Paradise Lost: Okinawa 2004-2005


PARADISE_LOST5“The only paradise is paradise lost.”  ~ Marcel Proust

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”  ~~ John Milton, Paradise Lost

My wife (at the time) was getting glammed up for another practice with the Okinawan rock-band (Pavlov’s Dogs) she had befriended while I was deployed and who with she was going to sing a gig in the coming weeks.  Her being naturally theatrically inclined and blessed with an alluring presence much more than a singing voice, I actively supported this opportunity for her.

Taken the night she spent "with the band."

Taken the night she spent “with the band.”

“Just don’t sleep with the band,” I half-jokingly commented as I righted her head scarf, readying her to head out into the chilly night air.

But she did….  And so much worse.

My ex's haunt while I was away.

My ex’s haunt while I was away.

I’ve written extensively about my first time living on Okinawa (1999-2001) in Shipwrecked on the Island of Misfit Toys, and this reflection serves as the 2nd installment of what will become a three-part series covering my drastically different flirtations with the Far East.  While my first can best be characterized as a fun-filled and zany-at-times misfit adventure, my second foray in Japan bypasses all the shades of gray and takes a much darker turn to black.

My Mother ended up passing away in 2001 while I was half-a-world-away on some stinkin’ gray-hulled ship off the coast of Australia.  Her death was expected, and thankfully I had been previously sent home when she was diagnosed with inoperable and rather advanced, terminal lung cancer.  Oddly enough, that was my second time home on Emergency Leave within a year from Okinawa, since months prior my brother was diagnosed with advanced stage 3 kidney cancer.  It was a tough time on my family, but particularly for my ex.

My spouse, “DJ”’ as she was called, seemed to react increasingly poorly to these crises, particularly to my mother’s death, but these were probably only precipitating events.  She entered a very dark time in our collective lives.  After a year or two of intense therapy and treatment once we moved back to the states in 2001, she was diagnosed as suffering from intense Bipolar Disorder.  In hindsight, it made perfect sense:  her highs were what set her apart and made her so intriguingly creative, energetic and attractive, but the days and sometimes weeks of zombie-like lack of participation in life (sans the brains-eating perhaps) was the price everyone had to pay.  There was treatment (primarily meds), and slowly, she started to come back to more “normal” life (if there is such a thing) starting in 2003.

Sunabe Seawall, a special place for my whole family.

Sunabe Seawall, a special place for my whole family.

My ex and kids had become enthralled with Okinawa during our short time spent living there from 1999-2001, so much so that we jointly and mutually agreed as a family to ask for reassignment back to Japan at the end of my duty in Miami, Florida, in 2004.  This was an easy assignment to get; remember, the job I asked for was as the de facto Misfit Toy-in-Charge in the land of many.  My Detailer, the officer who assigns jobs out to the fleet was more than eager to “pencil me in” to that specific billet exceedingly early, since filling the job was historically like pulling teeth…from a pissed off rabid cat…with sharpened claws.

Of course I did have some ulterior motives in seeking and taking these orders.  Recall at the time that we were intensely engaged in active combat operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  Now this isn’t meant to be a discussion focused on politics or even war; suffice it to say that I, back then and now, simply couldn’t support any of our actions in the Middle East, and wanted no part of what has turned out to be insanely bad ideas and perhaps America’s worst decisions of the new century.  The military forces I would be assigned to in Okinawa have historically been “fenced” or set aside from potential out-of-area global commitments so that they would always be ready and available to respond to certain likely, more local contingencies.  Namely, issues concerning North & South Korea, but more so, supporting Taiwan if China made any aggressive moves.  Oh yeah, and there’s the defense of Japan against, uhm, maybe the pissed-off whales that they continue to kill every year under the lame guise of “scientific research.”  So, in taking these orders I would return to a treasured 2nd home, and I would not be going to the dessert…either one (take your pick)…again.

Of course when you actively try to dodge an unwanted fate, sometimes you unknowingly dodge right into fate’s crosshairs.  So, we show up on Okinawa for the 2nd time in August 2004 and find out that the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), which I was tasked to support with Tactical Air Control, was on a no-notice open-ended deployment order for Iraq.

Fate is a bitch. But what I was to learn is that this deployment would be the least of my worries.

Afloat on the USS Essex 2004-2005

Afloat on the USS Essex 2004-2005

The three-ship Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) and 3,500 of my fellow sailors and marines were due to leave within two weeks.  Luckily for me, a series of serious typhoons in the area – a common occurrence in “typhoon alley” in every fall – delayed our departure (see Typhoons: A Divinely Okinawan Experience), enough so that I could buy and register the family two vehicles, secure an adequate domicile out in town, and get my pay settled and the kids enrolled in school.  I was PISSED at my command, particularly my commanding officer, who elected to tell me NOTHING of this situation prior to my family’s overseas move.

My initial 2-man stateroom on USS Essex.  I moved to a larger room later in the deployment.

My initial 2-man stateroom on USS Essex. I moved to a larger room later in the deployment.

“But it was classified, and we had no way of contacting you through secure means,” my Skipper protested in his defense.  “C’mon Skipper, how ‘bout ‘Hey Elvis, might want to leave your family and cats in the states for now….’  It’s not f–king rocket-surgery,” I complained, strongly voicing my disapproval of his lack of concern over my family.  I most certainly would have left my family in-place in Miami while I deployed for what turned out to be nearly 8 months; it seems I already sensed that nothing good would come of leaving my ex alone and mentally vulnerable.  Let’s just say the charged and colorful conversation with that particularly bad CO was the most insubordinate and disrespectful I’ve ever been while serving on Active Duty.  He deserved it.  He knew it, and as a result, said – and did little in return.

My Tactical Air Control detachment aboard USS Essex

My Tactical Air Control detachment aboard USS Essex

Off I go to war…again.  Ah, the Middle East.  I had already spent a year of my life deployed to the region in 1991 and 1993.  Now I was going back, this time assigned to the relatively safety of a ship instead of flying into harm’s way.  I admit I found myself in an increasingly depressed place.  I had not expected to be shipped away from my family for such a long period of time and to a combat zone that I would find almost ridiculous…if it weren’t for Americans spilling their blood and spending our treasure.  I held absolutely no support for the undeclared “war” that our privileged politicians elected to fight in Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the attacks of 9-11, and certainly had even less to do with weapons of mass destruction.  But under these fanatical tenets that lamely justified our deadly actions, whole masses of people were to be slaughtered.

While I was at war, my wife was hooking up on Gat 2 Street.

While I was at war, my wife was hooking up on Gat 2 Street.

176441272_a67bf93025_bFinding myself angry most of the time, I spent a lot of time in the ship’s gym.  Unfortunately, I seriously injured myself there early in our transit to the Persian Gulf.  Tearing a rhomboid muscle in my upper back, I no longer could work out or even be active, which was one of the few things allowing me to hang onto to my already stressed and strained sanity.  Worse, at the time there were only two qualified watch officers in the ship’s Tactical Air Control Center (TACC), and I was one of them.  As a result, I ended up standing “port and starboard” watch, working for 12 hours a day, every day, week after week.  More damaging, my work center more resembled an Okinawan cave than an office:  a constantly dark and dank radar room, kept at a morgue-like 60-65 degrees….  You know it’s bad that when you do go outside in the sunlight, your eyes actually HURT from being under fluorescent light for so long.

Me and "Sarge" on the Essex; he above anyone else helped me hang on to my sanity.

Me and “Sarge” on the Essex; he above anyone else helped me hang on to my sanity.

I’m not afraid of working, but pulling this type of shift-work for six or seven weeks at a time puts a heavy strain on anyone.  I found myself staring into the abyss; I was troubled, mentally and physically.  I started pulling back and becoming less and less interactive with my friends and shipmates afloat with me.

Sending the Marines ashore to fight the Battle for Fallujah, 2004

Sending the Marines ashore to fight the Battle for Fallujah, 2004

Christmas 2004; she had already started cheating.

Christmas 2004; she had already started cheating.

And while my wife certainly was fighting her own battles back home, our lives were slowly becoming unraveled.  It would seem obvious that we would be openly communicating at this difficult juncture in our lives.  However, given our individual trials and tribulations, instead of positive, reinforcing and mutually support, neither of us could find the means to back the other.

Clear evidence of Bipolar Disorder.

Clear evidence of Bipolar Disorder.

She also claimed to be a victim

She also claimed to be a victim

Yes, or course I am in-part culpable for some, maybe many of the problems that existed between my ex and I; I am clearly no saint and have skeletons in my closet just like everyone else.  BUT, I certainly did not turn to promiscuity as a solution.  Long before my ex even hinted at her growing displeasure with our marriage, she was already looking for solace in places one shouldn’t – someone else’s bed.  Worse, her close friends and family knew, and not one of them actively stepped in to give her some hard advice and tough love.  By the time I returned from this deployment, the marriage was lost.  I just didn’t know it yet.

Another frequented bar for my ex

Another frequented bar for my ex

My proof was about this good.

My proof was about this good.

Returning back home early in the spring of 2005 due to on-going problems with my neck (bulging disc) stemming from the poorly healed muscle tears in my upper back, DJ acted excited and happy.  Maybe she was.  However, she had already established her secret, slutty double-life.  And like anyone living a lie, it’s not long until the truth comes out.  She was caught, sticky-handed as it were, just before Easter in 2004.  “Black Friday” is what it became to be known.

One lady in my life stayed with me!  my loyal Okinawan cat "Tora"

One lady in my life stayed with me! my loyal Okinawan cat “Tora”

Dressed for the buffet of boys

Dressed for the buffet of boys

She moved out, and took up independent residence a few blocks away from my apartment in Chatan-cho, Okinawa.  The kids initially alternated a week there and then a week with me, but ultimately it was decided (against my wishes) that my son would stay with me and my daughter with her mother.  We even split our two cats.  Splitting the family was bad enough, but my ex’s repeated seconds at her all-you-could-eat “buffet of boys” constantly and readily available on Okinawa was where we both, I believe, bottomed-out.

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Maybe she was just bad to begin with.

Maybe she was just bad to begin with.

She claimed to be “in love” with a punk she met in a bar.  Her relationship with this newly proclaimed “soul mate” – the 2nd soul mate on the island counting the lead singer of the band mentioned in this blog’s opening – is a tale as old as time.  Screwing anyone in a minivan forty minutes after meeting in a bar is not love, it’s just skankiness.  I was pissed, partly because my ex was being played so badly, and everyone knew it, it appeared, except her.  When I tracked this hooligan down, it turned out he had a wife and kids back in Hawaii (and the band’s singer was married with kids as well) where he was stationed as a Marine.  Oh, but it gets better:  a Thai bar-girl, a nicety for prostitute, showed up on Okinawa a week or three after his affair with my ex was found out, claiming that her infant was his.  He did not deny it to the Marine Corps or to my ex (who believed that he was just helping the prostitute out of the kindness of his heart), and actually declared the child his dependent.  Karma is a bitch; while the USMC wouldn’t do much about his affair with my wife, there was no way to dodge a charge of adultery when there is ultimate physical proof:  a baby.  He was, at best, looking at forced separation from the service, and potentially even a Courts Martial.  He certainly doesn’t deserve to be called “Marine.”

Unfortunately the shirt no longer applied.

Unfortunately the shirt no longer applied.

For a few months I made this untenable situation work.  But not well.  Initially I tried to repair and patch the marriage.  I was entirely unhappy and rather depressed; I stopped eating, attempted run my anger away into miles of pavement, and generally ignored work and the more enjoyable aspects of life.  I felt lost on the island that I considered a second home; my passion for the Okinawan culture and scuba diving that had so much subsumed my attentions of the past seemed to have been lost.

Sunabe Seawall from my daughter's bedroom window, 2004

Sunabe Seawall from my daughter’s bedroom window, 2004

Because of my ex’s corrupt conduct, and as she was not only putting me in a difficult situation, but a whole slew of enlisted men in similar circumstance, I approached my Chain of Command asking that my dependents be returned early to the states.  In conversation with my Chief of Staff at the time, I distinctly remember telling him, “Nothing good will come of this; this island is too small for both of us [my ex and I] to share….”

Another way of portraying "nothing good will come of this"

Another way of portraying “nothing good will come of this”

To make a very long story short, I ended up involved in an altercation with one of my ex’s lovers, a 21 or 22 year-old Army Specialist.  He ended up at the ER, and I ended up being investigated by the Army’s version of NCIS.  Believe me, it’s NOTHING like the TV show.  It was a messy situation:  a very junior army enlisted man committing adultery with an officer’s wife, culminating in a fish-fight with a Navy officer in the foreign and sensitive streets of Okinawa.

The punk is still alive.

The punk is still alive.

Interestingly and justifiably so, no charges were pressed and the Army issued an Order that this particular soldier stay away from my family (the Marines did the same with the “other” guy).  I was given a “Non-Punitive Letter of Reprimand,” which was just fine with me.  At least I won the fight…and would safely retire upon reaching twenty years of service.  Oddly enough though, instead of my ex being kicked off the island, I was the one who was unjustly punished and sent home nine months early.

Leaving Okinawa was bittersweet.  One of us – my ex or I – needed to go.  But I was the one who had job as an Active Duty service member, but most importantly I didn’t cheat and ultimately cause this cascade of woe.  It was clear that my ex and kids would be much better served back in the states in more familiar territory and with a much larger support network.  And I would have financially fared much better as I ended up paying for her separate and sinister life since she remained largely unemployed on Okinawa.  The military lawyers, however, thought differently, and so did my Commanding Officer.

My ride home, late 2005.

My ride home, late 2005.

In the end, my own personal saving grace materialized quite unexpectedly.  When the Admiral I worked for, Admiral Victor G. Guillory, found out about my altercation, of course he wanted to see me ASAP.  And of course I was scared to death to see the man under such embarrassing and regretful context.  He and I had worked well and closely in the past months; in fact, I became his “briefing boy” for 7th Fleet since I could brief and stand my ground with senior officers.  When I walked into his office, he unexpectedly greeted me with a warm handshake and a smile.  I was shocked and taken aback.

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“Elvis [my callsign during my time in the Navy], we – I owe you an apology,” he started the conversation.  I was stunned into silence, expected rather to have my ass handed to me for such regretful behavior.

“I had no idea what was going on with you, and let me be clear:  The Navy has failed you,” he continued.  I had been trying for months to get help and placate the situation.  First, through the command’s Senior Medical Officer since my ex shouldn’t have ever screened for living overseas with BPD, and then through official Legal channels to force my ex back home.  My ex had her diagnosis changed to a condition that was approved for overseas, and the lawyers –being the spineless reptiles they are – ridiculously ruled that compelling my ex to leave would potentially violate her rights, a risk they were not willing to initiate.  I then attempted to get help through the Chaplain, who did nothing but offer me counsel, and both first and finally through the Admiral’s Chief of Staff, who simply failed to raise any of these issues beyond his office.  From what I understand, is was the COS who actually got his ass handed to him, the Admiral carefully explaining that he deserved to know of any serious issue affecting any of his officers.

Leaving Paradise, for the 2nd Time

Leaving Paradise, for the 2nd Time

The Admiral said he would genuinely miss me, but that Big Navy was adamant about getting me off the island due to the sensitive political situation that seems to be permanently present in Japan.  I understood.  While I wasn’t able at the time to voice my deep and sincere appreciation for the compassion and empathy that the Admiral showed, it has never left me and since has informed my own sense and style of leadership.

While my Okinawan paradise may have been lost, I slowly started to find myself again.  Between my unexpectedly honorable treatment by the Admiral at my departure, and a truly gifted PhD psychologist (thanks Dr. Ing!) who opened my eyes and mind to a stark and unwanted reality, I was able to start climbing out of the abyss.

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The mind can indeed and usually does create a prison stronger than any steel or concrete, and often fabricates a hell far worse than anything prescribed in scripture.  Having pried my mind open to the light of a brighter future, I sadly said “sayonara” to Okinawa.  However, it was with optimism for an unknown future, one that lay in the brilliant sunrise of a new day as I prepared to travel home back East.

Opportunity Knocks


They missed multiple opportunities for a haircut.

They missed multiple opportunities for a haircut.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” ~Henry Ford

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.” ~Mark Twain

During our first week or two after arrival on Okinawa, Jody and I did a lot of rounding on the shops and concessions available to us on both Kadena Air Force Base and Marine Corps base Camp Foster, the two American-based shopping meccas.  Both locations offered a more normalized “BX” (Base Exchange) experience than any commercial area out on the economy, but also included a wide variety of Asian-based concessioners, both locally based and from throughout the region.  If one is alert and persistent enough, unquestionable treasures can be found and gotten in some of these shops.

During one of these shopping forays we happened onto an Asian furniture concession on Camp Foster.  The couple that was fronting the store were, I believe, from Korea.  The woman spoke passable English; her partner, an older gentleman, did not.  But his English was still much better than my Korean!  Their store was full of Asian-inspired furniture from China, Tibet and Korea, including some very unique and inspiring pieces.  As we were perusing through the shop, literally bloated wall-to-wall and eight feet high with fittings and fixtures of all types, shapes, and sizes, we spied something which immediately caught our collective and collectors’ eye.

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A genuinely exclusive piece.  At once quite old.  And easily assumed that it might just be quite rare.  It drew us in, and stole our imagination with its provocatively emotional keep-sake calls of matrimony past wanting to nurture present love.

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We were told it was a Korean wedding box, about 150-200 years old.  Not a box really, but a collection of nesting boxes all held secure in a wood and iron frame to make a portable yet efficient chest.  When placed together as intended, the trunk is carried by a large square wooden pole that would be placed through the trunk’s handle, and then placed on the shoulders of two or more bearers (depending on weight  I would assume).  The item is also painted with various colored shapes and symbols, and that is covered by a thick layer of lacquer.  Unfortunately, most of the painting’s more colorful elements have been lost to time and the elements, and as a result, the painted illustrations have darkened mostly beyond recognition.  And, in many places, the lacquer coating has cracked extensively and literally chipped off, taking the underlying paint with it in most areas where this has occurred.  The means and methods of construction utilized are really breath-taking: hand-worked iron plating and nail fasteners alongside carved lattice-work in the wooden handle and base.  Bracing the entire set are more forged iron pieces on the sides.  When taken in totality, the crate cries not just “ART,” but emotes a history that you can literally feel, and I insist you can almost hear the stories that are safely sealed in its very inanimate essence.

I was taken aback, stunned at the find, and almost sold on the spot.  But now the hard part:  how do you put a price on such an intimate historical keepsake, and how much would that price be?

opportunity-knocks-quotes

The original price was something like $5,500.  That had been marked down on the tag to I believe something on the order of $2,500.  There is little doubt that our Korean capitalists could tell we wanted this piece.  So, negotiations were in order, and I initiated by low-balling a price of $1,500.  They balked, as expected.

You see, we were still in our temporary lodging, and had no place to keep this chest.  It’s not that large, but we had no room.  We still did not know where we were going to live, and whether this element would “fit” in that place, both in style and in placement.  We were hemorrhaging cash at the time, having had to buy two cars and purchase insurance and titles (~$9,000), and knew we were going to have to put out at least $4,000 in initial housing costs (security & agency fees).  Plus, we just bought our own way out to Okinawa and had yet to even apply for reimbursement (~$2,500).  So, financially, and hell, even pragmatically, it didn’t make any sense to purchase this treasure.

But it was a piece of treasure.

We should have seized the opportunity.

We should have seized the opportunity.

Jody left the decision to me after talking through all of the pros and cons of purchasing.  I decided, silently and internally, that if the sales people would drop to my initial almost silly price of $1,500, we would walk away with this coffer and figure out all the rest latter.  How often would this type of opportunity present itself?  As the saying goes, opportunity only knocks once.  Answer the door.

In the end, they would “only” come down to $1,700, and even then only hesitantly after explaining at length that they couldn’t possibly drop the price anymore due to the nature of this gem:  handmade, one-of-a-kind, an antique, complete with what must surely be an emotionally vivid history – all things true, and which could not be adequately argued against.

So, we walked away, not really knowing if the piece was actually worth that kind of cost anyway…plus all the other reasons not to buy.  BUT, at dinner that evening, we began researching this idea online.  After Jody’s attempts failed to turn up anything significant, I took a stab.  I search for “wedding box pole handle asia antique,” and BINGO, there it was (see below):

yhst-40539389554149_2260_284464092Antique Chinese Wedding Dowry Carrier

This from the SilkRoadCollection.com website:

Item # RB1023X, Price:  $3,000.00

Approximate Age:  circa 1800, Origin:  Shanxi Province, China

Material:  Mixed Woods with Iron

Dimensions:  Width: 32.5″ (82.5cm), Depth:  20.5″ (52cm), Height: 40.5″ (103cm)

Antique Chinese Wedding Dowry Carrier:  A museum quality antique, with its original iron work and much of its original lacquer.  This Chinese antique wedding carrying box would have traditionally been used to carry a bridge’s dowry when moving to her new husband’s family home and/or to carry food to a wedding or other special event.  The square hole in the center of the handle is where the carrying pole would have been inserted.  The handle has pierced lattice-work carvings at each end.  The remaining rugged patina reveals red and black layers of lacquer.  Of special interest are the iron metal work, handles, flat work and bars used throughout the box and the brass nail heads.  Even the base is adhered to the box with metal rods and fasteners.  The four compartment areas of the box open at each end by shifting the compartment above in a different direction. The upper compartment has a lid. The lips of each compartment interlock by nesting into the bottom of the upper cabinet, securing the compartments in place. Today, this carrying box can be used as a side table by placing a glass top over the upper compartment’s lid; as well as for storage.

So, not only was the set genuine (although it was Chinese vice Korean), it also appear to be a *steal* at the price I negotiated!!  We were somewhat shocked:  there is nothing more expensive than a missed opportunity!  So, we elected to go back and purchase the chest right after dinner, suspecting that the vendor would already be closed for the evening.

Alas, they were closed.  But worse, the piece was completely wrapped in plastic.  Was it sold???  Could it have sold in just a matter of a couple of hours??  No problem; we’ll go back the next day and see, and snatch it up if it wasn’t.

We did go back.  Sometime just after noon the next day (Saturday).  And…

…and the store was EMPTY.

So too was waiting....

So too was waiting….

Seems there are a certain number of vendors that make the military rounds from base to base throughout Asia, and stay at each for only a couple of months.  That morning, they had literally loaded up their freight containers for shipping up to somewhere in Honshu.  We pleaded to get the trunk; there was simply no way to get it back out of the shipping container….  So, we left our brand new Japanese cell phone numbers with the owners, who thought they might be back in late October or sometime in November (it was late August at the time).  This did not make me feel better; the odds of that chest not selling at the asking price were slim over time, especially for someone else who did their proper online research and knew what they were looking at.  All it would take is a sentimental sap like me or Jody properly armed with some knowledge and a healthy checkbook or line of credit.  And, even if the chest made it back to Okinawa (say 20%), the odds of that woman hanging onto our number to phone in a sale were even more remote (say 5%).  Taken together (and for you mathletes, to get the total odds, those two individual probabilities must be multiplied together, making the product much smaller), the odds were excessively low.  Something akin to 1%.

Statistics can be tricky, even for a mathlete.

Statistics can be tricky, even for a mathlete.

A missed opportunity.  And then regret sets in….  We pledged that we would not let it slip away again.

Ron Burgundy and I agree on a lot of things....

Ron Burgundy and I agree on a LOT of things….

Fast forward to mid-November.  I had, starting in late October, kept a keen eye out for this particular vendor’s return.  They never did take up residence, and when November was well underway, I thought, in the classic vernacular of Naval Aviation, “NO CHANCE PADDLES.”  On one excursion over to Camp Foster, I saw across the street from the Exchange complex a rather large furniture tent sale set up in a parking lot.  I didn’t bother going over since these types of parking-lot tent sales we had visited up until that point were all, well, rather pointless.  Jody even happened to mention the tent sale a couple of days later after her independent shopping journey; we were eagerly in the market for some bar-height furniture for our balconies (which we had found earlier in the year, but wanted too long in an eerie replay of this story…without a – spoiler alert – happy ending).

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So the following week or so, we decided to stop by the tent sale since we happen to be on Foster doing some shopping.  What could it hurt?  It seems there is always something that we need here in Okinawa.  I was expecting and prepared to be let letdown, but it became apparent that this was no Exchange furniture bizarre; rather, it was an Asian furniture vendor, and it appeared to have a lot of items similar to our coveted and missing vendor of earlier in the fall.  I found the man working the area, and he was not one of the sales people we had encountered previously.  I inquired about the couple we had spoken to, and to avoid his clearly broken English, he gave us the international symbol for “I dunno:”  the shoulder shrug….

We continued to walk through the maze of Asian delights, and around a far corner I froze:  could it be???  “Jody, come here!” I exclaimed!

She came up to me and stopped, both of us about 10 feet from the chest we could spy.  I could hear the circuitry firing in her head in time with my own:  could this be our chest?

Our Chest!

Our Chest!

We examined the container.  While we couldn’t exactly recall some of the details of our earlier encounter, there quickly became little doubt that this indeed was the trunk we had coveted…and lost.  And we both agreed, months prior, that IF the chest wound up back on-island, we would not miss the opportunity a second time.  I mimed for the salesman to come over….

Carved wood lattice work.

Carved wood lattice work.

“How much is this piece?” I inquired without even looking closely at it.  “That is $1,500,” he more than casually and quickly replied.

Hand-formed iron nails and plating.

Hand-formed iron nails and plating.

“Are you kidding me,” I thought!  Not only did we “find” the chest again, it was being offered at the low-ball price that I initially used to start negotiations!  I looked at Jody in disbelief; she returned the expression.

Original painting and lacquer finish.

Original painting and lacquer finish.

So, after some closer inspection to make sure that the parts were there and that there was no undue damage other than 200 years of physical wear, emotional tear and numerous international travels, we told him, in no uncertain terms, “SOLD.”

Nesting boxes with lid.

Nesting boxes with lid.

Ironically, when we went to pay and he actually examined closer the pricing of the chest, he realized his mistake with a smile, and said simply something to the effect that we got a very good deal on this particular transaction.

Even Cleo our cat can sense its importance.  Or she just likes to photo-bomb....

Even Cleo our cat can sense its importance. Or she just likes to photo-bomb….

Yes, we did.  But better yet, our regrets from a missed opportunity were all but erased, exchanged for the priceless joy of having a genuinely unique and evocative yet eloquent place to store all our wedding mementos.  The odds of opportunity knocking twice in this fashion are low (probably not astronomically, but close), but the connections here are unlikely and are reminiscent of an early blog where I covered equally unlikely associations (see Long Odds and Unlikely Connections).  The universe sometimes – maybe the majority of the time – generally unfolds pretty much how it should.

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I have said, for years, that one of the very worst things in life is a missed opportunity.  And because of it, this darker facet of our shared human condition, we all suffer from some level of regret.  Oh, those people who claim “no regrets!” are exactly the type of people who say that to themselves to make themselves feel better about all the miss opportunities in their own lives….  In this particular case, we were lucky; opportunity came knocking twice after we failed to answer the door at the first calling, and regrets were not avoided but subverted.

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This story could have very well had an ending full of lament and regret.  And although we can all strive to limit such unfortunate occurrences in our lives, we all live, to some degree or another, with missed opportunities and the regrets which result.  What story do you have about a missed opportunity, or better yet, when has opportunity give you a second chance?

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And more importantly…ANSWER THE DOOR!

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