The Love Story of Paul and Graciela Duran
Photo by Felicia Cousart Matlosz/The Exponent
“Every love story is beautiful, but ours is my favorite.”
Our story began in February of 2002. I was 21 years old and she was 18 years old. We both started working for a brand new Target store in Rosemead, Ca. I was a team leader in the front end and she was my cashier. I remember it as if it was yesterday. It was my first day at Target and I was being led through that shell of a store. It was being stocked with merchandise by all of the team members that were hired before me. As I walked through what would soon be the toy department, There she was. My future wife. The most beautiful girl I have ever seen. She had the personality of no one I have ever encountered. You can tell she had a heart of gold.
Time went by. The store had its grand opening filled with hoopla. As time went by I stood from afar and watched her work her magic with the customers and every task she performed. I thought to myself. “This girl is Perfect.” We became good friends. She became my favorite cashier and I her favorite supervisor. My feelings for her grew stronger. I would tell myself “This could never happen. She’s out of your league.” So, I did what any normal guy in my situation would do. I kept my feelings to myself and cherished her friendship.
I went on my lunch break one day and decided to sit in the food service area and enjoy my meal. Among the many cashiers that were working that day was her. I have to admit, my eyes adored her. Just as I was wrapping up my lunch, a friend of mine approached from behind and asked what I was looking at. I reluctantly told her I was looking at Graciela and I told my friend she was really cute. I vaguely remember hearing my friend ask me if I liked her. I replied with “Yeah but she’s too pretty for me.” That was the end of that. I then returned to work thinking nothing else of it.
A few hours had passed since then and It was time for me to send Graciela to lunch. I noticed she went into the food service area to get her lunch and then retreated to the back break area. I let a few minutes pass before I went into the back as well. The plan is I was going to go back and just flirt a little. Just some harmless small talk. As I walked into the break room she took a bite of her burger and smiled at me. Before I had a chance to get a word out she said, “So… Is it true you like me?” I didn’t know what to say. I was mortified. I could feel my face getting hot and red. I just walked away. I was so embarrassed. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to think. I knew I had to face her as soon as her lunch was over.
She finished her burger and came up to the front and said “So, It’s true? “All I could do is nod my head yes in embarrassment. She also asked “So… When are you going to ask me out?” I simply replied “tonight.” The evening came to an end and I offered to take her home. This was so new to me. I was so nervous. I liked her so much. I didn’t want to do or say anything to mess up my chances of being with her. On the ride home we had some small talk. Some of which included talking about going out some time. We had agreed on a day to go out. We pulled in her drive way and she gave me her number. I reached in my glove compartment and got out a yellow napkin from Wendy’s. She proceeded to write her name and number on it. From that moment, I knew I was going to cherish that napkin forever. She thanked me for the ride and left. Looking back I realize I should have walked her to the door. From there I met my friends for dinner and told them all about this amazing girl that I am going to go out with.
The day was here! Date night! She was working that day and luckily I was off. I had to go to the mall and buy new clothes and I even went to get a haircut. I had to be perfect for her. I had butterflies in my stomach the whole day. It was time to call her and confirm our little date and find out how her day at work was. She told me she would be ready by a certain time. It’s not until recently that I found out that she was going to cancel on me because she was tired. Good thing she didn’t. I would have been a mess. My confidence was minimal at that time to begin with. See. I guess everything does happen for a reason. I had a great evening planned. I took her to the Olive Garden and as we walked up I could tell she was a little apprehensive. I asked what was wrong and she said she didn’t want to eat there. She had never eaten there before and I guess she had fear of the unknown. Now it seems I can’t keep her away from there. I asked her “Where do you want to eat?” She told me she wanted Wienerschnitzel. I aim to please so… Wienerschnitzel it is. We ate, We talked and really enjoyed ourselves. Then we went to Coldstone for some dessert and more stimulating conversation. The evening ended with me driving her home, walking her up the drive way and small innocent kiss. I was on cloud nine. I could have swore I heard that song ‘This Magic Moment’ playing in my head.
Time went by. We continued to date and flirt at work. Our feelings for each other grew and grew. I decided I wanted to make it official. I really wanted her to be my girlfriend. She also really wanted me to be her boyfriend. We had another date planned as we always did on nights we were both off. When I went to pick her up I did what any respectful guy would do. I asked her father if she could be my girlfriend and he of course said yes.
Our love only grew for each other. Of course there are always people that had opinions but we didn’t care. We decided to move in together. Coincidently we found an apartment right in front of her parents house. One would think it would be a pain living right in front of your girlfriends parents but it wasn’t. It was actually very convenient and besides, I loved them at the time as if they were my family. They always made me feel so welcome and comfortable. It didn’t hurt that her Mom is an amazing cook as well. In February of 2005 we welcomed our first child Anthony. The love for our son made us complete. It made us a family. We decided to make it official. We got married on Valentine’s Day of 2006. We knew we didn’t want to raise Anthony as an only child so in March of 2009 we welcomed our second son Lorenzo. We were happy with our two boys but something was still missing. I prayed to God to send me a daughter who looks just like my wife. My prayers were answered and in November of 2011 we welcomed our 3rd child Natasha. She was everything we could ask for in a daughter.
Life was good. I had everything. A beautiful wife and three beautiful children. We were still living in Rosemead in the same little apartment we moved into back in 2004. We had gone through our ups and downs but nothing quite as challenging as what we went through in March of 2013. My wife Graciela was hospitalized with chronic pancreatitis. The pain was unbearable. She was in and out of the hospital for months. At the beginning of her sickness she was hospitalized for 3 weeks straight with a week stay in ICU. It didn’t look good. The doctors were stumped on how to deal with a case as severe as hers. Finally, the doctors told us there was nothing else they could do for her. They sent her home with little hope. My mother in law had a priest come to our home. I refused to believe that was it. I wasn’t going to watch my wife fade away without a fight. I hopped on the internet and did some research as well as make a few phone calls on her behalf. Low and behold I found a pancreas specialist at USC that was ready and willing to help her. I brought her in the very next day as we didn’t have any time to spare. By now she had developed a football sized pseudo cyst on her pancreas. This was a very challenging and frustrating time in our lives as we were still young and had 3 young kids to take care of. I had to take time off of work to look after the kids and take care of my wife. I was determined to stick by her and stay true to our vows. A few weeks went by as the doctors wanted to wait for the cyst to mature before they could operate. It is now May and her body was finally where it needed to be in order to have her life saving surgery. It was a long process but she got through the surgery where they removed the cyst, 2/3 of her pancreas and her gall bladder. Now she was on a long road to recovery.
May 2013, 5 days after surgery
Life was slowly going back to normal while Graciela was recovering from her illness. Our love was even stronger than ever as we realized if we could get through our recent challenges we could get through anything. I adore my wife. She deserves the world, she is my world. We wanted a change. We were ready to start the next chapter of our lives. We were in the position where we could finally buy a house. We agreed that buying in Southern California was out of the question due to the fact that it was too expensive and we did not want to raise our children down there. Graciela has quite a few cousins that live in Reedley and we had been up here on a number of occasions such as weddings and parties etc… I had always found Reedley as a quiet quaint little town. The homes are beautiful and better yet affordable. So, we decided to look in Reedley. We found our dream home! A beautiful 2 story house right across the street from one of Graciela’s cousins. As soon as we set foot in the house we fell in love. This was our future home. We immediately saw ourselves raising our family here. This is where we wanted to spend the rest of our lives. So… We jumped at it and made an offer. Low and behold they accepted the offer! We got our dream house! We moved into our new home in March of 2014.
From that point on we have been nothing but happy here. Whenever I think of our future and our family I think of Reedley. I picture us growing old in our home and watching our children as they move onto elementary school, middle school, high school and even college. I even imagine walking my daughter down the aisle in our big beautiful back yard. We will be celebrating our 9 year wedding anniversary this Valentine’s day. My wife is the inspiration behind all that I do, and the source of all that is good in my life.
New Year’s 2015 in our home