Lauren and I first met each other ten years ago and she rapidly became an important part of my life. Whether it was a simple phone call or a trip out of town, I cherished my time with her and always looked forward to our next conversation or adventure. Although we amassed many memories, a favorite of mine is from about seven years ago, on a trip we took to Washington. It was one of my many times with Lauren that just by being herself, she changed the course of my life.
We were headed to my dad’s house in Port Townsend, Washington, a small town at the very northeast tip of the Olympic peninsula. As this was a recent move for my father, I had visited just one time prior to this weekend and had only a vague recollection of the route. I mentioned this to Lauren and she quickly responded, “I know the way; I went up there once before.” These words should have raised an alarm immediately, after surviving years of Lauren-esque directions, which involved street names such as “that one street” and cues like “go straight for awhile and then turn”. But by this time we were on 1-5, Dave Matthews Band blasting, and I had been already been swept up into that special feeling of traveling with Lauren. As we all know, accompanying her to a new location, no matter how close geographically, immediately sweeps you into a world unto itself, infusing even the most homebound soul with the desire to embark on the romantic adventure of seeing the world. Her passion for travel was unquenchable and if she could have had her way, home would have been on the road. Always on the tip of her tongue was the next destination that she would travel to.
With this feeling sweeping us along, we continued up the freeway towards Port Townsend, descending into the type of conversations that had first attracted me to her. These conversations with Lauren had the ability to make the outside world disappear, make time irrelevant, and leave you with that same safe; warm, wonderful feeling that you used to get when your parents kissed you goodnight. She was willing to tackle any problem and she invariably had wrangled out a solution by the end of the conversation. That Friday evening, after only a half hour of driving, she had questioned me in depth, analyzed the issue, mulled over the answers and counseled me on the exact plan of action: and this was just for my homework assignment due on Monday. If foreign ambassadors had been blessed with her abilities, wars would cease, religions would agree, and that oh-so-elusive “peace on earth” would be a reality.
Perhaps it was because neither of us really cared about our destination, so long as we were spending time together, but as we continued through Olympia en route to Port Townsend both of us missed the sign for Highway 101 North. For those of you who don’t know, the Olympic peninsula spreads north and west from Olympia, ending only twenty miles from Canada and contains the most Western point of the United States. The western shoreline, embraced by the Pacific Ocean, is separated from the eastern, Puget Sound shoreline by the towering Olympic Mountain Range. These coasts are connected only through Highway 101 which runs 300 miles around the outer border of the peninsula. To get to Port Townsend from the city of Olympia, the “gateway” to the peninsula, Lauren and I should have turned right and an hour and half later we would have arrived at my father’s house. But we didn’t. And so our conversations continued, touching on past events, current relationships, and future goals. We soon passed through the city of Aberdeen as the sun was setting over the water, and I marveled how I could have forgotten that a town of this size was on the way to Port Townsend. As we drove on, with night falling around us, we passed a sign for Port Angeles, a city I hadn’t heard of. Lauren calmed my fears that we were lost with the confident yet vague words, “we’re fine, Port Townsend is near Port Angeles.” Finally with my gas gauge hovering near empty we stopped at a long-closed shop and I used the payphone to call my father. I knew something was horribly awry when I mentioned that we were in a town named Nielton and he answered back “never heard of it.” Minutes later, with the aid of a map, the voice on the other end of the line stated that somehow Lauren and I had placed ourselves at the other side of the Olympic peninsula from Port Townsend. I broke the news to Lauren that we were’ almost out of gas, it was 11 at night and we had to find somewhere in this rural region of the peninsula to stay. Without missing a beat, Lauren said “I’m sure we can find somewhere.”
Among all who I know or have ever met, Lauren’s unshakable optimism is unrivaled in my life. No occurrence in her life, no matter how dire, was a setback. Instead, it became another impetus to move forward. This faith in the future was incredibly addictive and those around her found themselves adopting her stalwart confidence with ease. Buoyed by this faith, we continued along the wooded roads, betting that we would find lodging before running out of gas. Finally a run-down motel materialized out of the starless night and moments later Lauren had sweet-talked the groggy proprietor into rooms for the night.
The next morning, after the town’s only gas station had opened, we finished our circumnavigation of the peninsula and went on to spend a relaxing weekend in Port Townsend. However, the direct effects of my unexpected tour with Lauren, both from her presence as well as our misdirection, proceeded to completely alter the course of my career, resulting in an eventual change from graphic design to medicine.
Everyday is filled with these constant reminders of how Lauren has impacted me and my existence. Although Lauren and I are unable to experience new adventures, the myriad of precious times we have spent together will continue to be with me. Her incredible smile, her limitless love, and her beautiful soul will eternally fill my heart and alter my life. She will always be with me as she will be with all of you, because she has changed all of our lives forever.