A Tale of Two Love Stories

Growing up my favorite fairy tale was not about Cinderella, Rapunzel, or the Little Mermaid. My favorite fairy tale was not the ones told by Disney, Grimm, or Anderson. My favorite fairy tale was not a tale at all. It was not fiction but fact. With her dramatic flair, my Mama Ming would recount the story of meeting my Papa Don. I heard her tell the story dozens of times. Spinning her tale with nuance and emotion, every detail remembered fondly, she would share the story again and again. It was if she never tired of remembering that moment.

When I was young, I longed to hear her tell the story and would ask her to share it often. By the time I was a teen and after I lived through my parents’ divorce, I was a bit cynical. By this time, I had decided I was not going to get married or have children. I decided I was going to live like Mary Tyler Moore—a stylish, single gal in the big city with a cool apartment and even cooler friends. I would stop my Mama when she started telling the story saying, “Mama, you told me this already, and I am not going to get married.”  She would say, “You never know, Inday.”

By this time, I was also fairly confident she must have embellished. My Mama had panache. So, I figured, the story was spiked with sensationalism. I say that in the most loving terms as I have inherited her somewhat theatrical tendencies.

She would share that she found a beautiful and gentle love in the midst of an ugly and brutal war. She would explain how she was working in a restaurant to help her family. She would describe serving the American soldiers. Then, she would recount THAT moment. She looked across a crowded, smoky restaurant and saw what she says was the most handsome man she had ever seen.  She knew immediately this was the man she would spend the rest of her life loving.

Her premonition was so strong, she bravely asked my Aunty Connie if she could serve the table. It was Aunty Connie’s table, but Mama convinced her that she was the person who needed to serve those soldiers, especially that very handsome one with the Clarke Gable mustache. In the middle of World War II, in a restaurant in the Philippines, just barely out of her teens, my Mama followed her heart with courage and grace. She told me there was never an ounce of doubt. That is why she was so brave, so certain. She just knew my Papa was her destiny.

When you grow up hearing how this legendary love story started, it is hard to imagine ever being able to experience the same thing. After all, I really thought she was exaggerating, and this type of thing only happens in the movies. I even told her that to which she replied, “You never know, Inday.” My Mama also had a knack for being right about almost everything.

Jump forward a few years to 1990. I just moved to Oahu for college, a country girl discovering the big city. It was all extremely exciting and slightly overwhelming. I was living in an apartment, meeting friends, and well on my way to my Mary-Tyler-Moore-lifestyle. Then, one night on Kuhio Avenue, my world changed forever in one moment, just like my Mama.

I was cruising the strip with a friend who was dropping off her niece to a high school dance at Pacific Beach Hotel. Sitting in the passenger’s seat, I was fumbling around looking for a cassette tape. It is 1990, after all.  My friend’s niece, Chantina, says from the backseat, “Aunty, check out that dude.  He looks your type.” I stop fumbling and look out my window. Standing at the corner, outside Nick’s Fishmarket, is that dude. He is wearing a tuxedo shirt and tight black pants. Suddenly, our eyes meet, and it is electric. I felt my heart stop and then beat so fast I could hear it pounding in my head. Our eyes locked on each other, and I cannot look away. He leans ever so coolly against the wall and with a sly smile and a twinkle in his eye, he waves for me to come. I seriously cannot catch my breath.

I respond ever so awkwardly by yelling out the car window, “I’ll be back…”  Yeah, just like that, all General-MacArthur-dramatic as we drive away stuck in the middle of a long line of cruising cars.  Chantina says, “What was that?! I felt that!” I turn to her Aunty and say, “Vanessa, we have to go back.” She says, “Are you nuts?” Tina says, “Aunty, please go back. Didn’t you feel that?” Tina decides she is not going to the dance as she is caught up in this moment. We drive down Kuhio Avenue and then circle back on the Ala Wai.

We drive pass Nick’s again, but he is gone. I am thinking that because of his uniform he must be a valet, so he is probably off parking a car. I beg Vanessa, “Circle around again!” We continue to do this for the next 40 minutes. Each time we pass by, he is not there. I am not willing to give up though still remembering how my body felt when our eyes met. On our final pass, I say, “If he is not there, we can go home.”

And, he is NOT there. Oh, the heck with it!! I decide I need to be courageous; some would call it crazy. I take matters into my own hands, like Mama did when she asked Aunty Connie to serve my Papa’s table. OK, this is a bit more extreme, but I am caught up in the electricity of the moment. I tell Vanessa, “Stop the car!” She says, “Are you nuts?” Tina says, “Do it, Aunty!”

I have never done this before or since, I grab a McDonald’s napkin out of the glove compartment and write my name and number on it. I jump out of the car and run up to a guy in a polo shirt and shorts. I say, “Do you work here?” He says, “Yeah, I’m the valet.” I say, “So I know this sounds strange but there was a guy here when I passed by earlier. I told him I was coming back.”

He says, “Oh, that’s Nathan.”  I swear when I hear his name I want to pass out, not sure why. It is like I was meant to say that name for now and eternity. He glances at the car and continues, “He said the girl of his dreams was coming back in a gray Toyota. You must be her.” I say, “Yes, yes I am!” I hand him the napkin and ask him to pass it to Nathan making a huge effort to not seem desperate or NUTS.

I anxiously wait for my phone to ring. Then I get a message on my answering machine. Again, it is 1990. “Hi, this is Nathan.  Give me a call when you can…” I call him back and we are on the phone for at least two hours. I cannot even remember what we talked about, but our conversation is easy and natural with no weird pauses. He says, “Hey, I have to go to work. Can I come by to see you before that?” I say, “Yes and give him my address.” He says, “I’ll be there in a half hour.”

Holy Moly!!  My head, my world is spinning. Twenty minutes later I am standing in the Port au Couche, and I see a souped-up white Toyota Celica pull in. Nathan is wearing shades, smiling, and looks as cool as I remember him. Ok, maybe he looks even cooler. I see him and my knees are weak. He gets out and we chat. The chemistry is palpable. Before he heads to work, he pulls out something from the car. He hands me two single roses and says, “One is for you. The other one is for your mom.” Wait, he remembered on the call that I said I lived with my mom. Not only is he super sexy, but he listens and is thoughtful, too.  COME ON, need I say more…

He gets back in the car and I lean and give him a soft peck on his lips. Yup, that is me at 19. He is surprised; I can tell. I can also tell he liked it. I feel a surge all the way through my body and down to my toes. He says, “Wish I didn’t have to work.” I say, “Me too…” The rest is history. We were inseparable from that moment on. Our first kiss ever was on October 28, 1990. Our first kiss as husband and wife was exactly five years later on the same date.

I did not end up getting to live like Mary Tyler Moore. It does not matter. I ended up with a fairy tale all my own.  At my wedding, my Mama said, “I told you, Inday. You never know.” We both understood what she meant. We were both lucky enough to have that moment. Just like my Mama I love telling the story about that moment.  I have told it many times in my 26 years of marriage. I never tire of sharing it. I know it seems unbelievable and I would not believe it myself if I had not experienced it.  And, if my Mama had not shared her love story with me, I might not have been ready for my love story to begin.

She is no longer with me, but I thank my Mama every day for preparing me for that moment where my destiny changed, for helping me to trust in the type of love that lasts a lifetime, and for allowing me to believe that real-life fairy tales do happen and dreams, even ones you never imagined, do come true.  And more than 30 years after that fateful night on Kuhio Avenue, I am still grateful for my husband and this incredible love we share. “Thanks for calling, Baby!”


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