05/05/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT
Selena's family members agree that it is her husband, Chris Pérez, who has had the hardest burden to bear. "When I go home, I have my husband, "says Suzette, her sister. "When my brother goes home, he has his wife. Mom and Dad go home, they have each other. But Chris, he has to go home without Selena." There, on the bathroom mirror, is a tag that reads: "Selena loves Chris, and Chris loves Selena. "Days after what would have been the couple's third anniversary (April 2), Pérez, 25, sat down with PEOPLE correspondent Betty Cortina and talked about the love of his life.
I remember I used to tell Selena, "When I get old, in my 80s, I'm going to be sitting on the porch of our house on 10 acres of land. I'll be bored, cracking pecans with a pair of pliers. And there'll be a million coffee cans full of shelled pecans." She would always laugh. But I always told her, "Hey, you know what? I'll have you right there next to me, doing your knitting."
We planned on having a family. Selena wanted a big one, five kids. I wanted only two. I told her she was crazy, wanting so many kids. I thought we should give them regular names like Becky and Eric. She was into weird names like Sebastian. I always told her I wouldn't be able to spell names like that.
But I didn't even get to live three years of my life with her. Three years! Man, you never know. That's the one lesson I learned out of all this: you never know when it's the final time you'll see your wife, your brother, your sister.
That last morning I was asleep in the bedroom. Selena had gotten up early. She took a shower, got dressed, got made up. When she opened the door to the hallway she screamed. I jumped out of bed. What happened was, my dad was staying with us at the time and he had just opened the door of his room, right next door, at the same moment. Selena turned around and smiled, and she was laughing, and she said, "He scared me!" I heard her and my dad talking out there, and I just went back to sleep. And that was the last time I ever saw her alive.
We met in '88 or '89, when I was playing with another band in San Antonio. The very first time I'd seen Selena was actually a few years before. It was a videotape of her performing at a little club in San Antonio. I was about 17 then, and watching the tape with my best friend. We were both, like, "Who's that?" You know, regular guy stuff. The first time I got to see Selena in person, it was at the same show that her brother approached me about joining their band. Selena wasn't a star then. This was before anybody had any money. Her brother A.B. was driving around in an old Buick Somerset.
It was a good two years into having a regular, friendly relationship that things finally clicked between Selena and me. I remember I was 19, and her brother said to me, "Chris, what do you think about Selena?"
I just said, "Oh, yeah, she's cool."
"No, what do you think about Selena?" A.B. repeated. "Because she was asking me about you."
I just said, "Nah," to the whole idea.
He laughed. "Why not?"
See, I was the sort of person who always would keep my guard up, so that if I didn't succeed in what I was trying, I wouldn't get hurt. I never let myself think anything could happen with Selena and me other than friendship. We work together. I'm not gonna let anything else happen. That was how I was able to control myself.
But after my talk with A.B., I looked at Selena in a different light. I felt like I had the edge now, because of what I knew. I never did anything about it—never made any moves. But little by little it all started coming together.
It wasn't until I was 21 that Selena herself came out and told me how she felt about me, how she wanted to get to know me better than I was letting her. We were at a restaurant eating pizza. We were leaving, and I still hadn't told her that I was feeling the same way about her. We started walking across the street to the place where we were playing that night, and I remember telling myself, "I'm going to tell her, and this will be the turning point." And then I finally got up the nerve.
That was the first time I came out of my shell. Selena was the one who got me to do that. She was the first person who I could stare into her eyes all day, that I could say "I love you" to and not feel like a fool. It used to be, if I'd phone my parents when I was on the road, they'd say, "I love you," and I would say, "Okay, I'll talk to you later." But with Selena, it got to where I would say "I love you" even before they would. Selena taught me to do that.
When I had to say goodbye to her at the funeral, I thought, "God is going to look down at me and say, 'Oh, this guy really loves Selena—I better quit screwing with his mind, or he's going to freak.' " Because I was going crazy. I was talking to her. I was touching her and stroking her hair. That's a big dose of reality, when you touch somebody that you love more than anything in the world and you know that they can't feel it, that they're not even there. Just a shell. I wanted to crawl into the coffin and put my arms around her and go to sleep next to her and have them close the lid and bury me with her.
That was the hardest thing I have ever done, saying goodbye to Selena.
The second hardest thing was going home to our house. I walked around the rooms. Her clothes were unfolded on the bed; paperwork was on the table. I walked into the bathroom and saw her robe hanging over the shower curtain. You know, she never thought she wouldn't be coming home.
And there are these habits that I had, like making sure Selena's car was okay, making sure her tires had air, that she had gas. She never looked at the gauge, she'd just take off. I feel like I still want to do all that for her.
We have a huge bed, and I'm a small guy and sometimes I'd wake up and I'd look for her and she'd be on the other side. I'd say, "Hey," waving to her, and she'd wave back. Now I wake up and I look around and there's nothing but empty mattress. You can reach over as far as you want.
I think if Selena were here she'd be trying to make us feel better. She hated to see people in pain. To me, she'd probably say that she loved me and not to worry, that I'd see her again one day, and not to give up on her.
Selena was the best thing that ever happened to me, and that will never change. I don't see anybody taking her place. Ever. I know I'm only 25, I'm young. But that's the way I feel.