The BKZ – Chapter 1

AN UNEXPECTED ROMANCE

I remember it like it was yesterday. I had recently arrived at Keesler Air Force Base to train in computer network maintenance. I had left all my friends behind – those few who remained – in Monterey, and I was feeling very lonely and out of place.

I had always trouble making new friends, and to make matters worse, I was in an awkward position as a trainee at this new base. Because I had already been in the Air Force for two years I was not grouped with the other Airmen who were fresh out of basic training. But, unlike the other Airmen at this training base, I was not on my second or third enlistment and retraining into a new career field after already having served for several years on active duty. I was somewhere in the middle. It was very isolating.

When I arrived at Keesler I did run into one old Air Force buddy from Monterey who had changed jobs and was there finishing her training. But, true to the nature of β€œmilitary life” she left after only a few weeks and was stationed at another base.

As a result of this gnawing loneliness, I had been trying for the past several days to reach out to old friends from high school. Anyone to reconnect with. I had been surfing Classmates.com and messaged a few people but hadn’t heard anything back yet.

The day was Sunday, April 3, 2005. I had just had a long, boring weekend – no friends, remember? – and I was sitting in my lonely room, drinking a glass of my favorite beverage: white grape juice. I sat down in front of my computer and found a new email message. It was from Paula.

Paula and I had been friends back in the early 90’s through Joplin Little Theatre. We didn’t go to high school together, but I had found her on the Joplin High School page on Classmates.com. Paula made a suggestion that would forever alter the course of my life. She told me that the best way to find old friend was to sign up for this cool new service called Friendster. So, I did.

I began to set up my profile on Friendster. Basic information about myself? Check. A photo? Check. It felt like I was setting up a dating profile. But without the dating. Then, I clicked a button and received a message: “Your profile is complete. Welcome to Friendster!” The message came with another little bit that said something like, “Here are some other people on Friendster in your area…”

I browsed over the pictures and names listed. I clicked on a few and read about the interests of various local people. I thought back to Monterey and my civilian friend Milan… Military friends are one thing, but making friends with a civilian – a local – that is a great way to make a place feel like home. So, I decided to reach out and make friends with a local civilian.

I clicked on a few more profiles, but no one popped out at me as great “friend material.” Maybe I was just being too picky. I decided to click on one more profile before calling it quits for the evening. That profile just happened to belonged to Karen. The first thing I noticed was that she had listed several cool bands that I was a fan of – and several other bands I had never heard of. I looked up some of this new music and I found it immediately to my liking. So, I decided to send Karen a quick message and perhaps get some advice about Biloxi. One of my biggest hobbies in Monterey was watching independent films at the Osio Theater and going to concerts.

So, I began my message…

Sunday, April 3, 2005

Subject: Thank you!

Thank you Karen, for having awesome taste in music! =o)

My old high school friend Paula convinced me to sign up for Friendster… so I did… Then I realized this would be a great way to meet mor people in Biloxi since I just moved here a month ago and I don’t really like “military people” (I’m in the military myself, and those are the only people I meet! Ack!).

This friendster thing is SO weird… I’d heard about it, but I never knew… It really proves the whole six degrees of separation thing! We’re separated by 5 degrees of separation. How… well, I guess that isn’t special at all! =o) Oh well…

Perhaps we can talk. Oh, and say – do you know any good movie theatres around here? Good, as in they show independent and foreign films, not hollywood blather.

zai jian!
Zach

Yes, I actually signed off with “zai jian!” (that means goodbye in Mandarin). I had just spent a year in an intensive military school training to speak Mandarin, and by gosh, I was going to take every advantage I could to use it! From Karen’s profile I gathered that she was Chinese, so I figured I’d try my luck.

She wrote back:

Sunday, April 3, 2005

No good theatres, that I know of. but blockbuster sometimes carries a good selection of indie films. i know you’re thinking, “blockbuster?” but they are trying to cater to the small and unique crowd, i suppose.

wow, you prove that “you become, what you hate most” phrase or is it “you are what you eat” ? πŸ™‚

thanks for commenting on my “awesome” taste in music, that makes two in biloxi (you and me) i moved to biloxi 3 months ago, it’s not that bad, other than the fact that there are no good places to see a good show, no best buy, no target, no good music stores and only one grocery store.

by-the-way, what gave away my chineseness?
karen

We continued to correspond back and forth a few times that day and the next. We discussed the scene in New Orleans and Mobile, both of which were about a 90 minute drive from Biloxi. We talked about our musical interests. She asked me how I knew she was Chinese. I told her that I figured out she was Chinese because she had a picture on her Friendster account of her wearing a qi pao (a traditional Chinese dress). She told me that she was in Biloxi for work, pre-selling condo units for a building that was going up. On Monday night, I decided to invite Karen to a game. Karen responded the next morning:

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

i just got your message today, otherwise, i would have loved to join you for the game. i live right by the mall. instead, i went to famous joes and had 25 cent oysters and dollar drafts. i enjoyed it very much but would have much rather had company πŸ™‚ maybe we can try and meet again. i’ve heard the garden state soundtrack and loved it as much as i liked the movie. as for wicker park, i’ll have to check it out.

i think maybe you know more mandarin than i do. maybe you could give me lessons. i’ll teach you cantonese and english πŸ™‚ i’m not very good at writing chinese, because i was born and raised here. my mom forced me to learn when i was a kid and like all rebel children, in one ear and out the other. i’ve tried to teach myself in the last few years, but it’s just not as easy to remember. i guess the old age is catching up to me πŸ™‚

i was crazy into drum-and-bass back in 97-98. but now all i listen to is indie music. at the moment i have the postal service in my car. and i’m listening to the new mae cd on my computer while trying to work.

i sell pre-construction condos and am currently working one of the condo projects in biloxi. i miss traditional chinese food a lot, but most of it i know how to cook. maybe one day i’ll try to recreate the taste of chinatown for you πŸ™‚

There is a ferry that takes people out to one of the islands, as for the rest, you have to own a boat or know a friend who owns a boat, unless you’re an awesome swimmer. i haven’t really made any friends here. i met a couple of people, but have almost nothing in common with them, so i usually do stuff by myself. in this town, when a girl goes out alone, most people mistakens her as a hooker. you’d be surprised at the offers i get around this town πŸ™‚

what about you? do you have any friends, you hang out with here? and what is your idea of having a good time?

i look forward to hearing from you soon..

karen

That afternoon, when I got out of class, I sent Karen a quick and humorous note before heading down to dinner:

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Subject: Help!

Karen, this friendster thing is nuts! My mailbox is getting stuffed with all these random messages from people I don’t know and who live no where NEAR me… actually, almost all of them are little 18 & 19 year old gurls from the Phillippines… What is goin on in the Phillippines? So strange…

~Z

Karen immediately responded:

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

maybe it’s because you have cute pictures online…what are they sending you? is it just ads or are they actually messaging you?

i didn’t get all of your last message, it cut off in the middle…

the good thing about being in the military, is that it’s like being in school, you meet people really easily. i work in a small office with one other person and we don’t even get along. on top of that, i work 7 days a week, most weeks, so i never have time to do community things and meet people. i do know a couple who has a boat, but not well enough to ask them to take me out.

as for your famous joe, rumor… that explains why i got all those looks from people when i walked in. i’m surprised i didn’t get approached πŸ™‚

you have to post a new pic of you on your friendster site, so that i can see what you look like with no hair.

i like your “hang out” ideas. i used to get together with my friends and play card games and bored games. i owned this electornic ‘clue’ game and we used to play it alot. my favorite game is still taboo. my sister and i kiss ass in it, when we team up. i like to take walks along the beach. i’ve never lived this close to the beach, so i like to take advantage of it. i wish i didn’t have to work everyday, so could enjoy the sun sometimes.

as for volleyball, i’m one of those people who does not know how to play. i’ve played beach volleyball before, but it was the, hit the ball until someone hits it out, kind…

i wish i could help you with the philippino girls, but i’m not a guy and i don’t think they’re into the bi-thing, or they could be πŸ™‚ anyway, write me back when you have time

The next day, Karen and I decided to meet up. I remember it was a Wednesday. Why that day sticks out in my head so clearly I have no idea. But it was a Wednesday – big blue letters caption every memory I have of that day: “Wednesday!”

We had only been emailing back and forth for three days, but we decided to meet in real life. I was nervous, of course, because from her profile pictures she appeared to be a “cute” girl and from her messages she seemed to be a “cool” girl, but I had a certain skepticism about meeting people over the internet. I figured that people aren’t what they want you to see in their profiles. If only I had taken that idea a bit further, maybe I wouldn’t have been so caught unawares by what transpired between Karen and I. But I was young, only twenty-four, and I still had a lot to learn about how two-faced and deceptive “cute” and “cool” girls could be.

It was Wednesday night, around 7 o’clock, and Karen and I met at a little book store by the mall. I actually arrived a little earlier because I didn’t have anything better to do, and I like nothing more than looking through books for hours on end. I discovered a beautiful book of photographs of Chicago and decided to buy it and show it to Karen. When Karen arrived, she had just come from work and was a little bit dressed up looking very “business professional.” Despite this fact, she… she took my breath away.

I wish I could remember what we talked about. I wish I had somehow been able to make a record of my life and replay it during moments of nostalgia for “happier times” like I can do with emails and other such things that traverse the digital realm. But that night’s memory is a blur to me. Sometimes emotions can be so overwhelming that the overshadow all the details of a memory. I do remember that we both had a wonderful time together and it was decided that we would meet up the next night at Karen’s apartment to watch some Family Guy.

So, the next night… April 7, 2005. It was a Thursday. I made the drive west down Beach Boulevard from the Air Force base towards the mall. When I arrived at the mall, on Eisenhower Drive, I turned north and drove until I got to the train tracks. And then I turned into the first apartment complex on my left and parked my car next to Karen’s silver Toyota RAV4. I gingerly walked up the stairs to her apartment and knocked on the door. As I stepped across the threshold of that door, little did I know that this apartment would be where I would make my home for the next five months.

Karen did something very interesting for me that night that I think somewhat sealed the deal in my mind. She cooked dinner for me. Now, I am the last one to push gender roles on anyone. I certainly don’t think women belong in the kitchen. In fact, one of the things that attracted me to Karen from the beginning was that she was a serious “career” girl. She had a career as a realtor and a marketing degree. She was interested in entrepreneurship and someday owning her own business. We even talked about having a business together someday. But I digress…

Karen cooked me dinner that night. And it was the first of many dinners. Oh, and of course, it was delicious. I’m not really sure why that made such an impression on me. Maybe it is because up until that point my diet has only consisted of the same two cereals for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, and chicken and potatoes from the Air Force dining for dinner. Every day – the same thing. And every meal – by myself.

As promised, we also watched some Family Guy. And then we just sat there, on the futon in her living room, the only light in the room coming from the large glowing fish tank, and talked. And we talked for hours on end. We talked about anything and everything. Everything seemed to be clicking between us. We had the same loves, hates, hopes, dreams, you name it – Karen and I shared it. Well, except for beer. Karen was really into beer and I hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol in almost eighteen months and had never really liked beer. But I loved the fact that she was into beer. I wanted to be into beer too!

Before we realized it, it was two o’clock in the morning and I was basically too tired to drive home. It was decided – I don’t remember who suggested it, really – that I should stay at her apartment and sleep on the futon. And to think, we had only just met the day before… and only just discovered each other online four days prior! Talk about building up trust in a hurry.

So, I slept over at Karen’s, and when the morning came I got up, went back to base, took my morning jog and had a shower, had breakfast and went to class. It was Friday. Obviously neither Karen nor I had plans with anyone else that weekend, so naturally we decided to get together again that night. And again we stayed up late into the night talking and again I slept on her futon. See, what I didn’t realize at the time was that Wednesday night, April 5th, was basically the last night I was going to sleep in my own bed ever again.

Karen and I spent the entire weekend together and by the end of that weekend I knew I wanted to be more than friends. I said as much to Karen expecting that she was equally as interested. Karen sort of laughed at me when I told her I wanted to be “boyfriend and girlfriend” in a “going steady” kind of way. She said it reminded her of grade school when boys and girls would ask each other out, often times with cute little notes. But Karen had never received any such note when she was in grade school. So, instead of giving me an answer, she said to me: “I won’t answer your question unless you ask it in a note. And the note has to have options, like Yes, No, or Maybe. Just like in grade school.”

The next day, I went out and bought some fancy colored pens – the kind that I imagined all the cool kids in grade school were using. I bought some paper that looked appropriately childish in size and shape, and I wrote Karen her note. I decorated it. I made it look like just the thing that I would have written when I was in sixth grade (had I ever been in school in the sixth grade) and wanted to ask a girl out. The note read:

“Dear Karen, Will you go out with me? (_) Yes (_) No (_) Maybe”

Now, this was a very important note that I was writing, because, after all this was a very important girl I was about to ask out. I took my sweet time gathering the supplies and making sure the note was perfect. After a day or two of not hearing from me on the subject, I think Karen began to wonder if I had taken her seriously, so she mentioned it to me again. “Oh, just you wait, you’ll see,” I said to her. I think at that point I was pretty sure I knew what her answer was going to be.

On Wednesday, April 12, 2005 – exactly one week after we first met – I showed up at Karen’s apartment and presented her with the note. Then, I told her I would go take a walk while she thought over her decision.

While I was walking, I couldn’t have been a happier person at that moment. I was about to embark upon what I expected to be one of the most exciting and interesting journeys in romance with one of the most exciting and interesting human beings I had ever met in my life. I thought about so many happy thoughts that surely a couple of hours had passed. I looked at my watch: It had been three minutes. I was just a little ways down the parking lot of Karen’s apartment complex. I quickly turned on heel and hustled back to Karen’s apartment to find out her answer. She quite ceremoniously presented me with the note which I opened to see… She had said yes! Or rather, she had checked the box next to “Yes” in the note.

That night, just like every night the previous six days, and just like ever night for the months to follow, I slept over at Karen’s house on the futon in her living room. Except this time, we didn’t stay up all night talking. There was a little bit of cuddling and kissing involved too.