Coincidence or Fate? You decide. It was May of 2008, prom night for my eighteen year-old son Ryan. His date was Cristina G., a beautiful blonde senior from another high school. We were invited by Cristina’s parents John and Cathy to come to their house for a pre-prom photo gathering. When we arrived, the spectacular view from their home in the coveted neighborhood of Hawaii Loa Ridge took my breath away. I had never before seen Lēʻahi (more famously known as the Diamond Head crater), from this lofty angle. I tried to imagine its last eruption, estimated over 150,000 years ago and was grateful for its permanent state of dormancy, being that I live only a few miles away from it. The panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean reminded me that I live on a very small and isolated speck, yet the place from where I stood created a dichotomic sensation of immensity.
As the other prom-goers arrived, we enjoyed chocolate chip cookies and guava juice out by the pool. The girls, dressed to the nines, paired up with their respective dates, and we snapped an onslaught of pictures by the pool and in the house. Cristina, dressed in a sleek red with white polka-dotted dress, confessed her love of all things Disney, especially Minnie Mouse. After all, she told us, her dad used to work at Disneyland. Of course, since I used to work there, I jumped in and asked her dad about his Magic Kingdom career, which he admitted was probably before I was born, which it was. This conversation led us into an unusual discovery of beyond coincidental circumstances.
Cristina’s dad John told me he had lived in Long Beach, California. I told him I was born in Long Beach and lived there until I was three. He asked me where specifically, and I told him, “West First Street.” He responded, “I lived on East First Street.”
“What years did you live there?” he asked.
“1965 to 1968. You?”
“1957 to 1966. But,” he added, “my parents remained there for the rest of their lives.”
So we lived on the same street for one year, but that was just the beginning. John told me he went to St. Anthony’s, a Catholic School in Long Beach, and graduated in 1960, which happens to be one year after my half-brother Miles graduated—FROM THE SAME SCHOOL! Needless to say, we were both stunned by this amazing discovery.
“What are the chances of that?” John asked.
“It’s a small world after all,” I chuckled.
Our conversation drifted when I noticed Cristina had donned a sequined pair of Minnie Mouse ears. I had to get more pictures, so I left John to converse with my husband, and this is where it gets unbelievable.
Somehow in their conversation, the topic came up that I am a writer. This alone is weird because anyone who knows my husband knows that he has not been one to boast about my wanna-be writing career. Perhaps he mentioned that I was working on a masters, which could have possibly lead him to say that I was a writer of sorts, but for whatever reason, his statement sparked an immediate response from John, who proceeded to tell my husband that he had been looking for a writer who could create a novel based on the true story of his Romanian parents and himself having to suddenly and permanently flee in 1944 from the incoming Russian Communists, leaving behind their family estate and loved ones in Romania.
I had wandered back inside to catch the tail end of this conversation and was immediately intrigued with the idea of creating such a story. The rest, as they say, is history—Romanian history, that is.
John asked me if I knew anything about ghostwriting or co-authorship projects and if it was something I would be interested in doing. I told him honestly that I didn’t know much about the legal technicalities, but that I was definitely interested in retelling the story for him. I explained to him that without conscientious intention, most of my stories have a common motif of displaced persons, so his story is right up my proverbial alley (except for the fact that I knew nothing at the time about Romania or its involvement in World War II). John then told me he had envisioned this story to be reminiscent of the classic Casa Blanca, starring Ingrid Bergman.
“Well,” I told John, “my maiden name is Bergman, and my favorite black-and-white film has always been, and always will be, Casa Blanca.”
We exchanged numbers and made plans to meet up right away, which we did and have done several times since. John and his wife Cathy have worked hard to keep the documents and photographs preserved. They also have shown me the few family heirlooms that were salvaged from his parents’ estate in Romania and traveled with them to Turkey, then to Rio de Janeiro, across the Atlantic to New York, then to Ohio, across the United States to California, and now dwell safely in Hawaii. What has helped me most, however, is the four-hour video footage of John’s mother Lucia talking at age ninety-two about her remarkable life. I have watched and re-watched this video, taking extensive notes and generating in my mind the voice of an astute, even perhaps sneaky woman who has lived out a plot that I could have never generated on my own.
If done right, this writing endeavor will deliver a riveting plot, a rich exposé of Romania’s ambivalence toward World War II alliances, and a mind-blowing twist of fate at the end. I see it as a film and am writing it with a screenplay in the forefront of my mind.
So as they say in Romania, “Nu lasa pe maine ce poti face astazi” (Don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today).