Rebeca Piña vividly remembers the day back in April 1987 when she took a trip across the border to Tijuana with a high school friend. They strolled the many curio shops along Avenida Revolución. The tiendas on the popular tourist strip sold everything from clothing and jewelry to trinkets.
One particular shop caught the girls’ attention when a handsome young guy standing in front started to flirt with them. He introduced himself as Jack Sasson and invited them inside to shop. He wanted to meet them that night at a popular disco. At first, they thought he was bluffing. “I took my bracelet off and put it on Rebeca,” Jack recalled. “That bracelet was a special gift I received at my bar mitzvah.”
Then he handed her something else. “He gave me a little piece of paper and it had his number and his address on it; he said keep this,” Rebeca said with a laugh. Jack Sasson did show up. The three of them went to a nightclub and ended up at the movies. Rebeca and her friend were impressed by the handsome stranger, and Jack was impressed with them. By the end of the night, I felt that I had met two very nice and wonderful friends,” Jack said. Soon after, Rebeca and Jack officially became a couple.“When I turned 21, he was the first one to take me to a bar and it was such a highlight, so much fun,” Rebeca recalled. “He was also the first one to take me to Las Vegas.”
For the next five years, their love blossomed until suddenly they started drifting apart. “I was young. I think maybe I wanted to keep partying; I was kind of getting scared that things were getting serious. I still don’t know what happened,” Jack said. “It was upsetting,” Rebeca remembered. “I’m not going to lie, but we had a really respectful ending.” Despite the breakup, Jack’s younger brother kept in touch with Rebeca, and Jack kept in touch with Rebeca’s younger sister, Raquel. By this time, Raquel was a professional hairstylist living in Italy, and Rebeca a professional manicurist and esthetician working in La Jolla. In 1996, Raquel returned to San Diego. The sisters became business partners, opening their own salon, called Sashay. Jack would pop in every so often to get his hair cut by Raquel.
Then in 2009, an unexpected twist. A Facebook post on a mutual friend’s page revealed Raquel Piña had a brain tumor. Jack reached out to Rebeca’s family, but they turned him away. “I told him we are not really accepting visitors right now,” Rebeca recalled. In 2010, on the advice of a therapist, Rebeca’s parents, Ernesto and Sandra Piña, tried to go out once a week to distract their minds and hearts. One day, they bumped into Jack and a female friend at a casino buffet. “Do you think it’s OK if I go see her?” Jack recalled asking them.
For nearly two years, Jack Sasson helped to care for Raquel. “She was so happy; her face was glowing,” Jack said. “After that first visit, Jack never left our house,” Rebeca said. “He would come every day; she loved him there. She would tease him all the time,” she added. Rebecca said that without even realizing it, Jack became her pillar. “It wasn’t like he said will you be my girlfriend again; it just happened,” Rebeca said.
While the medication changed Raquel’s physical appearance, it didn’t break her spirit.“She could no longer speak, but I told her not to worry about her sister,” Jack recalled. “I told her I loved her sister and I would take care of her.”
On October 12, 2011, five years after her diagnosis, Raquel died. Slowly, her family began to pick up the pieces of their lives. Jack and Rebeca began the second chapter of their romance. Last August, both Rebeca and Jack’s families took a joint vacation to Cancun. Jack had a plan. “It was complicated,” he noted. His sister-in-law, Itzel, hired a flash mob and helped gather the whole family in the center of the town’s plaza. Then, to the tune of Bruno Mars’ “Marry You,” Jack took Rebeca out of the crowd, pulled out a ring, and asked her to be his wife.
Now in their 50s, the couple is planning a wedding. “We don’t have a date set yet, but it needs to be soon,” Jack said. “My dad is 96 years old and Rebeca’s dad, Ernesto, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease two years ago.”Once again, Jack has stepped up to the plate to help Rebeca cope. “Ernesto is one of my best friends,” Jack added. “Of course I told him not to worry about his daughter.”
While Raquel won’t physically be at their wedding, they know she will be there in spirit. They will always consider her the angel that reunited them.