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Finding myself

  • In July 1995, I was a working mom of four children. I had been working at a company for a year, putting together gift baskets filled with herb dip mixtures and flavored vinegars. I was transitioning to sales and working at trade shows, and this would be my second wholesale gift show... and my first solo show. I had been, for so long, looking for the me that I lost years before. My husband at the time was supposed to have moved out while I was away doing these shows. I had brought the kids to my parents for the month, since their dad did not want to 'babysit' them in my absence. That's another story for another time. This story is about finding love in solitude at a wholesale gift show in Rochester, NY.

    I was in a healthy mental state for the first time in a long time. I had a job I really liked, and it was just a short walk from my house. When I was scheduled to do a solo gift show, I was nervous, excited, and really looking forward to it. I had this overwhelming feeling that I would find myself in the solitude. Yes, there would be hundreds, thousands probably, of people there, but my free time would be mine. I drove over six hours to my destination, set up the booth, checked into the hotel, got a bite to eat, and slept. 

    On July 16th, I arrived at the center, ready to smile, talk, and sell. The show was barely open when this gentleman strolled up to my booth, and I asked if he'd like to try some dip. It was a little early for chips and dip, he said in a noticeably southern drawl. Ah, well, some salsa perhaps? He declined politely, and then he paused. "Your name is so beautifully spelled, I would hate to mispronounce it. How do you pronounce your name?" His voice was so soft, so genuine, so I smiled as I said, "It's pronounced 'Kay', just like the letter." He asked the origin, and I went on to explain that my Japanese mom wanted something that represented the American in me, so instead of 'Keiko', I was 'Kei'. We talked about the businesses we were there for, until people started coming into the booth and I needed to actually work. Robert went back to his booth in another aisle. Yet every time there was a big gap in foot traffic, there he was, walking towards me. He later confessed that since he had a sales rep at his booth, he would often hide behind a sales display at the booth space across from me and watch me until no one was around me so he could come chat. The next day, he showed up several times. The ladies at the booth next to me watched my booth so I could have a lunch break, something I had skipped the day before. I found myself near Robert's booth. He owned a candle company in Texas, and showed me the varieties of scents they made. To this day, the strawberries 'n cream they made smell better than any other company I've tried. 

    Two days after we met, Robert asked if I would like to see a movie after the work day was done. He said Braveheart was playing, and wanted to share with me the movie that had just changed his life. It turned out, we were staying at the same hotel. When he stopped by to pick me up, he added that the movie was no longer playing; would I like to wander the local mall and have dinner instead? And off we went. I had never felt this at ease with someone before, when walking through a mall I had to resist slipping my hand into his. We walked, laughed, and talked. He told me why he wanted to share the movie with me. Most people think of the battles in Braveheart. He was more touched with the love story within. Robert saw the movie the month before, and there was a scene that made him reevaluate his life. "Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it." He said, at that point, he decided he was done living his life the way someone else wanted him to. He was married, and they were living in separate houses, just sharing the business, which he had decided he was going to sign over to her and their other business partner. He had committed to this show and two others, and then would go back to surveying and engineering. We had dinner at Olive Garden, and every few years, we try to celebrate our first date anniversary at a local one. We talked about everything- family, growing up, work, life. When he brought me back to my room, I showed him my artwork, we chatted a little, and he took my hand, sweetly kissed my cheek, and left. 

    He called my room less than an hour later, and said, "Tell me the rest of the story". We talked for hours. The next morning was the last day of the gift show. He was checking out when I entered the lobby. The entire drive to the center, I kept hearing this voice in my ear telling me that I needed to spend more time with him. This voice, I've heard only a few times in my life. This was the voice that saved my life during times of crisis, times when I needed to be still, times when I needed to persevere. This was the voice that told me I would find myself in solitude. So when the voice whispered, "ask him to stay another night", I was not going to ignore it. It didn't matter that this was not the type of person I was. This was the type of thing that I would have told a friend, "Are you fucking out of your mind? You just met the guy!" if it was happening to them. 

    I asked, of course, and he put his arm out and told me to twist his arm. I barely touched his arm, when he said yes. He helped me pack up my booth when the show was over. The first time he hugged me, he let out the biggest sigh and said, "It feels so good to be held." On my drive home the next morning, I kept looking in the rear view mirror, thinking I might see his truck zooming up behind me. He didn't follow me home, yet. And while I was driving eastward, the sun peaked over the road in front of me. In that exact moment, the voice whispered, "God is Love". For the first time, I felt it.

    Five weeks later, Robert loaded what he could in his truck and drove from Texas to Western Massachusetts. People around us didn't think we had a chance of making it last. My ex tried to cause strife and make everyone turn against me. He said I was living in la-la land and the reality would crush me someday. The truth is, when I was younger and thought about what kind of life I wanted, what kind of love I wanted/needed, it always felt like I felt when I met Robert. The ease of it, the ability to be me and not someone else's version of who they wanted me to be. I envisioned a life with someone who I could trust and love and feel complete peace with. No drama, no lies, no arguments. I found that. I thought I would find myself in solitude and instead found myself in love.

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