A Match Made in Heaven: A Love Story Born in Art


I'm thirteen years old and half my head is shaved, the other half is bleached blonde, but I didn't know I was about to meet destiny face to face. I'm at my friend Andrea's house, and she tells me that her mom is letting her buy a piece of art for her birthday. She flaps a wad of cash into the air and asks me if I want to go with her to buy the art piece.

"You're buying a piece of art?" I ask her.

"Come look, my sister bought a piece from this really cool artist who hangs out at Arco with all the punks," Andrea explains.

We walk into her sister's room, and I look at a black and white pen and ink drawing that's on her wall of a guy partially submerged in the water with half of his head floating out of the water. There is a reflection of him in the water, and his head is hinged open like the lid of a jar, and you can see inside his mind a whole world of animals and little guys pushing wheelbarrows full of tiny little objects. There are stairs and tunnels and contraptions filled with characters and people of all sorts. There's a giant toilet inside the man's mind that turns into a tree trunk. The drawing had endless things to see, and I was utterly fascinated.

"Whoa! That is the coolest thing I have ever seen! It's like 'Where's Waldo' but way cooler!" I exclaim. "Who is the artist?"

"It's this 17-year-old punk; he's some kind of genius. I commissioned a drawing from him for my birthday, and now I need to go pick it up. Do you want to come with me?" Andrea says.

"Yeah, totally! Where are we going?"

"We have to hop on the bus now. I'm meeting him at the Arco," she says.

"Arco gas station?! But that's where all the punks hang out! They do drugs and have sex in the bathroom! We can't go there!" I'm terrified.

"Don't be such a poser! I've got all this cash, and I'm just picking up a drawing," she explains.

Discovering the Genius of a Punk

A sketch from creative genius and artist John Milan

I know I have to go. I knew if I didn't, I would regret it. The whole bus ride, I thought about the gas station and the huge crowd of punks that hung out there daily, smoking their clove cigarettes and marijuana. They displayed 8-inch Mohawks, spiky leather jackets, and combat boots. I had a shaved head, wore thick black eyeliner, and smoked cigarettes, but I still did my homework, ate dinner at home with my parents, and kept my Barbies in a bag in my closet.

Most days, I felt pretty badass among my fellow eighth-grade classmates who still had slumber parties, watched horror movies, and ate Oreos, but today I definitely felt like a poser and expected to be spit on and have cigarette butts thrown at me. But I felt compelled to go.

We got off the bus, and I followed Andrea to the spot, my heart beating inside my chest as we approached. A few of the punk girls turned and sneered at us, and dorks sizing us up in our wannabe skate Betty outfits of black leggings, Converse, and a flannel tied around our waist. Andrea and I waited a bit off to the side, avoiding the thick of the crowd. I could see Andrea searching through everyone, trying to find her artist.

Meeting the Artist

a candid black and white photo of John Milan as handsome young man

A beautiful young man hops joyfully through the crowd and walks over to us. He looks different. Happy, energetic, and smiling, he crouches down a bit and offers his secret handshake to Andrea, who tries to follow his moves that end with a Hawaiian shaka and a pretend toke on some weed. I'm surprised how confident she is. I'm so impressed that he knows her name and has his drawing with him.

He briefly looks at me and says, "Hi." I choke out a "Hey" and feel like he looks right through me. I can hardly move but am transfixed on his beautiful face. He's so incredibly handsome, and I am immediately crushing. He has bleached blond 1/4 inch shaved hair that glows brightly in the sun. He has one of the coolest black leather jackets I've ever seen, with his drawings all over the back of it. I'm completely enthralled.

He hands Andrea the drawing that's tucked inside sheets of cardboard. She opens it like a giant book and looks at the drawing. Our mouths drop open as we stare at this incredible feast of creativity. Andrea is thrilled and carefully closes it back inside the cardboard. She handed him the money and thanked him.

He gives her a hug and then turns to me and pauses. Then, he carefully leans into me and offers a hug as well. I melt into his arms as if it is an eternity and catch the smell of his leather jacket and cigarettes. I feel my face burning, and I know I'm blushing, and now I'm on fire because I'm embarrassed that I'm blushing.

Love at First Sight

I'm grateful to be walking away with Andrea at this point. But I turn to get one more look and see him walking back to the crowd of punks. I had never met a real artist before. "He seems like he is some kind of celebrity," I tell Andrea as we wait for the bus.

"Yeah, he kind of is. He does murals in nightclubs in Waikiki and paints on all the skinheads' gas cans of their motorcycles. My sister told me that everyone on the island knows him," Andrea fills me in.

"I can't believe he hugged us! He was so nice. I thought he would think we are dorks and treat us like posers," I said.

"Oh my gosh! You like him! You are so crushing!" Andrea exposed me. "Forget it! You are 13, and he is 17, and he's way too cool for you. He would never be into you," she tells me straight.

The Moment That Changed Everything

Artist John Milan with his friend sitting the back of a red-interior car

I knew she was right. I even thought I was so silly and like a stupid little girl to instantly fall for him, but I couldn't stop thinking about him and his face. The next time I saw him was in a back alley in Waikiki behind a nightclub called Pink Cadillac. I had a pint of peppermint schnapps in a brown paper bag my friend Christy and I mooched off some military guys. My art crush and his punk friend named Fish shared the bottle with us while we made small talk. Again, I couldn't take my eyes off his sweet, beautiful face. He remembered me and asked about Andrea.

Over the next four years, I had sightings of him every once in a while, and my heart would skip. I constantly saw his art almost everywhere I went on the island. It was on people's jeans, t-shirts, and leather jackets or murals in clubs and restaurants. Everyone knew him because of his ingenious work.

When I was 15, I discovered my own passion for art and started to paint. I thought about his black and white drawings often and tried to emulate them on my jeans or in my sketchbooks but fell short.

When I was 17, I wound up at the same party as him and caught him looking at me in that special way. At first, I thought, "No, I'm imagining this. There's no way this incredible artist is interested in me." Deep down, I still felt like that poser wannabe punk who had a crush on this out-of-reach art guru. He sat next to me at the party, knew my name, and told me he remembered me and knew who I was. I was shocked. "How do you remember me?" I asked.

"I remember seeing you on the bus with your cool haircut, thinking about how I could get your number," he said.

I told him I was just finishing high school and needed a date for an event I was organizing with my school. "Would you be my date?"

He smiled. "Yeah, I want to be your date."

A Match Made in Heaven

If someone had told me when I was 13, standing at the Arco gas station looking into John's golden brown eyes and beautifully handsome face, which expressed deep love and endless kindness, that this young man would one day be my husband, that we would have four incredible artist children, and that we would travel the world together chasing adventures and changing lives, I would have fainted onto the sticky pavement in front of all those punks.

My greatest art hero and all-time inspiration became my partner, friend, and lover. We have shared countless studios and painted thousands of paintings together. We share our dreams and lift each other when things don't go our way. We have a rich history together, and our destinies are intertwined with eternity. Art has been between us and through us all these years with a passion that unites our spirit.

Share your story in the comments below!


  • Lynn

    It was a typical hot scorching day in Northern California. I had accepted a caretaking position up a mountain road thirty minute drive west of the small town of Willits. I had a waitress job in town at an Italian bistro. Often on hot days like this I would bike into town that was mostly downhill and stop off at a lake to cool off. On this particular day I did just that wearing my one peuce bathing suit revealing every part of my childlike figure. I parked my bike on a cliff and dove in. When I came up for air there was a boy watching me. He was sitting on an adjacent cliff so I swam over to him. We talked while he mostly dominated the conversation, and talked mostly about himself. I invited him to come eat at Mas wildflower inn. He told me he would come that night because the next day he was hitchhiking east to visit his guru in Maryland. I was born and raised in Virginia and it had been awhile since I saw my family so asked if I could go with him. I could tell by his facial expression he was surprised by my boldness and free spirit . He didn’t hesitate to say yes. It has now been 44 years and this man is now the father of my 3 children and 7 grandchildren. We have been on one adventure after another after a small ceremony where only his brother was present. I’m sure my family would have tried to stop the marriage. It was held at a Pastor’s house. I had a borrowed dress and was barefoot. The ceremony was held underneath the majestic California redwood trees. We were also baptized into the Christian faith that same day at the lake we first met.
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Beautiful! Great story!

  • Brittany Rose

    I totally know what you mean by “ looking at me in that special way “ I could feel that powerful moment that never really stopped. Sometimes you just know ! And he still looks at me like that. Even when things get ugly. I absolutely loved reading this, because it reminded me of my story , so much love , elli ❤️

  • Jennifer

    We met at the bar in a goth club. I had noticed him dancing earlier in the evening and had seen him around, but was not in a place in life where I was even thinking about dating. I was waiting to get the bartender’s attention and this voice in my left ear says, “don’t I know you from somewhere?” I’m thinking, can a pickup line be any more ridiculous? Do I even give this guy the time of day? I look at him and say, “no.” Above all the noise I hear the name of an acquaintance, and he says it’s his sister. I get my drink and say, “well, see ya later” and walk away! Turns out we had met before, I just didn’t remember it. That was 22 years ago, we’ve been married 16 years.
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Whoa!! 6 years to get married! Great story! “Dont I know you from somewhere” 🤣

  • Aruna

    Elli, I loved this love story of you and John. It is heart warming. Especially, for me because John is my mentor and I really feel fortunate to have him as my mentor. His artowrk is unique and inspirational. Some day perhaps, I can afford to buy it.

  • Sandra Honeycutt

    I met my husband at work, he looked me up and down and I thought I don’t know if I can work here. It was the only place that hired me so it was fate. I found out he was the owner’s son and I thought I definitely could not get involved, my job was too important, I was 21, very serious, and I was also engaged. One evening while working, it was decorating/fabric store, we both got our wallets stolen! We went out for a consoling drink, which was the beginning of us, 47 years later. I often wonder what would have happened if our wallets had not gotten stolen that nite. Something bad that changed my life forever for good. He is still looking me up and down which I now approve.

    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Oh my! Stolen wallets, broken engagements, dating the bosses son! Could be a movie! 🤣 congrats on 47 years! Amazing!

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