He joined the Marines; she got engaged to someone else. But ultimately their love prevailed.
Posted in , Mar 26, 2020
Marci: In high school, I spent my summers in the foothills of the Sierras with my grandmother, in a little town near Yosemite National Park called Bass Lake. My freshman year, I went along with her church on a mission trip to Mexico. That’s how I met John. Sitting by the campfire, strumming our guitars, John made me laugh. Made me feel special. He was three years older than me, just weeks away from joining the Marines. I hated to see the week end.
A year later, I was at church in Bass Lake with my grandmother and John walked in. He looked so different with his military buzz cut. We spent the afternoon together and before he left, he gave me his address and hugged me so close I could feel both our hearts beating.
“Someday I will come back for you,” he whispered.
That night, I pulled out my prettiest stationery and wrote him a letter.
John: I didn’t expect a letter from Marci. Or anybody. Getting that envelope during mail call at Camp Pendleton was a shock. A lot of people only pretended to care, then forgot about you. Alcohol and my parents’ divorce had all but destroyed my family. That was a big reason why I joined the Marines, to escape, to do something I could be proud of and get some order in my life.
I tore the letter open. Slowly read every word about Marci’s life in high school, a movie she’d gone to, the song she was learning on the guitar. She had all these questions about the Marines.
I wrote her back as soon as I could. I didn’t want to rush it, though. I wanted the words to be perfect.
We wrote back and forth for the next three years, even when my unit was deployed to Korea and the Philippines. Someone back home was thinking about me. I liked that. But toward the end of my service, I began to dread the idea of returning to civilian life, where there was no plan, no orders to follow. All I could think about was the terrible reality I’d escaped.
I started drinking, just like my dad. I quit church. And I stopped writing to Marci. Her last letter stayed tucked in my rucksack. I couldn’t throw it away, but I couldn’t answer it, either. What could I write? A girl like that deserved someone better than a lost soul like me.
Marci: It was just some schoolgirl crush, I told myself. John obviously didn’t feel the same way I did. If he did, wouldn’t he have written back?
I was 19 by then and had graduated from high school. I was going to junior college, living with my parents near Sacramento. I moved on. Started dating a cute guy. He was nothing like John, but I liked him okay. He was a good distraction. My friends thought he was too clingy, too controlling, but I didn’t want to end up alone, right? He was so in love with me that he proposed after only a few months. It felt way too soon, but I said yes.
John: I got a job working for Eric, an old high school friend from Bass Lake, pouring concrete in the San Francisco Bay Area. We even roomed together, in San Ramon. Two guys living the bachelor life. Eric owned a twin-engine plane, so for fun we’d take it up for a ride. I was free from my family, ready for a fresh start.
One day—it was sometime in early December—Eric had an idea. “Remember that girl Marci who came to Bass Lake in the summertime? Her family’s in Sacramento. It would be cool to see her again. Let’s fly and meet her. I’ll give her a call.” All I could think about was how she must have thought I’d dropped off the face of the earth after her last letter. Why would she want to see me? But I couldn’t tell Eric that.
“Sure,” I said. “Sounds great.”
Marci: I barely recognized the guy who climbed out of the plane. He’d grown a beard and added some muscle. When our eyes met, I felt that flutter I’d felt when I was 15.
John came to my parents’ house near Sacramento for dinner. He had two helpings of spaghetti and kept my family on the edge of their seats with his stories. After supper, I got my guitar and we played for each other. It was with him on that long-ago mission trip.
I drove Eric and John back to the airstrip. John hugged me for a long time before saying goodbye. I watched as the plane taxied down the runway, then stared at the ring on my finger. How could I marry someone I didn’t love? Especially when I knew I was in love with someone else?
John: I looked out the window at the stars and thought about Marci all the way back to San Ramon. She hadn’t said one peep about my not writing to her. She wasn’t resentful at all. But she was taken. I’d tried not to stare at her diamond. I’d missed my chance. One more thing I’d messed up. Loser!
Marci: I needed to write John one last letter. I racked my brain for just the right words. But how do you say “I love you” without actually saying it? Without sounding too forward? After all, I was engaged.
My hand shook as I wrote, “Hi, John. I just wanted to drop a note in the mail to let you know I really enjoyed seeing you tonight. I would really like to see you again, sometime soon, maybe?” I wrote a couple more lines, then signed it, “With love, Marci.” Maybe that wasn’t enough. I added a P.S.: “I’ve missed you.”
That’s when I realized that I didn’t have John’s address. I didn’t have Eric’s phone number in San Ramon, either. This was pre-Google. I called directory assistance. They couldn’t find a listing for Eric. Finally I addressed the letter to Eric’s mother near Bass Lake. That’s all I could do.
The next day, I met up with my fiancé, ended our engagement and said a long shot of a prayer. You are the God of love above all else. If John is who I’m meant to be with, please make it come true.
John: Just before Christmas, I had the most out-of-control night of my life. I woke up the next morning and had no idea where I was. My head was pounding. The sunlight hurt my eyes. I was in my truck, and the front end was buried in a snowdrift. I stared out the windshield at a big tree just a few feet ahead of my bumper. I could have killed myself.
Maybe I should have.
I barely remembered having driven back to Bass Lake, where I was supposed to house-sit for Eric’s family over the holidays. Going home stirred up old demons. I’d met up with some friends the night before and gone drinking. I must have hopped behind the wheel, blacked out. Was my life really that worthless, that I’d throw it away?
I got out of the truck and fell to my knees in the snow. God, I can’t do this on my own. I know how to follow orders. Just tell me what I need to do. I got to my feet. After a while, I was able to flag down a passing car that took me into town, where I got a tow truck.
Marci: Three weeks had gone by since I wrote my letter. There was no word from John. What if he had never thought of me as anything more than a pen pal? I’d almost gotten married. Now I’d be alone forever.
John: I finally got to Eric’s mom’s house and apologized to her for being late. The first thing she did was hand me an envelope. From Marci? How did she know I’d be here? How had she found me? I opened the flap and pulled out the letter. She didn’t come out and say it, but I could read between the lines. P.S. I’ve missed you.
For once, I knew just what to do without being told.
Marci: I was coming home from church after attending Christmas Eve services with my family. There was something waiting on the doorstep—a dozen red roses. My heart leaped. I ran to the flowers and pulled out the card with them: “Looking forward to seeing you again. John.”
John: I quit drinking. Went back to church. Got my act together. For myself. In June the following year, I married the woman of my dreams: Marci.
That was 34 years ago. Today, when I look at my wife, our kids and the home and family we built together, I thank God that the snowdrift stopped me before the tree did. I never would have gotten Marci’s letter. Never would have bought her those roses. Never would have cleaned up my life and let go of my bitterness. And never would have found lasting happiness and love.
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