A former Menudo fan examines her complicated relationship with Ricky Martin. 

I Knew Him When ...

Ricky Martin may have wowed American audiences in February with his hip-swiveling performance on the Grammy Awards, but I remember an even more exciting Grammy moment circa 1984.

I was an awkward seventh-grader, perched on my haunches in front of the console TV, my heart pitter-pattering as the five Puerto Rican cuties in Menudo presented the Grammy to Tito Puente for best Latin pop performance. The boys were dressed in matching white-and-gold outfits and seemed nervous exercising their still-shaky English skills.

My favorite, Ricky Melendez, joked around when it came time to open the envelope, his green eyes — and braces — sparkling in the spotlight.

While I watched Ricky Martin on that same show this year, and then took in the incredible crowd reaction — a standing ovation from Sting and Jerry Seinfeld, for God's sake — I felt an incredible rush of excitement. Not because of Martin's electrifying performance, but because after 15 long years of being ridiculed for being a Menudo fan, I was vindicated. I could finally come out of my deep, dark closet and proclaim to all the world that I liked Ricky Martin, long before Ricky Martin was cool.

Well, to say that I liked him is somewhat of an exaggeration. Martin, in fact, was the first man to break my heart. I'll never forget the day I learned my precious Ricky Melendez, the last original member of Menudo, was being "retired" at age 17 to be replaced by a pip-squeak with the same name.

To us Melendez fans, Martin or "Little Ricky" as he came to be known, was anathema. The immature 14-year-old shrimp had a girlish voice and about as much sex appeal as a cold enchilada.

My, how things have changed.

Today, Martin is quite possibly the most famous pop star in America, and probably the world. His music — and face — are impossible to escape. While recently celebrating my wedding anniversary with my husband (alas, not my beloved Melendez) at one of Richmond's best restaurants, I was stunned to hear a fiftysomething woman at the next table swooning over Martin. "He is so hot!" she exclaimed, while fanning herself with her menu.

I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for her, and the legions of other Martin fans like her who missed out on the beginnings of his career — something that even Martin seems to try to play down. Despite the incessant teasing I endured as a 13-year-old Menudo fan, and sometimes still do when I 'fess up to an enduring affection for the group, Martin will never mean the same things to these newfound fans as he means to me and other menuditis.

To me Ricky Martin is much more than a sexy pop star or a symbol of this country's thriving Latino culture. To me Ricky Martin represents my coming-of-age, my first true sense of loss, and what, aside from my wedding day, was the most exciting day of my life: July 2, 1985, the day I finally saw Menudo in concert.

When I watch the hysterical hordes that follow Martin's every step, I can't help but think of the 13-year-old girls among them. I hope that one day their memories are as precious to them as my memory of Menudo is to me. I may have put away my Menudo albums, posters and dolls (yes, dolls) the day I entered high school, but I will never escape the influence Menudo and Martin have had on my formative

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