let’s go there.’”
However, once there, the two realized, due to the lockdown, that they’d have to pick up their order and go. They couldn’t dine there.
“We went back to her office, and from there we get into conversation for the longest time,” Lacsamana said. “It got to 5, and then I looked at my watch. ‘It’s already 7 o’clock. Oh wow.’ And I said, ‘Because I have detained you so long, the least I can do is take you to dinner.’”
Cagatao said that most restaurants were closed, but Lacsamana knew of a place they could go.
“We went to the restaurant and ordered food, and then we keep talking,” he said. “And now it’s 9 o’clock and closing. So, we parted ways, and we started to communicate by texts.”
Soon after, Lacsamana would take a trip to Hawaii. It was a Thanksgiving trip. When he returned, he discovered he had COVID-19. Cagatao put two and two together and took a test and found out she, too, had COVID.
“He went to Henry Mayo first,” Cagatao said. “He went for 12 days. In the meantime, that was the first wave of COVID. Nobody knows how to treat it yet, and there’s a lot of people dying during that time, and the hospitals are full.”
By the time Cagatao learned that she’d contracted COVID, there was no room at Henry Mayo, no room in the urgent care centers in the area or in any nearby emergency rooms. Her condition was growing worse, too, and she’d developed a case of pneumonia.
She’d called for an ambulance three times, she said, and they kept telling her that everything was full, that it’d be best if she stayed home, to call her primary doctor to help.
“But I kept on calling my primary doctor,” she said. “I couldn’t find him. There’s nobody answering at the doctor’s office, and I was still getting worse.”
After jumping through a number of hoops, she was eventually able to get into Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. During that time, she and Lacsamana had been texting back and forth, checking in on each other. Once Lacsamana was discharged, he’d tried to go see Cagatao, but hospital staff wouldn’t allow any visitors. That’s when things turned to the worse for Cagatao, and hospital staff said she’d need a ventilator to breathe.
“They asked if I could be ventilated, but I refused,” she said. “I did not sign the paper. I was having a hard time and I thought I just wanted to go and die.”
Her outlook would become quite grim, but she’d eventually come to the mindset that she had to live. After 21 days and with improvement, she was able to go home, provided she could get a caregiver to be with her to full recovery.
“I fought it,” Cagatao continued. “I said, ‘The Lord has given me a chance to live, I will live.’ In the meantime, during this time, he (Lacsamana) would come and visit me and we’d eat here at home, we’d talk here, and we’d kind of interact.”
Current events would often fill their conversations, both of them said. They’d talk about the vaccine, researching together which one they felt was best for them, and they really got to know each other and feel comfortable with each other. They were in it together.
“We became close,” Cagatao said. “We became best friends, actually.”
On Valentine’s Day in 2022, Lacsamana decided it was time to take the relationship to the next stage.
“We were eating,” Cagatao said. “I prepared dinner here at home, and then he just brought up the question, like, ‘Why don’t we get married?’ It was very casual.”
“It was not very romantic,” Lacsamana admitted.
And so, even though neither one of them ever thought they’d become romantically involved again or married, to say the least, the two agreed to tie the knot.
“When you got the COVID, you realize you need a partner,” Cagatao said. “You need somebody to rely on.”
Marlene Cagatao and Marnie Lacsamana got married on Sept. 10, 2022, at the Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church. They currently live in Sun Valley and are, they said, enjoying life together as the reliable partners they’ve grown to become.