Tiffany stood huddled next to me for warmth. She wore a hood, drawstring pulled tight, scrunched around her angelic face with only a few strands of hair shooting out like starbursts from the edges of the head cover. Her smile beamed at me despite the shivering cold. Even dressed in a drab, heavy overcoat and over-sized ski gloves, her beauty was undeniable, knee-weakening. She put her hands to her face to warm her nose and leaned into me. I pulled her close as we stood staring out at the darkened horizon with the jagged edges of the top of Mt. Haleakala barely visible in the minimal ambient light. The chatter of the crowd enveloped us.
The horizon slowly brightened until the sun rose above the sea like a photo being developed right before our eyes. Bright oranges and reds trickled across the sky as the sun woke up and stretched out to the volcano at the heart of Maui. We stood there, mesmerized, enthralled. I’d seen many sunrises in my life, but none captured the beauty and wonder of life like the one I watched with Tiffany that morning. At an elevation of ten thousand feet, the sun did little to warm us up on the outside, but on the inside, a sense of fulfillment brimmed within us as we leaned into each other and basked in the glorious sunrise.
After the unique thrill of watching the sun peak above the sea from an active volcano on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean subsided, we hopped on a couple of rented mountain bikes and began the perilous trek back down the steep slopes to sea level at a sometimes furious pace. The road that snaked down the mountain had enough precipitous descents and switchbacks to make me question my sanity, but we were still high from watching that sunrise. Other bikers beat a path before us and many trailed behind us as descending cars hugged the curves not too far from our pedals. It was equal parts exhilarating and nerve-wracking.
Despite the potential for disaster, our senses adjusted and we pulled off the road a few times to soak in the stupendous views from the side of the mountain. The lush green valley below welcomed us to the tropical paradise, a great respite from the chilly, rarefied air atop the volcano. Somewhere in the distant northwest sat our hotel on a beautiful stretch of beach in Kaanapali where we would later snorkle with sea turtles and brightly-colored fish. We continued our breakneck pace down the mountain smiling at each other from beneath our neck-straining motorcycle helmets like winsome newlyweds do.
Near the foot of Haleakala, we pulled off the main road and parked our bikes at a quaint restaurant perched on a plateau overlooking the valley. We ordered waffles and coffee and sat outside enjoying the sun-soaked view as much as the food. We were famished from the long drive to Haleakala, the wait at the top, and the dizzying bike trip down. Not that we were complaining. Life was good. Very good.
That excursion to Mt. Haleakala came to define the way we lived our lives in those two short years before everything changed. Newly married and without any serious commitments beyond ourselves, we quenched our unabated thirst for life as if we were living our final days. Two people in love with each other and life.
Of course, nothing ever stays the same. By the time we celebrated our first wedding anniversary, change was in the air. FedEx went through a restructuring and announced that the field roles including mine would be moved to Memphis. Knowing that I never wanted to live in Memphis again, I decided it was time to move on from FedEx despite how much I loved the company. It turns out company loyalty is a fool’s errand, a tragic, unilateral fallacy in logic.
After years of traveling to the Seattle area and having fallen in love with the city, I convinced Tiffany that we’d love living there. I took her on a vacation there, and she seemed to warm to the city despite the uncompromising overcast June days that persisted throughout our long weekend. I started connecting with other professionals in the area and just two short weeks after my last day at FedEx, I landed a job at Microsoft in the northeast suburbs of Seattle.
With a job in hand, Tiffany and I left behind another brutal cold, January day in Chicago and flew to Seattle to begin our lives anew. It didn’t take long for her to fall in love with the Seattle I had loved for so long. The city, bookended by the perennially snow-capped Olympics in the west and the Cascades in the east, has a dour, overcast and rainy reputation, but what few outsiders realize is that the winters are remarkably mild and the summers are unsurpassed in terms of temperament and beauty. We loved the huge outdoor playground that was the Pacific Northwest with its old-growth forests and countless hiking trails. The move suited us very well.
All of that change had us thinking about other aspects of our lives as well, including children. Had anyone asked me at any point in my twenties if I ever intended to have kids, my response would have been a resounding “No!”, but that changed when I met Tiffany. For the first time in my life, I could see the possibility of kids with a woman like her. She changed a lot of things for me, all for the better.
By the spring of that first year in Seattle, Tiffany was pregnant. I felt equal parts elated and frightened. I had never had much responsibility beyond myself and a dog, and now, I faced the very real prospect of being responsible for another human being. I had no idea what to expect despite all of the advice I received. Like most expecting couples, we dutifully prepared for the imminent arrival of our first child, a girl, as we found out later. Growing up in a family of all boys did nothing to prepare me for having a daughter. I’d have to wing it like I had a lot of times in my life. By the end of that first year in Seattle, we closed the book on our lives before kids, and I swore that I heard “Taps” playing in the background in the waning moments of our childlessness.