Engagement called off
Sunday, February 7, 2010
The following message is etched into the side of the Pac-Man game that long resided in Kyriaki Damalas's parents' basement: "Kiki Loves Bill Loves Kiki Loves Bill . . ."
Damalas thinks she was probably 8 when she made that Magic Marker testament. But it could've been earlier; she can't really remember a time when she didn't love Vasilios "Bill" Giannopoulos.
Their fathers met first in Greece and later in Baltimore's Greektown after both emigrated and ended up in the tight-knit enclave. When Damalas was a baby, Giannopoulos, seven years her senior, was the bike-riding boy next door. Her uncle coached his basketball team, and their mothers were close. Even when her family moved to a new home, they were still within blocks of each other, close enough for her to follow him around and to tell his father she planned to marry his son one day.
"His dad used to think it was funny, like, 'Whatever,' " recalls Damalas, now 24.
Giannopoulos didn't pay Damalas much attention until she showed up at a church youth group event her freshman year of high school, suddenly not looking like a little girl anymore. They started talking and then sneaking phone calls, keeping their budding relationship secret out of fear that their parents would disapprove of the age difference.
Damalas's cousin, Kerrie Handakas, remembers a family beach vacation when she and Damalas sneaked out of the house in the middle of a lightning storm so that Damalas could find a pay phone and call Giannopoulos. "That's how dedicated they were," Handakas says. "They just completely hit it off."
In time, Damalas's parents found out and didn't object as stringently as she'd feared. For the next few months their relationship was tightly monitored, allowing the pair to see each other in group settings or with an adult around. But as years ticked by, they became a fixture, enmeshed in each other's lives, with the support and affection of both of their families. "I was in love," she says, "absolutely in love."
After high school, Damalas studied to be a hairstylist while Giannopoulos was working at his parents' carryout, Mamma Mia's. She was 19 when they did what everyone, including herself, expected: They got engaged.
Engagement called off
"There was the pressure of, 'You have to get married,' " she says. " 'Cause when you're Greek, that's what you do."
He bought a ring, they planned a wedding and everyone was in celebration mode until, she says, "I freaked out."
"I just thought, 'I can't,' " she remembers. "I didn't know what I was doing. . . . I went from being in my mom's care to his care, rather than taking care of myself."
Six months before the wedding, Damalas called off the engagement, packed up her car and moved to Florida. "I broke his heart," she says.