Have you ever had a story to tell that you knew nobody would believe? A story with so many instances of insane coincidences and cosmic connections stacked up on top of each other that even the most hardcore agnostic would be hard pressed to deny that some kind of supreme commander of the universe isn't pulling all the strings to control your destiny? I've got one of those stories. And I hope you believe it, because it's true. Call it fate, destiny, synchronicity, or plain ol' coincidence. I just gotta get this out to anyone who will listen.
It's kind of a long story, but please, bear with me, because I need to know your opinion. The Force of Destiny, or Random Coincidence? Chance or Fate?
Some folks around these parts might call it my divine appointment with Brenda.
The Story Behind The Story:
If you've been following my columns for the past few years, then you know that the day after I graduated from college, I flew across the Atlantic Ocean, then the Mediterranean, and ended up on a Greek Island. At the end of the summer, I landed my first full time public radio job, as a reporter on an island in Alaska. I flew back across those oceans, made a quick trip to Stockton to visit one of my older sisters before returning to Ashland to pack up everything I could (record albums, pillows & comforter and as many clothes as would fit) into my Ford Escort for the 3 day ferry trip to Petersburg with my little sister.
Before I left, we had dinner with Ann & Bob Clouse, my parent's best friends. Bob was an Oscar nominated movie director (Remember Bruce Lee's Enter The Dragon? That was his). Ann was a set designer, which came in handy when she renovated an old mill into a very plush B&B, the Water Street Inn. Ann told me that when I got to Alaska, I should try to look up Brenda Kleinfelder, because she was a good family friend. Family, really. Their daughter Celeste and Brenda were best friends, but the two were also sisters-in-law because Celeste fell in love with and then married Brenda's brother. Brenda was living in Alaska, on the very island I was moving to. And I should look her up, they said. So I wrote her name in journal, promising to look her up someday.
Thrilling & Wonderous Fact #1:
So I got to Alaska, and started my new job as a reporter at public radio station KFSK. They'd been waiting for me for a while, since I had to travel halfway across the world to get there. While they waited for me to arrive, KFSK had hired someone to fill in, as an interim reporter. Her name was Brenda Kleinfelder. The very name I'd written in my journal
Brenda and I met, reveled in the amusing discovery that we had some very close friends in common, and then we went on with our lives. We were friends, making our way in the same little community on the same little island for many years. We traveled in the same friendship circles, probably got our rubber boots mixed up more than once at potluck dinners, and eventually, in 1997, we ended up having babies born just a few months apart. Born 3 months later, Sophia was the lucky one who got all of Maddie's hand me downs, and many times Brenda and I would get the girls together for baby play dates.
Impressive Sideline Fact #2:
At some point during our 13 years together on Mitkof Island, Brenda mentioned that in high school, down in Stockton CA, she had dated rockstar Chris Isaak. Before he was a rockstar, of course. I'd been a fan of Isaak since his first album in the mid 80's, so I was completely impressed. I recall asking her lots of questions while we drank a lot of wine one night during a wedding reception at the Sons of Norway Hall. But what I've always really wanted to know is whether or not San Francisco Days is about her. I'm just going to pretend it is.
Startling Fact #3:
I don't remember the year, but sometime in the 1990's, Brenda's mother passed away from cancer. Towards the end, when she was in hospice, Brenda went home to Stockton, for the long, painful wait. She stood vigil at the bedside, with the family and her mother's minister. When things got heavy, Brenda stepped outside for a few moments, only to be joined by Reverend Diana a few moments later. They chatted for a few minutes, and then the minister asked Brenda where she was living. Reverend Diana thought it was really an astounding coincidence that her sister also lived in Petersburg, Alaska. Her sister Valerie. Brenda shared the story with me as soon as she returned home. We thought it was incredible that we were connected in so many ways. It was like we were meant to know each other, meant to cross paths and to be in each other's lives. And then we got over it and moved on.
Minor - but still kinda cool - Sideline Fact #4: A few years earlier, my sister Diana served as the minister at my wedding. Which was held in Ashland at the Water Street Inn. My little sister got married there. I even lived in the Inn for a month when I went down to Oregon to give birth to my daughter. I could never have afforded it. Each time it was a gift from Ann & Bob Clouse.
When I say we moved on, we really moved on. When Sophia and Maddie were both about 3 years old, Brenda and I both moved away from Alaska. She went to Colorado, I went to California. We both divorced, and ended up raising amazing daughters who love to dance and run. I only found this out because I tracked Brenda down about 10 years after we'd moved away, when Chris Isaak came to Redding to perform at the Cascade Theatre. Telling him that he and I had a mutual friend in common was a great icebreaker. I didn't track her down until after I met Chris, so I didn't realize that she was in Eugene, Oregon now, and had divorced.
When I found out Chris Isaak was coming back to the Cascade in August, I immediately texted Brenda and invited her and Maddie to come down for the show and stay with us. Her response? "Heck yeah sister! It's a double date!" I haven't seen Brenda for 14 years, and the kids don't remember each other at all, so I'm really looking forward to getting together with my star-crossed sister to reminisce (and to see that incredible rocker do his thing onstage again).
This Startling Fact #5 Will Knock You Off Your Feet: A few Mondays ago I finally got the tickets for the show. Front row, baby. And yes, I pulled some strings, but mainly it was because Chris Isaak's people were nice enough to give their artist comps to his old high school girlfriend. That was not the fact that will knock you off your feet. This is: I immediately called Brenda to share the exciting news. When she answered, she could not believe I was calling her at that exact moment. "You'll never believe where I am right now," she said.
"Well the last time we spoke you were in Thailand. I give. Where are you?"
"I'm on my way to Aptos," she said. "But I just got off Southbound I-5 on the Market Street exit in Redding. I pulled off the freeway to get gas! How did you know I was here?!"
Pretty crazy, right? All morning I'd been thinking about how I'd better check on that request I put in to Isaak's people, and then when I finally pulled the trigger, the force of destiny put Brenda right on my doorstep.
We only had a few minutes of face-to-face time before she had to get back on the road and I had to get back to my radio show. She pulled up to my office, jumped out of the car with little Maddie in tow (who, freshly turned 18, isn't so little anymore), and it was like 14 years had never gone by. We hugged, discussed our upcoming visit, and then she said the thing that just blew my mind.
Prepare To Be Blown Away By Fact #6:
"Sophia's going to college this Fall, right? Where?"
"Southern Oregon University," I said.
Brenda's mouth dropped. She looked at Maddie. Maddie looked at her.
"No way! So is Maddie! Track scholarship!"
"That's great! Sophia's going on the 'My-Mom-Works-At-SOU-So-We-Get-A-Staff-Discount' scholarship!"
Bren asked if Sophia was going to live with her dad or stay with my parents, and I said, "Dorms. I thought she should have the experience. Which dorm are you in, Maddie?"
As it turns out, Maddie and Sophia will be living not only in the same dorm, but in rooms right next to each other on the same floor. Mind blown.
It's like everything clicked into place when we realized that maybe this didn't have as much to do with Brenda and I being destined for a friendship, but instead it was our children. Our girls who don't even remember one another, but played for hours as babies, wore the same clothes, and toddled on the same beaches of Alaska. It all started when the Clouse's gave me a name to write in my journal the night before I left Ashland, and now it's coming back to Ashland, full circle, Sophia and Maddie synching up.
My husband says I'm the girl who connects the dots. If I meet a person, I find a way to connect us. To diminish the six degrees of separation down to one. I quiz people about their lives and their background, their interests and the places they've lived until I find the one thing that connects us. But in this case, I feel as if no matter which way I turn, I'm still connected to Brenda. And no matter what we did or where we went, our daughters were destined (or coincidentally going) to meet each other eventually.
Fate or chance? Destiny or random coincidence? Which do you believe in? Well, I don't know about you, but I believe I'm going to have to just put on some music so I can stop thinking about it. Enjoy today's Coincidence or Destiny Playlist on Spotify, and hope to see you at the Chris Isaak concert at the Cascade August 19th. You already know where we'll be sitting.