How we met:
HALLOWEEN IN THE MARIN HEADLANDS
It was Halloween night and I was invited to attend a Halloween party that the guy I was dating at the time had been asked to DJ. Since he was going to be the DJ, he told me to bring a guest, so I chose to bring my cousin Danielle's husband Matthews who had just come to the United States from Malawi in Africa.
Danielle was on a business trip that week, so she said: "why don't you take Matthews to the Halloween party since it will be his first Halloween in the United States," so we dressed Matthews up as a cat, I was Jessica Rabbit, and we headed off to the Marin Headlands to the party that I was invited to.
When we got to the party, I wanted to find some cool costumes for Matthews to look at, so I looked around for something that was out of the ordinary.
Conveniently, a tall dinosaur was standing across the room, so I said to Matthews: "let's go talk to the dinosaur" so we went over to the dinosaur and introduced ourselves.
Josh was the dinosaur and Ilia was dressed up as a marine and standing next to him. Josh asked where Matthews was from and when Matthews mentioned that he was from Malawi, Josh actually KNEW where Malawi was and Matthews was so excited since Josh was one of the few Americans he had met since he got here who knew about his country. The two of them stepped out to the veranda to talk, leaving me aside, so we began talking and later Ilia asked me to dance.
A BOY WHO KNEW ABOUT MARTIAL ARTS
While we were dancing, we had a long discussion about martial arts and I was impressed that Ilia knew so much about the topic. Most boys I knew at the time only had a superficial knowledge of what it was about and since I was involved in martial arts competitions at the time and was training regularly, it was refreshing to meet someone who understood what I did.
As the night came to a close, he asked me what kind of martial arts I did and I told him that my specialty was straightsword. He said: "I'd like to see you do that sometime" so I thought to myself: what better night than tonight since I happened to have all of my swords in my trunk since I had just come to the party from martial arts practice.
I said: "ok, follow me." He followed me to my car.
I opened my trunk and handed him a sword, taking a second one out for myself. Then I showed him a few basic movements and we thrusted and perried at one another in an open field nearby under the moonlight and the stars.
That night, we exchanged email addresses and phone numbers, but Ilia was living in Sacramento at the time and I was living in San Francisco. Frankly, I think that neither of us had any intention of ever meeting up again, but it was definitely a memorable evening and one that I wouldn't forget.
THE FIRST ANNUAL HOUSE-WARMING PARTY
Since I never went to Sacramento and Ilia never came to SF, I didn't hear from him and eventually had somewhat forgotten about him. But then one day, about a year and a half later, I get a random EVITE in my inbox to attend a housewarming party on Haight Street. It was from "Ilia & Umung". "Who are they?" I thought to myself. But, I wasn't doing anything that evening, so I called my friends Jen and Vendy to see what they were doing and to see if they would come to this mysterious housewarming party with me.
I had a feeling that this might be the "Ilia" that I met a year and a half before at the Halloween party, but since we hadn't kept in touch for over a year, I thought that maybe it wasn't him. But either way, I figured, if Jen and Vendy were there, I'd have fun either way, so we made some brownies and headed over to the housewarming.
As I rang the bell, I kept wondering who would come down the stairs. Then the door opened, and it was the Ilia that I remembered . . . the Ilia who I met a year and a half ago, but to whom I hadn't spoken to since then - so it WAS him.
After the party, Ilia & I started meeting up for coffee once every few months. I was working on a thesis at the time and was completing my LLM at Boalt, so I was a Berkeley for most of the week, but we would occasionally meet up to discuss progress on my research, legal concepts and other academic topics.
What impressed me the most about Ilia during this period was that he could carry on a knowledgeable conversation concerning just about anything. Not only did he know a lot about martial arts, but he was well versed in law and other topics that were of interest to me. Basically, during these coffee months, I came to learn that Ilia was a GENIUS and that intrigued me. There was no topic I could bring up that he didn't have something fascinating to contribute to.
THE SAFEWAY DUMPSTER CANYON
After one of our coffee hang-outs, we got on the topic of exploration and he mentioned that he had recently discovered a canyon in San Francisco.
I totally thought that he was lying, but he insisted that the canyon really existed. I couldn't fathom where that canyon would be, but he said that it was behind the dumpster at Safeway and said he would prove it to me. We drove up to Safeway, parked next to the dumpster, and the whole time, I was thinking that there'd just be a little ditch somewhere that he thought was a "canyon" . . . but as we walked further, he lead me through a set of bushes and down along a path that opened up to the most magnificent canyon that I had ever seen! I was amazed and actually kind of JEALOUS that I wasn't the one who discovered that canyon. But I remember thinking that I was dreaming while we were there. For me, that was the turning point. After Ilia showed me the canyon, I thought to myself: "wow, this guy really is kinda cool - I think I wanna hang out with him."
THE LONG FRIENDSHIP
It was probably another year or so before we became anything more than friends. I became increasingly fascinated by how smart he was and tried to find excuses to invite him out to do stuff that wouldn't make it seem like I was asking him on a date. I invited him to my friend Jen's birthday hike at Cataract Falls, and told him about a few hiking trails that I offered to check out with him if he wanted to, but I wasn't the type of girl who called guys and he wasn't the type of guy who called girls, so basically, we never talked unless one of us came up for some activity or event that was worthy of a subtle invitation.
CAMPING AT SALT POINT
By August of 2006, I had known Ilia for about 2 years and had started to really like him. Of course, I had no idea whether he liked me or not, but he invited me camping one weekend and I wanted to go.
The only issue with going camping was that I had to do something on Sunday morning and couldn't leave for camping until late Friday night, so basically all I could do for camping was drive up on Saturday, hike on Saturday during the day, sleep there Saturday night, and head back first thing at the break of dawn on Sunday morning.
I weighed the pros and cons and almost didn't go, but figured that although it was a lot of driving, that it would be rude of me not to attend since it was so rare that Ilia ever invited me to go anywhere and I figured that he probably wouldn't invite me out to anything else for another several months, so I best go "camping" even if it were only for a day.
Salt point was beautiful and that night after everyone retired to sit by the campfire, I wanted to play some more, so I got up and said: "Does anyone want to come on a night hike with me?" Ilia was the only one who wanted to come, so the two of us walked into the dark woods together without any flashlights. We let our eyes adjust to the moonlight and then walked along the silhouettes of the trees, looking up at the sky towards the stars.
It got cold along the hike, so Ilia walked closer to me. Our hands accidentally hit one another a few times. I apologized the first few times, but one time our hands met and Ilia held mine. As it got colder during the last half of the hike, Ilia and I walked closer to one another and that night, we had our first kiss.
At the moment, I remember thinking: "I kinda like him . . . I wonder if he likes me."
After we got back, I didn't have a tent, so Ilia slept outside in the rain with me. We had sleeping bags and it was only drizzling a bit, so we held hands and fell asleep in the mist. Then the next morning at 6am, I left the camp and we didn't see each other for another 2 weeks.
But . . . . that was how everything began.