This seems like a good spot to let Nathan tell you his part of our story thus far. So here it is, in his own words!
After repeated requests by my sweet wife, culminating with a full day of her doing nothing but asking me to dictate to her my thoughts on the mater, I have decided to give in. I say “give in” because at some level I believe that there is a chance someone will try to take our story and force the emulation of it on themselves or their hapless child. Like fitting a square peg into a round hole. I believe that God has made us all unique and has fitted us each with a special spot in history and a specific person. At that spot we will meet that person and He will have a chance to write our story. The fact that it is unique is what makes it special. Copying someone else’s story robs the beauty of your own.
So, I was 18 yrs old and had spent the recent year traveling around Mexico participating in various forms of ministry. One of those was serving as the “materials room” staff for ATI’s children’s institute. Something that at the time I thought was a noble service and certainly enjoyed. I am a people person and I was meeting people. When I discovered Julie at the Monterrey shindig I suddenly very much loved my job. Spending a week helping her with her team and translation was awesome. I don’t remember much more than the environment and little spots of interaction. What I know I felt was that this girl was awesome, super cute, and very self assured and open to talking to me… in a world where girls and boys were not supposed to form any kind of relationships. Like two bugs in separate jars… we could observe each other’s worlds but don’t interact. Julie sort of tossed that out and spoke openly and asked real questions. When we said goodbye at the airport I was bummed that our time was over. I sat in my car and wrote down everything I knew about her. The list was depressingly short… I knew her name, home town was Beulah CO, and a few physical characteristics. I carried that list secretly in my note book and thought about her often.
In July 1999, I was 20 years old and entered ALERT basic training. This was something that Julie and I had discussed in the Monterrey airport as one of two directions my life was taking. ALERT was awesome for me, lots of maturing and physical growth as well as some experience in what life was like in the USA. Remember that by this time I had spent a lot of time on my own but always in small Indian villages or in rather controlling environments inside of the ATI (our homeschool organization) bubble. I graduated basic training and was “deployed” to the yearly conference in Knoxville TN along with the rest of my unit. May 2000. I still carried my notebook but it didn’t occur to me that Julie might be around. I had finished my regular duties for the day and was fulfilling some odd job assignment when I met her in a back hall way for an exchange of 4 sentences. I thought she seemed very glad to see me but for some reason unwilling to spend much time talking to me. I later learned that she knew she was being watched as a “trouble maker” and openly talking to an ALERT guy in the hallway would start ringing alarm bells with the SSS. I was still new to this ALERT uniform and it’s wondrous powers for good and evil. Over time I found that some parents would throw their daughters at us because they thought we were all heroes… and that supervisors would instantly jump to conclusions about our intentions and those of any young ladies seen speaking to us.
I was moved around the country a lot after that, training and serving on various deployments. I met a lot of young ladies and compared them all to my memories of Julie. I think she had achieved super human status… no one was as awesome as her. After that chance encounter in Knoxville I swore I wouldn’t be such a ninny and would always check staff and personnel at training centers to see if she was there. I also swore I would get up the courage to speak to her regardless of the stereo types and possible repercussions.
In the fall of 2000, my chance came. I was at the newest donation to ATI’s flotilla of properties, the Flint training center. We had been contracted to clean and repair the outside of the building; an old 16 story hotel… once a Ramada I think. We had only been there a couple of days when we were asked to take over night duty security. Blah… we were washing windows all day, hanging from 200 feet of rope, caulking windows from the outside, and taking down the old Ramada sign in pieces… now we get to take turns staying up all night and making the rounds of a huge hotel. We were non-plussed. I took one of the first shifts, bored I looked over the hotel staff lists… still no Julie Zercher, then there was another page, the arrivals for the next day… airport pickups. Last name on the alphabetical list. “Zercher, Julie”. I was wide awake the rest of the night. I traded with one of the other guys so I could be on duty when she came in the next night… I think my unit thought I was crazy… two night shifts in a row and all day washing windows. I watched on the security camera as they unloaded the van and came in the front doors. She didn’t see me. Just went right to the elevator with the rest of them and up stairs. 48 hours sleepless and she didn’t even look my direction. We washed windows the next morning again… as usual getting 2 runs done before breakfast. I was watching out for her in the breakfast line, little knowing that she was now watching out for me since I had unknowingly washed her window that morning and had just about scared her towel off. She was still cool but friendly and I was starting to feel that whole “mystery of women” thing. I didn’t get it. Later I figured out it was when we were not being directly observed she was friendly and then when the supervisors were around she had to be cool.
Behind the front desk there was a room for email use with 2 computers. One day I noticed she used Juno for her email provider. Same as me, I also noticed that when you log out of Juno it leaves your username/address on the screen in case you want to re-enter your password and log back in right away. I popped in one day right after Julie left and there on the screen was the email address email@example.com Bingo. Now I had her address and for the next two years would be talking myself out of writing her. Great. I was bummed when I was listed on the team leaving early… I would have taken another week of trying to talk to her. My thought that this might be the last chance made me track her down in the kitchen that night. Asking for a picture with her was all I could think of. I knew that if she said yes there was a chance, if no then “Forget it buddy, you’re a nice guy but if your universe exploded we wouldn’t even hear about it in mine”. I really didn’t have very high an opinion of myself… even after countless moms throwing their daughters at us like confetti at a birthday party. Back to the kitchen… she said no… and rather hurriedly rushed off like there were cookies burning and explaining why she had said no wasn’t worth the trouble. I don’t think she heard my universe explode.
The next time our worlds met was Knoxville, June 2001. By this time I was senior in most ALERT circles. I was done with Tech Rescue and half way through Paramedics. I had changed a lot from the boy in Monterrey and even the guy in Flint. I had ranked up, continued bulking up, had spent time in firehouses and fires as well as in ERs. Trauma and drama were getting to be old hat and I was very comfortable in my skin. I didn’t get a chance to see her though even though I felt like maybe now I was closer to being worthy of her attention. I had been on the drill team ever since basic and because of my seniority and background in Tech I was given the honor of being one of the hidden rappellers coming down from the ceiling. I had already checked the attendance roster of the 20,000 something people there and she wasn’t on the list. I didn’t pick my anchor spot, and I never knew `till later that I would make my landing over 100 feet below right next to her family. That week as a medic I was assigned to the medic tent. As my habit I checked the list. Timothy Zercher was listed as having asthma… his team leader was a friend and I was very happy to visit with that team every free minute I had. The next day Billy and Timothy reported that “hey our sister Julie KNOWS you!” Wow. What a coincidence. I thought they were good kids and had an easy time hanging out with them. I was at the parent pick up most days, but didn’t manage to meet Mr. Zercher until the last day. Only for a minute and then they were gone again. The great Knoxville exodus began and I wasn’t going to be back again. The list in the back of my notebook was growing, brothers and sisters and now Burnie, her dad’s name.