It is 7:38 PM on a Saturday night when I sit down with Ayaki and DJ, a spread of tea trays and iced coffee before us. Soft, lively tones of jazz and classical float overhead. Outside the coffee shop, rain patters steadily, making the road slick, its dark surface reflective of the meager yellow streetlights. For an hour or so, we sit and talk at a table by the wide window, watching the bright light emanating from the shop’s fixtures spill into puddles on the sidewalk.
How are you today?
DJ: I’m great. Yesterday was my birthday, so I’m still very much overwhelmed by the kindness of my friends and others. It was really the first birthday that I was able to balance the idea of accepting love that I didn’t think I deserved, that I don’t deserve, and I’m really grateful. I’m in the post-birthday grateful peace.
Ayaki (A): I’m doing good. I got to do a service project this morning. I’ve been on this Jesus high, I guess you could call it, throughout the day, where it’s just been really cool to see that come through. I’m feeling good. I’m a little tired, but I’m good. This coffee will change that.
Can you name a song that makes you happy?
DJ: Hm, a song that makes me happy… What’s yours? You know it.
A: (Dissolving in giggles.) It’s inappropriate.
DJ: Oh, put it down! Please! It’s anonymous.
A: Okay, mine is “Wiggle” by Jason Derulo. It’s someone that I know’s favorite song, and so every single time that he hears it, it just… joy lights up. (Imitates reaction with a big grin.) It is the greatest thing. (Laughing.) It’s been on multiple times in the day, and every single time, there’s the same reaction. It’s my favorite thing.
DJ: My song is in a similar vein. It’s R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix).” Funny story about that song: apparently, in an interview, R. Kelly said that he wrote the remix version before he wrote “Ignition.” How do you write the remix version before you write the original? But that’s what R. Kelly said.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: That’s really hard for me to answer because I’m a pretty open book in the sense of if someone asks me something, I’ll answer them truthfully. I’m not just going to be like, “Oh no, I can’t tell you that about me.”
DJ: I have two. One, I have tiny nipples.
A: (Laughs.) He does have tiny nipples!
DJ: And then two, I left an engagement ring on top of a mountain for a stranger.
A: I also have two. One is, I have this secret evil side, where I love to laugh at other people’s pain. It’s not that it brings me joy; it just makes me laugh. When people were falling while playing broom ball, I found it to be the funniest thing, and they were getting hurt, too. Like, people were smacking their heads. And the second one is that I love to do random acts of kindness but not tell anybody; so I won’t tell you my random acts of kindness because then it won’t be a secret of what I do.
DJ: Although, if it’s anonymous, then it’s good. It could benefit people, then…
A: Okay. So for example, I gave an elderly lady my umbrella when [DJ and I] went to the Dollar Tree that one time. And that’s why I went back to my car. Even though I felt bad because it was broken, it was my only umbrella.
DJ: Oh, I didn’t know that.
A: I like to do stuff like that.
Do you have a favorite childhood memory?
DJ: My brother and I used to build really, really elaborate pillow forts. Rather, I would build really elaborate pillow forts, and there was one specific memory that I remember him helping me. He’s my older brother, and so he went all out, and then we made designated sleeping spots and walls, and we covered the whole room. [He and I], we don’t have the closest relationship, and him taking that initiative when I was so young… I really, specifically remember that with him just because we don’t talk very much. That was very special.
A: It’s really hard because I have so many. I have a really close family, and so there are millions and millions of memories… I’m going to do two that compile into one. My first one was, my great-aunt and uncle and grandparents and all them own this potato ranch, and they had this giant, old three-story barn, and we would go exploring in the barn. My cousins, one time, built this really rickety bridge over because [the floor] would split at one point, and we would have to walk across. I wasn’t allowed to [use the bridge] because I was so little, but we would climb up on the hay bales and go talk to cows and watch owls fly through the barn, which is why owls are my favorite animal now. There was this goose that thought it was a cow, so it would hang out will all of [the cows] and eat their food, and it was really weird. It was just always fun going [to the ranch] and feeding the horses. And the second one is my dad playing guitar and singing. We’d all just sit down, and he would play, and we’d all sing along and do worship songs and all of that stuff.
Of which of your accomplishments or characteristics are you most proud?
DJ: I’m really proud of how relentlessly optimistic I am, and then also, if it’s worth fighting for, then I won’t stop. Maybe they are evolved from my stubbornness, but I think those two characteristics are two things that have been spoken into me and that I am very excited to grow.
A: I think for characteristics, I’m really empathetic to the point where I don’t fully feel someone else’s pain, but I feel their pain, which is funny because I love to laugh at people’s [physical] pain, but emotional pain I… I don’t know. It’s just something that God has always kind of given me. I’m extremely empathetic.
Have you had any mentors or other influences that have helped shape you into the person you are today?
DJ: Yeah. How many do you want?
A: Who’s your main one?
DJ: Well, Jesus.
A: Okay, that’s cheating.
DJ: Aside from those? I realized how many things have really impacted me, and I realized when I have kids, I want them to experience those things too, so I started writing places and people and videos and authors or whatever, and I kept a running list, so I have quite a few. I’ll give you the top five: Christ, Jedidiah Jenkins, Bob Goff, my dad, and, right now, Casey Neistat. [Casey] is a YouTuber, a filmmaker. This is very recent as far as influences go, but just his work ethic and how much he believes in storytelling and giving people voices; I admire that a lot.
A: One of them is definitely my mom just because of everything that she’s been through, and she’s been through so much. She’s been the strongest Christian woman that I know, and she’s beautiful and amazing. She’s just really, really wonderful, and she’s been such a cool blessing in my life. And then my second one is one of our pastors’ wives. When I was in junior high and a little bit into high school, she became my mentor, and she really helped me through a lot of stuff. I’m actually starting to get to know her again recently, and I get to hang out with her kids too now, and it’s been really cool to have her back.
When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
DJ: “When will my reflection show who I am inside?”
A: I am a really self-conscious person, and so I think, physically, I always see the flaws in myself even though I then remind myself, No, God created me in His image. What the heck am I thinking? But that’s the first thing I think. I see someone who I hope that God will use in an impactful way, whether that’s through [the girls I mentor] or through my family or friends or anybody.
DJ: I don’t really have a great answer for you, but I think it’s funny that when you look at yourself through a mirror, it’s not what other people see, but when we look at that image, we think in our minds, Oh, people see me this way. But it’s actually a little bit different in real life.
A: They say that if you had a perfect clone of yourself, you wouldn’t recognize that clone because seeing yourself in a mirror is completely different than seeing yourself and how you interact.
DJ: I wonder if that’s different now though with so [many] pictures. We’re so familiar with ourselves and how we look.
What are your ambitions for the coming years?
A: I hope to be married in the next few years definitely. I would love to start a career someday. I’d love to travel and go on mission trips. I would love to make my future home as a place where people just randomly show up and everybody has a key, and we’ll just wake up one day and find DJ on the couch or just any [of our friends]. We have a very tight-knit group of friends, and so it’d be really cool to still have that into our later years. That’s kind of how my house is now, living with my parents, where [DJ] has spent the night so many times. I’ve woken up, and [DJ’s] on my couch. (Laughs.) So that’d be really cool, and it’d be really cool to have a Christ-centered life, where my life is fully dedicated to Christ, and so is my husband’s. Later on, after I am gone, if people do remember me, or if people do talk about me, [I hope] they say that [I] was a woman after God’s own heart.
DJ: I want to be a jack of all trades and a master of one instead of a master of none. I’m not sure what that [one] is yet. First and foremost, it’s trying to center my life around Christ, and then from that, I’m just doing what makes me come alive, and what makes me come alive is learning new things. I feel like, in the next few years, it’s hard to tell you specifically what I’m going to do, but I know I’m gonna tell a lot of stories; I know that I’m gonna go a lot of places, make a lot of new friends. It’d be nice to learn how to sail and how to ride a motorcycle. I want to graduate.
A: I want to graduate!
DJ: And I want to take a year-long journey somewhere. I want to be really uncomfortable.
How would you describe the kind of person you aspire to become?
DJ: I think it’s interesting that our answers also answer this question because it shows how we’re focused on becoming rather than doing, and that’s something that’s been on my mind a lot.
A: I love seeing the moms that go around, and they have tattoos and piercings, but they’re just amazing, beautiful moms with awesome kids. It’d be cool to break that stereotype. I had another one…
DJ: I think [I want] to be able to cultivate joy. I really want to be the kind of person who… There’s a movie called Another Earth, [and] there’s this scene where [a character] talks about this fictional Russian cosmonaut. So the story goes that he’s the first man in space. They jettison him off, and you can see the curvature of the earth, and it’s beautiful, this bright blue thing that no one’s ever seen before from where he is. And so, he’s sitting there, and all of a sudden… (TAP). He hears this tapping, and it drives (tap) him (tap) crazy (tap). This whole time he’s hearing this tapping, and so, eventually, it drives him to the point where he has to rip out the control panels and look for where [the source of the tapping] is, and he still can’t find it. Here he is, far, far away from home, all alone in this tiny, little box, and all he hears is this tapping, and he can’t fix it. He closes his eyes, and he listens to the tapping, and when he opens his eyes again, he sees all the stars, and instead of hearing the tapping, he hears music. He knows that he has to transform that incessant tapping into something that he can enjoy, and so instead of hearing that crazy, maddening tap, it’s transformed in his mind as music; and so he watches all of the stars and spends the rest of his time orbiting earth, listening to music. I guess, for me, I want to be someone who can turn that noise into music, to be the kind of person to always be able to flip something around.
A: I remembered my other one. Today, I went to lunch with my family, and we were talking about a woman we know [who] started this nonprofit, started doing it since she was eighteen, and he was talking about this generation in the sense that we are a generation that loves to do a lot of talk, and we love to do protests, and we love to talk about the issues that we want to change and complain and argue about it, but we don’t like to do anything. I want to be part of the generation that does, and I want to be a caretaker. Instead of complaining and saying, “Ugh, everything is messed up,” I want to be a doer of things.
If you could tell your future self anything, what would you say?
DJ: Aren’t we always talking to our future selves?
A: I think for mine, I’d say to not stray away from Christ ’cause I’ve done that before, and it was awful. To do that again as an adult, because I did that when I was in high school, I cannot even imagine the consequences that it would have. Not the consequences; that’s a really bad word for it. I just realized [it sounds] like, “Oh, if I stray away from God, somebody’s gonna strike me down!” That’s not what I mean; it’s just more in the sense of I know the mistakes that I am capable of making and the things that I really enjoyed doing when I was not following Christ, and I’d hate to get back into that.
DJ: When I was sixteen, [my friend] and I wrote letters to ourselves. I wrote this long paragraph like, “I hope in pursuit of adventure, you don’t lose yourself,” that kind of thing; and then I love [my friend’s] answer though. He (laughs), he goes, “[name], grow a pair.” Period, and then done. So I’d probably [say], “[DJ], grow a pair.” I mean, yeah, be bold. Eddie would go.
A: I think I’m really focused on marriage and family and such, and so that’s what I keep talking about, sorry if it’s weird, but I think divorce has never been an option of mine, and so [I want] to never even have the thought of being like, “Well, things aren’t working out this year, so I’m done.” I know that I won’t [think it], but I’d still [tell myself], “Hey!”
What is your greatest fear?
A: I’m super claustrophobic, so being buried alive freaks me out, or any sort of being trapped anywhere. Sometimes [our friend] will bear hug us, but then he’ll crush us, and sometimes, it really freaks me out. It’s that bad; I really don’t like it. (Laughs.) I do sometimes; that’s not true. I love his hugs.
DJ: I don’t want to sound like I’m fearless ’cause I’m not. I made life rules when I was younger, and one of them was never to let fear be the reason; and for me, if I’m afraid [or] it makes me uncomfortable, I usually will see it as a gift and as something that I ought to do. I mean, within reason. I used to be afraid of clowns, but I’ve seen IT, and it just is not a [fear] anymore. I used to be afraid of heights, but then I skydived, and I worked at the airport; and now I’m not afraid of heights. I used to be afraid of rollercoasters, but after hopping in the seat of an airplane, it’s like, Oh, I can do rollercoasters. I used to not like needles, but then after EMT training and [getting a] tattoo, it’s like, Oh, okay.
A: I’m realizing that I have a lot of fears.
DJ: Oh, I know, I know… This is still very much a fear for me. In the Bible, there’s Saul, and Saul is chosen to be king over Israel, and in his disobedience, he loses favor with God, and his gifting and his role [are] given to David, who does have a heart for God. For me, it’s this irrational fear of losing my place in the story and losing the self that I’m meant to be. And loneliness is definitely a big thing, not finding a companion [who] shares the same values that I [have] and not being able to have a family.
A: Okay, I have another one. I don’t know where it is in the Bible, but there’s a place where these people, for all their lives, whenever they did something, they would do it in the Lord’s name. They’d heal people in the Lord’s name, they’d pray over [people], whatever; they did it all in the Lord’s name. Then, when they [went] to heaven, they said, “Oh, Lord, we did all these things in Your name. We healed people, we cast out demons, we did all these things in Your name,” and God [said], “Yeah, but I didn’t know you.” and then sent them away. My biggest fear is that God will be like, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t know you.”
DJ: Oh, yeah. Mark me down as the same thing.
A: I know that I’m going to heaven because I love Jesus. I love Him, and I know Him, and I’m hoping He knows me, but it still is one of those things I catch myself doing, like, “Oh, I’m doing this in the Lord’s name,” but I’m not growing a relationship with Christ, and so I instantly have that, “Crap, what am I doing?” The whole point of Christianity is loving people, but it’s also to love God and grow this relationship with Him.
Can you offer any profound advice?
DJ: I don’t know if I can say that it is profound, but I will share advice that has always been helpful for me.
A: I think that if we are talking to high school girls and boys: for girls, always respect yourselves in the sense that no high school guy is ever going to be worth giving yourself away ever, no matter how much you love him; it’s just not worth it. And then for guys, never let the excuse “boys will be boys” be yours because if you’re constantly thinking that “boys will be boys,” you will never be a man.
I think, for young adults: one of my tattoos says, “Remember who you are and whose you are,” and it’s something that my parents always said to us whenever we left the house. [It’s] to remember that I am who I am and nothing can change that and to remember that I am God’s daughter. Oh, and plans will change. No matter how much you plan out your life, plans will change, and it is okay when plans change. It’s really hard to accept that, especially when you are a young adult. For instance, I thought that I would be married by now and that I would be done with school. I thought that I would be moved out; I thought that, I don’t know, I would be out of state. I thought all these things, and instead, I’m living at home; my boyfriend and I have been dating for three years; I’m not done with school at all; but honestly, I haven’t been happier in my life because I get to lead amazing girls, I get to be at my church all the time, [and] I have the most amazing friends. And, you know, it doesn’t always work out for everybody like that, but plans will change, and that’s okay when they change. Not everything’s going to work out in your favor, but it’s okay when it doesn’t.
I have one more: always be present when you’re with people. Personally, I totally struggle with being on my phone, but I really love [that] Chick-fil-A has this thing where you put your phone in a bucket on your table. I love that because we don’t talk to people anymore.
DJ: There’s that game where everyone puts their phone on top of each other-
A: -and then whoever checks it first has to pay! (Laughs.) [Being present is] something that I personally struggle with, and I realized this recently [that] there were so many moments where I could have been present, but I was sitting there, looking at Facebook or Instagram. Not that nothing on there is going to benefit me; that’s a lie. There are so many things on social media that benefit me, but I can do that when I’m alone. When I’m with a group of friends, sitting in my garage, hanging out, there’s no point.
DJ: I think advice for me that’s helpful is to be present and actively choose how you see the world and to actively choose, again, to see noise as music and to also not let life happen to you and to be very aware of how brief this life is and to search for truth. I think the truth wants to be known, and for us, that’s Christ, and I think when you use your whole heart to search for that, I think it’ll answer, and I think that’s what so many people are looking for and don’t know it. And when you know what that truth is, to be wholehearted about it. To be present and wholehearted, I think, is really some of the best advice that I’ve ever been given.
A: Don’t be afraid to make a fool out of yourself because honestly, if you care about what people think about you for the rest of your life, you’re never going to grow as a person.
DJ: Yeah, be enthusiastic.
A: But seriously, like, dance in public, talk really loud, get excited about things, get really excited about things. One of my favorite parts about [DJ and Kekoa] is that no matter what it is, it can be the smallest thing, and they just get so much joy and excitement, and it’s so wonderful to watch. To some people, that would be so weird, like, I don’t know, getting excited about a bracelet that you can stick animals on. (Laughs.)
DJ: I’m still stoked about it.
A: I know, right? And so, make a fool out of yourself because those are going to be some of the greatest memories. I dance every single time I go to Disneyland. [My boyfriend] and I would dance in the middle of Disneyland, and it’s one of my favorite things, and I can’t dance at all. I look like a chicken with its head cut off; I can’t dance, but I love it.
DJ: It’s like that- what is that phrase? “The best dancer is the one who’s having the most fun.” I think sports have that same motto, like, “The best player is the one who’s having the most fun.” [I’m] so on board with that. Make a fool out of yourself, and be curious. Never give up wonder. Be like Ayaki; be the Batman of kindness. (Laughs.)
A: I’m the Batman of kindness?! I love Batman. He’s my favorite superhero; that’s such a compliment.
The Dialogue project aims to capture the essences of people through their thoughts and stories, illuminating characteristics of personality that one may not recognize in a stranger at the surface. All Dialogues are published under pseudonyms chosen by those interviewed. You can find more Dialogues here.