This is the story of two people who were not searching for romance. Nonetheless, a pandemic, the distance of half a continent and a blizzard could not keep them apart. This is a tale of unexpected love in the time of COVID-19.
Dimitrios Kyriakou, 50, was finishing work on his doctorate at the University of Nevada, Reno, on March 7 when he posted a comment on Facebook international politics page about the relationship between the U.S. and his native Greece. Getting involved in a relationship was the last thing on his mind. He was focused on completing his degree and returning to his career as a professional basketball coach, perhaps in Europe or Asia. He was thinking about his two teenage children, then in school in Reno, but who would soon be returning to their homeland.
More than 1,600 miles to the northeast, Kamela Ervin, 45, of Fort Dodge, Iowa, had suffered the death of her mother in December. She is a single mom of two boys, ages 16 and 10. She had been apart from her ex-husband for four years and wasn’t in the market for a boyfriend, let alone a serious relationship. But she came across Dimitrios’ comment and thought it was insightful. Her finger hovered over the “like” button.
She pressed it. The thumbs-up icon turned blue. Her Facebook handle, “Karamela,” was added to the list of reactions. Fate’s dominos were set in motion.
“I used Karamela on Facebook instead of my given name, Kamela, because my great-grandfather, who was from Greece, always thought it would be a great girl’s name,” Kamela said. “It was sort of a tribute to him.”
You had me at orange cake
Dimitrios saw “Karamela” in the comments list and got curious. “The name means candy in Greek,” he said. “That attracted my attention, so I went to her Facebook profile.” The profile photo was the image of a beautiful woman. His first reaction was that she looked much younger than him, perhaps even 20 years his junior. But he was intrigued by her posts about Greek culture and recipes, including one for his favorite dessert, portokalopita (orange cake).
“I don’t send out friend requests on Facebook unless I know the person in the real world,” he said. “I didn’t have romance on my mind and besides, seeing her photo, I thought she was too young, early 30s at most, but I figured, well, I’ll send (a friend request), see what happens, maybe we’ll be virtual friends.” He sent the request.
She saw it the next day. “I don’t really accept friend requests from anyone that I don’t know, except maybe if they are friends with a cousin or something,” Kamela said. “But I liked his comment and I was about ready to drop my Facebook account anyway.” She looked at his profile first and saw that he is a professional basketball coach living in Reno while attending the university. He had led national teams all over Europe and was one of four foreign-born assistant coaches to work in the NCAA. There were no red flags. She accepted the request.
Dimitrios sent a polite message thanking her: “You had me at portokalopita,” he added. She saw it and laughed. And, like all cooks, she appreciates compliments about her recipes. That set off an exchange of messages that continued the rest of the day and into darkness. Fingers touched keys. Brain chemistry bubbled; destiny’s dominos tumbled. Texting was tedious. They suddenly remembered the original purpose of Mr. Bell’s invention. Their phone call began about 9 p.m. Reno time, 11 p.m. in Iowa.
“I’m open to meeting people,” Kamela said. “After we texted so much, I thought I just had to hear this person. I live in a small town, so it was nice to speak to someone new. Our conversation just took off; it just felt really natural. We had a lot of things in common and had so much to talk about without even trying. I was just blown away.”
They talked for about five hours. When he hung up, Dimitrios felt “rejuvenated,” he said.
They communicated on the phone or computer each day thereafter. As COVID-19 began its takeover of our lives in March, the couple grew closer despite the 1,600 miles between them. An in-person meeting seemed inevitable. Kamela bought a ticket for a Reno flight scheduled on March 20. By that date, the country was in lockdown and flying was inadvisable. “I had to play it safe,” Kamela said.
Still, they longed to meet face-to-face.
“OK, I’ll drive,” Dimitrios said. That impressed Kamela. “Wow, he’s really got some skin in the game,” she said. “…He’s a man of action.”
A spring blizzard intervenes
On April 10 he rented a car in Reno and set off to meet Kamela in Des Moines. The trip was uneventful until he crossed the Wyoming border, got a motel room and awakened the next morning to a blizzard rolling east from the Rockies. “The car is covered in snow,” he said. “There’s no ice scraper, snow chains, deicer, nothing. I turned up the heat in the car and used my work gloves and my fingernails to scrape the snow off the windshield.” He called Kamela and gave her a weather report. “That created even more drama,” she said. “I was worried about him.”
“Wyoming was crazy. It’s 4 a.m. and the highway was only me and trucks, and the trucks were going like crazy past me. I couldn’t see beyond six feet or so. I get into Nebraska and it’s raining and I can see a patch of sky. I’m thinking I’m fine now. I feel great. But I wasn’t fine. The temperature outside was minus 14 degrees. The rain was freezing when it hit the car and the road… There were trucks still, but there were cars with trailers swaying all over the place. I escaped several accidents.” — Dimitrios Kyriakou
The way he dealt with obstacles impressed Kamela. “That showed me something,” she said. “He handled himself really well.”
The weather finally cleared as he crossed the Iowa border. He was tired, frazzled and stressed. They met on the rainy, deserted streets of Des Moines.
“It all came together, just like on the phone,” Kamela said. “We felt familiar with each other. There was no lack of things to talk about. It felt natural,” Dimitrios agreed: “It was great from the beginning, from Moment One. I would have driven that route again under those (weather) conditions, no problem, knowing what I know now.”
Shortly after Dimitrios returned to Reno, Kamela’s father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His daughter’s life turned upside down. Kamela is a former home care nurse, and understood the grave implications of his diagnosis. She couldn’t be with her dad in the hospital, where he was starting aggressive treatment. There was talk of a possible video goodbye over Face Time. She phoned Dimitrios with anguished updates on her dad’s condition.
“He was so supportive,” Kamela said. “That was huge. It was the longest week of my life and Dimitrios helped me get through it.” Her father’s condition has since stabilized and he’s now receiving chemotherapy. “His numbers are good,” she said.
Popping the question in Reno
Kamela flew to Reno in June. They talked about the future. They worried about the uncertain state of international travel if Dimitrios went back to Greece or got a job halfway around the world. They talked about family ties, borders and passports. They spoke of the possible length of the pandemic whose end no one can see. As Kamela prepared to fly home, Dimitrios proposed.
She said yes; fate’s last domino toppled. The wedding is scheduled in Reno on Aug. 13. “And that was it,” Kamela said. “Again, it seemed natural, like there wasn’t any other way.”
They’ll get married while the fever of emotions still blazes. What happens if, with time, the fires within them burn out?
“What really makes this more than just an emotional high is that when I was going through so many things that were very serious, I saw how he reacted to my stress, how he supported me emotionally. The depth of feelings was more than just surface attraction. And I got to experience how he deals with stress, like the trip to Iowa and how he rearranged his plans for jobs and travel… We got to see each other in very vulnerable positions. If that’s taken out, it would be one-dimensional, but what we went through in a short time showed us we can trust each other. It wasn’t just a happy-go-lucky dating period where everything is positive.” — Kamela Ervin
Dimitrios said Kamela is “my ONE, with capital letters, I know that. The chemistry led us to become close, but the difficulties we had to overcome helped us get very close. We will definitely try to do the best we can. So far it’s been no effort, there’s an easy way that we communicate with each other. I think that’s the most important thing. The chemistry, the depth of emotions is important, but the communication is even more so. I would say ours is mythical… It’s like we have known each other since we were children.”
He said their meeting never would have happened if it weren’t for the disruption caused by the pandemic and a lot of small coincidences that had to line up to make it possible.
“I would have found a job faster if not for COVID, so I might have been already committed to moving or maybe I’d be back in Greece with my children,” Dimitrios said. “If I hadn’t noticed her ‘like’ that day, if she hadn’t used Karamela as her Facebook name, none of this would have happened.”
He will stay in Nevada. The couple will gather with a few friends at a Reno wedding chapel Aug. 13 and exchange vows. When the pandemic is over and an exhausted world opens up, they plan a second ceremony in Greece, in a small church near the Aegean Sea.
For now, “our love is our micro-world,” Dimitrios said. Everything happened so fast; everything changed overnight. A push of a mouse button set so many things in motion and changed two lives.
“It was so unexpected but, it felt like it was meant to be,” Dimitrios said. “If I didn’t experience it, I wouldn’t believe my own story.”