“Meant to be together, you two were,” Yoda might have reflected on the pairing of Elizabeth McKinney and Gabriel Burgos.
Elizabeth and Gabriel are kids at heart. They attend midnight screenings of Pixar films, enjoy getting lost in aisles of toys at FAO Schwarz in New York City, and collect cartoon bobbleheads and “Star Wars” action figures.
So no one was surprised when they announced their wedding would fall on Star Wars Day — May the Fourth, of course. (“May the Fourth be with you.” Get it?)
They were introduced through a mutual friend in February 2004 but exchanged little more than brief greetings for six months. In August, Gabriel told that mutual friend that his employer had some extra computers and asked whether he knew of anyone who needed one. The friend suggested he call Elizabeth, who at the time was balancing work, school and raising three girls.
A simple five-minute phone call turned into a comfortable and exciting two-hour conversation. The two had an instant rapport and quickly connected over their mutual interests. Hours later, they decided to meet for dinner at IHOP in College Park, Md.
The executive administrative assistant was impressed that Gabriel not only knew the difference between “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” but was actually a big “Star Wars” fan and could keep up with her. “He wasn’t like, ‘Oh, you’re one of those,’ ” she says. “It was, ‘I am one of those, too!’ ” They also realized they were raised only 10 minutes from each other (Elizabeth in Takoma Park and Gabriel in Hyattsville) and were die-hard D.C. sports fans.
At first the two remained just friends. Both had recently exited relationships and preferred to take things slow. But they now admit it was clear they had strong feelings for each other. “We would make excuses around other people just to be with each other,” Elizabeth says.
Things changed around Valentine’s Day 2005. “My daughter needed Valentine’s Day cards, and I couldn’t find them anywhere,” Elizabeth recalls. “He drove with me all the way to Hagerstown, in the middle of the night, to find a 24-hour Wal-Mart.” His actions showed his willingness to go the extra mile not only for Elizabeth, but for her daughters as well. The next day, Valentine’s Day, they had their first romantic date at Cheesecake Factory in Bethesda.
Soon they were inseparable. “For the whole first year, there were probably only 11 days when we weren’t together,” says Elizabeth, now 36.
On the rare occasion they were apart, Elizabeth went on a week-long trip to Colombia. When she returned to the states, she got off the plane with arms wide open and embraced Gabriel. “I remember he just looked at me and said, ‘I love you,’” she says. She immediately replied, “I love you, too.”
Gabriel loves Elizabeth’s enthusiasm, spontaneity and kindness. “She pushes me to enjoy life,” he says. Elizabeth describes Gabriel as “the best sidekick, the best wingman and my best friend.”
The pair moved in together in 2009, and in 2011 they decided to take another big step: Both decided to get gastric bypass surgery. “I was living life but not really enjoying life. I was not living a healthy lifestyle and was extremely overweight,” said Gabriel, who was 540 pounds at his heaviest. “She made me want to do it. . . . I wanted to be here for her and to watch her kids grow up.”
“It was a wake-up call. I totally ended one life and started a new one,” says Gabriel, now 42 and the frozen foods manager at Wegman’s Food Markets in Germantown.
Six months later, Elizabeth, seeing how happy and confident Gabriel was post-surgery, decided to have the same operation. Since then, the pair has collectively lost more than 430 pounds. “People have their vows ‘for richer or for poorer.’ Ours is ‘for fatter or for skinnier,’ ” Elizabeth jokes.
Gabriel proposed to her on July 20, 2013, at a family barbecue at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis. He surprised her with an Etsy-designed mailbox inspired by their favorite Pixar movie, “Up,” and a photo scrapbook. The last picture showed Gabriel kneeling and holding up a ring. When she looked up, Gabriel was on one knee.
Almost immediately, the couple settled on May the Fourth as both the wedding date and theme. “If you were an ’80s kid and have never seen ‘Star Wars,’ I don’t know where you lived. We just love it, can quote it and find a deep respect for it,” Elizabeth says. “We were there at midnight when the toys came out for ‘Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.’ We went to the midnight screening of ‘Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.’ We are all about dressing up and going to Comic Cons. . . . It has become a part of our lives.”
In a flight of whimsy, the couple sent wedding invitations to a number of well-known figures and celebrities, including the Obamas, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and TV host Ellen DeGeneres. According to the couple, DeGeneres RSVP’d “the probability of us attending is approximately 3,720 to 1,” aptly paraphrasing a C-3PO quote from “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Gabriel Burgos married Elizabeth McKinney in front of 170 guests May 4 at the Historic Oakland Mansion in Columbia, Md. The couple entered the reception to the “Imperial Death March,” escorted by costumed members of the 501st Legion, including two Imperial Stormtroopers, Boba Fett and Darth Vader.
“Because of you, I laugh, smile and dare to dream again,” Gabriel said in his vows. Stealing a line from the “Twilight” saga, he promised to love Elizabeth “every moment of forever.”
“I have been looking for you ever since I heard my first fairy tale,” Elizabeth replied. “Everything in my life has led me to you and this moment. My heartbreaks, my regrets, everything . . . seems worth it, because if I had done one thing differently I might never have met you.”