Anachan's Corner

One woman's journey through marriage, motherhood, and the classroom…

Small World, Sort Of . . . Or Perhaps Just a Miraculous One

Written By: Anachan - Jun• 21•16

When I was a freshman in college at Brigham Young University, I met a guy who ended up having a tremendously positive impact in my life.

At first, I didn’t like him. It started when my girl friends had tried to call a “particular guy” to come escort me home from the library late at night. They did so less because they were concerned about my safety on this usually-very-safe campus and more because they were trying to promote the relationship between myself and this “particular guy”. Unfortunately, in those pre-cell-phone days, he had not been at his dorm room; and his roommate had, instead, chivalrously come with a couple of guys I did not know to fill in. The two unknown guys made mocking comments all the way home about the ninja in the bushes, with the roommate looking apologetic.

Later on that school year, I ran into one of those unknown guys again, when I circulated on my dormitory floor, collecting handwriting samples from residents and visitors on which to practice graphology. He happened to be visiting, and he obligingly submitted a handwriting sample.

I do not know exactly what I saw in that handwriting, but I remember it catching my attention and freezing me in place, and the thought immediately crossing my mind, “I’ve got to get to know this person better.”

An example of his handwriting from later in our correspondence.

So I did what I normally did when I wanted to get to know someone better: challenged him to ping-pong, downstairs in the lobby. He was a good sport, losing horribly, 2-15. I bubbled with energy and smiled (bubbled for me, anyway–I’m an introvert), and he tried to hold his head up and look stoic as the ping-pong balls kept flying past.

Our friendship progressed rather unexpectedly. That summer, we were some of the few students of our acquaintance to remain in the area, he because he was from the general area already and was taking a summer course, and I because my family was moving, so I was staying with my grandparents for the summer. We met up a few times, talking for hours. (Whether it is true or not, I felt that a lot of the time I did most of the talking. It is rare that I meet someone more introverted than I am, and I hadn’t yet learned that silence between friends is ok.) I was never quite able to tell what he was thinking, and he usually didn’t tell me outright.

The most interesting thing which happened that summer was that he invited me to climb a mountain with him. (It is still the only mountain summit upon which I have ever stood.) I remember standing possibly a little too close to the edge, my arms outstretched, euphorically feeling the wind rushing up from below and almost sure that if I stepped off, the wind would bear me up, and I would be able to fly. (I think I freaked him out a little.)

This is me on the descent from the mountain, sliding down a glacier, desperately trying to brake my speed with a knife. (My friend thought it was hilarious. He used a knife as an accelerator.)

Toward the end of the summer, he headed out to Korea to serve a two-year mission for the LDS church. (I was so agitated by knowing he was not going to be around to talk to that I learned to juggle to keep myself from going batty.) I wrote to him every week, for the first year, and about every month, for the second. At that time, I wrote very long letters . . . It evolved to the point where I insisted on writing on blank paper, because lined paper didn’t allow me to fit enough words on two pieces of paper, which was usually all I wanted to include in a single envelope.

When one is an introvert writing epistles, and one is just a college student with nothing terribly interesting happening, one must be creative in finding subject material. I found myself including more of my inner thoughts and impressions than I would normally communicate to anyone, which was to me a terrible risk. Often, I would take a deep breath as I sealed the envelope and think, “There! I’ve finally done it. He won’t ever want to hear from me again.” But he would always write back, and he always encouraged me to continue to write.

This is my friend as a missionary in Korea. He’s the one on the right, showing great enthusiasm.

During this time, I sent him a few poems in my letters. He kept encouraging me to send more, which presented a problem, as I didn’t have many written and quickly ran out of the ones I was willing to share. Because of this, I began a regimen of nightly poetry writing. Most of the time, the results were pretty bad, but sometimes, something worthwhile would appear, which I would send in my next epistle.

Over time, these writing efforts had a profound effect upon me: I began to hold my head higher. I had always felt insecure, with poor self-esteem, but writing poetry had taught me that even I had at least a little bit of valuable uniqueness. After all, though my themes were probably not original, and my work would never end up in an American literature textbook, nobody else had ever said these things exactly the way I had done. And that was reason to stand a little taller and recognize that I had something to contribute to the world. The long-term result of this is that, while I no longer have a nightly regimen of writing poetry, as I no longer have a need to mass-produce it, and I am a bit more secure in my self-identity, I do retreat to writing (poetry or other things, like this blog) whenever I have a strong emotion about something or when I find myself bored.

With the first year of his mission almost completed and his birthday quickly approaching, and with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and affection toward him, I wanted to do something to let him know how much he and his influence had meant to me. I decided to make a book of original poetry. Back then, in 1988, there were no convenient companies on the Internet which would publish a hardbound book if you ordered it, so I had to be creative. I examined books to see how they were bound together, planned the order of the pages, printed them on a near-letter-quality printer (It was the Dark Ages, after all), grouped them in small bundles, and sewed them onto a fabric backing. I used other pieces of paper and glue to attach the bound pages to the cover (which I had covered in fabric), titled it with the Chinese (or Korean, or Japanese) character for “poem,” and sent it across the sea.

See? It’s actually bound . . . as well as I could do by observation and guesswork.

When he returned from his mission, he came back to school and we met up again. Our friendship status, however, was a little unclear to me. Whenever I dragged him out to something, he would come, but he almost never sought me out. Because of this, I wondered if he actually enjoyed my company, or if he was just tolerating me, because of our extensive correspondence. (I tended to approach my friendships with the assumption that people really didn’t want to be with me.) That didn’t stop me from viewing him as a “kindred spirit”, anyway, as Anne of Green Gables would say. After all, he knew more of my “soul” than anyone else alive. In that way, I loved him, but as he never tried to actively court me, that was as far as our relationship went.

After that year, I was the one to head to the Far East (Japan) to serve a mission for the LDS church. And this time, he wrote to me, with some regularity. For a semester, he participated in a study abroad program in his beloved Korea, so we were both far away from our families, across the Pacific Ocean.

Turning Japanese, at the Doll Festival.

After I returned from my mission, I lost track of him when I met and married my husband.

———————————————

Some years and several moves later, I received an anonymous package from Korea. (This was before 9/11, when people were still unafraid of anonymous packages.) As I looked at the handwriting on the address, my hands holding the package began to tremble. I knew that handwriting. I opened it and discovered two Oriental seals–stamps used with ink to sign art or documents. One of them was stylized, in archaic figures, so I could not understand it, but I could easily read the characters on the other one: “Anachan.”

The top seal reads, “Anachan.”

Because I knew I had not told him the story behind that name and the kanji (Chinese character) I used, I knew he had found the web page I then maintained and read the story of it there. With no return address I could use to reply and thank him for the generous gift, I added a new link to my web page, with a message to him. He found it, and we were able to exchange brief e-mails.

I learned he had married a Korean woman (not really surprising to me, as he loved Korea so much), and he had a daughter. He was, obviously, living in Korea, and he had taken a class wherein he had learned to make those seals. I told him about my family, and that was about that.

Another move, and I lost track of him again. (E-mail addresses are not always permanent . . . We try to keep a permanent e-mail address, these days.)

———————————————

Enter Facebook. Whereas before this time, I had had to know something about a friend’s whereabouts in order to get contact information, I now only had to type in a person’s name and perhaps where they went to school, and I had a decent chance of finding them. With my “Army brat” background, I was delighted to be able to track down my friends from two high schools, college, and my Japanese mission and learn something of what had happened to them. After a while, I managed to collect most of the people who had been influential in my life or for whom I still had an abiding affection . . . with the exception of this friend.

You see, his name consists of very standard English names. Very standard. Even his middle name is standard. While my name shoots to the top of a Google search with flashing lights, there are many, many people in the world with his name. It was the proverbial needle in the haystack.

I tried to locate him; I really did. I looked on mission alumni pages, and I looked on alumni lists at the university we had both attended. But even at the university, there were multiple people with his name! I finally gave up the effort . . . almost. Every so often, I would toss out another search, including more information about his hometown and such. It didn’t work, and I became almost resigned that he would be forever lost.

———————————————

Fast forward to the end of 2015.

Browsing through Facebook, I noticed my nephew posting pictures of himself and a young lady with whom he was keeping company. She had a rather exotic look, but a very standard English surname, the very standard English surname of my long-lost friend. As these picture postings became more frequent, and the relationship apparently became more serious, I checked her out a little and realized she had lived internationally.

Could it be?

When they became engaged, I found out from my mother that this young lady was half-Korean. This information only made me more eager to research her background . . . After all, how many half-Korean, LDS girls of a certain age with this very standard English surname could there be?

She accepted my friend request, and my research began . . . It took a while, as her parents were not named among her relationships, but finally I found a picture of herself and her father.

My nephew’s fiancee and her father. Picture shamelessly swiped from her Facebook feed.

I blinked. Those were his eyes. I dug out my old photo albums, wherein lay the three pictures of him I owned, and compared them, wondering. Finally, I returned to her Facebook feed and found an older picture of herself and her father, when she was just a young child, and there was my friend! I was almost sure . . .

Unwilling to trust my own eyes, I called my husband over, showed him the pictures, and asked him if they looked like the same person. “Yep,” he smiled, “they definitely look like the same person.”

She had tagged her father’s Facebook name–He wasn’t using his standard English name–so I followed it with the intention of seeing if I could confirm it. The university matched, and the hometown matched . . . and once more, I found myself with trembling hands. I looked toward the top of the page, with the intention of taking a risk and submitting a Friend request. To my shock and surprise, I found he had already submitted a Friend request to me–a Friend request I had most likely left alone because it wasn’t his name and it didn’t have his picture. (Nor did it include a handwriting sample!) In addition, he was living, not in Korea or in the United States, as expected, but in China! (Yes, I did write a poem about the moment of discovery. No, it is not posted here, because it needs some serious work.)

Last week, my nephew and the daughter of my long-lost friend were married. My husband and I went to the wedding, and he was finally able to meet this friend about whom he had heard much for many years, who had meant much to me, and who still means much to me. I am delighted, not only that my nephew was able to find such a lovely, intelligent, and gracious bride, but that through this miracle, I was finally able to rediscover my friend.

And, by the way, I now know what the other seal means: “great poet.”

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