The Love Story Series is my journal of the events that led to Eric and I falling in love. You can find all the Love Story chapters here.
I arrived in Washington at the right time of year. It was beautiful and sunny, cooler than Hawaii but still warm enough to keep me comfortable.
At the time, flights into Canada were actually quite a bit cheaper than Seattle flights, so my dad picked me up at the Vancouver airport. I didn’t have a passport or birth certificate but somehow charmed my way through customs by showing the agent my military dependant ID and explaining that my father was an officer which was only possible for American citizens, therefore I was an American citizen and totally qualified to travel to Canada. I’m not sure how it worked, but it did and my dad was waiting for me outside the customs area, my birth certificate in his hand just in case.
Driving down to Washington, we had a rather unfortunate father daughter bonding moment. My dad was apparently fighting a sinus infection so had a horrible hacking cough. He coughed up phlegm into an empty cup as he drove (ugh, I’m gagging just writing the word phlegm) based on his doctor’s advice to “get it all out of your system”. My strong gag reflex simply could not handle the sounds coming from his side of the car and soon I yanked the trash bag out from behind my seat as my stomach could no longer contain the airplane sandwich I’d had for lunch.
My poor father is of course a sympathetic vomiter, and had to quickly pull the vehicle over since I was using the only plastic bag in the car. Soon we were both leaning on the car, emptying our stomach contents with other cars driving by slowly to watch the show. I began laughing hysterically between dry heaves, wondering what the other drivers thought was going on. Finally we both recovered and made it through the border without incident.
When we arrived at their house my mother and sister greeted me with hugs, and my brother giggled like crazy to get to see his big sister again. To an outside observer it may have seemed like a normal homecoming, but I felt like an outsider, terrified they would see through the cheerful mask I’d pasted on my face.
I was certain I needed to put on a great show of being happy, healthy and in control of my life. I wanted to prove to my parents that I was doing just fine on my own and I wanted my sister to look up to me. If they knew how much I was really struggling, if they knew I had been living in my car, that now once I payed rent on my storage closet called an apartment I could only afford a $1 fast food sandwich to eat each day, if they knew how messed up things really were, they’d see me for the failure I really was.
So I talked about how wonderful things were, sharing stories of plays I’d been in, waves I’d surfed and crazy Starbucks customers. I eagerly devoured the family meals and snacked hungrily on the fresh fruits and vegetables my mother kept in her kitchen, all the time not realizing that she’d seen the dullness of my skin and eyes and was telling my dad how concerned she was that I was suffering from malnutrition.
That Thursday evening we were going to my sister’s baccalaureate ceremony, something I still don’t completely understand but it’s basically like a church service to celebrate graduating Seniors and encourage them to make good choices for their future. All I really cared about was that she was going to be dancing a solo in front of hundreds of people and I was so excited and proud to be able to watch her perform.
After the ceremony, she ran around the parking lot saying goodbye to people as we walked to the car, but also craning her neck to look around. “I can’t find them anywhere!” She exclaimed.
“Who are you looking for?” My mom asked curiously.
“The Johnsons, I wanted to introduce Diana to Eric and his family.” I had heard her talk about Eric Johnson before. He was one of three guys in her youth group that she loved having philosophical debates with and rocking out to bands like Five Iron Frenzy. I’d wondered if she might have a crush on him or the other guys, but she assured me that they were just like brothers and the thought of liking them any differently was just gross.
She couldn’t find Eric or his family that evening, so we headed home to get her ready for the graduation ceremony the next morning.
We woke up early to get ready and I remember trying not to let Sharon see me get choked up as I watched her lay out her cap and gown. It had been over a year since I’d seen her and a part of me still saw her as my little baby sister. But she’d be going to art school soon and for a long time had been a lot more grown up that I’d been willing to realize.
The ceremony was held in a stadium at the Puyallup fair grounds and, between the funny married teachers who gave speeches, and the police hunting down people blowing prohibited airhorns, it was actually a lot more interesting than most graduation ceremonies. Our French cousin Jeremie who was in Seattle for college was there, along with our grandparents and our aunt and uncle who lived in Washington at the time.
I had brought silk flower leis for everyone to pile on her neck, since I knew she’d hated leaving Hawaii and really wanted to have a Hawaiian graduation. I watched her glow with excitement as they were layered up one by one in a rainbow of frilly color, then I ceremoniously brought out the ribbon lei I’d spent hours making in her school colors and placed it on top. After the ceremony, we all went home and celebrated with a big lunch and cake.
I remember that day was full of fun and love, and I was tempted to ask to just stay there instead of going back to Hawaii. But as much as I loved my family, I knew that the joy and happiness of a special occasion wouldn’t translate to everyday life, and Hawaii still felt like home.
That Sunday we went to church in the morning, and Sharon once again looked all over for the Johnson family so she could introduce me. But once again it seemed as though we were ships passing in the night. “Weird! I know they’re here! That’s alright, you can meet them when you drop me off at Eric’s graduation party this afternoon.”
But my mood had changed drastically by that afternoon. The sermon that morning was on secrets and hidden sin. I knew my life was full of secrets and felt that the pastor was staring deeper and deeper into my dark and depressing soul with every word he spoke. I felt antsy and uncomfortable, and when it came time to drop Sharon off at her party, the last thing I wanted was to be in a house full of people I didn’t know trying to act cheerful and friendly.
“Hey, I’ll just drop you off. I don’t really want to hang out with a bunch of high school kids,” I told her when I pulled up outside their house and saw over thirty cars parked around the cul de sac. I tried to laugh it off to cover up my own insecurity, not even thinking about how my brush off might make her feel. When I got home, I told my dad I needed to pack for my flight the next day and asked if he could pick her up.
I headed into the den where I was sleeping and tried reading, watching tv, anything to distract myself from the gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach that my whole life was a lie and if my family knew who I really was they’d cast me out and never speak to me again. I was ready to run away again, back to Hawaii where I could return to the world of partying and try to escape my depression and fears.
The next day I got on a plane to head back to “paradise”, with no clue that I had come so close to meeting my future husband, and no idea that soon I would have an experience that would completely change the path my life had been on.