© Copyright 2005 by Pat & Gretchen Passantino Coburn
[This is our true story as we wrote it together and then printed it in our wedding folder August 27, 2005.]
The young girl was new in her faith and only 14. It was a turbulent, confusing time ‑‑ 1967 in Southern California. Drugs, rock and roll, social unrest. The young girl met a young man. He was 20. A lonely Marine far from home, just back from Viet Nam, not knowing what his future held. She called him “Old Man;” he called her “Little Girl.” He gave her her first kiss as they sat on a warm wall in the sunshine and smelled the orange blossoms. They held hands in the back seat as her father glared at the young Marine through the rear‑view mirror.
When he left for Viet Nam the second time, he took her heart with him wrapped in a ribbon from her hair. He didn’t mind getting razzed by his buddies at mail call when she sent him perfumed letters covered with mushy stuff. He made it back alive, and she was a little older and he was a little tireder.
They read The Little Prince together and she called him her little fox, and he called her his rose. He finished his USMC commitment. She was older. He was tireder. She risked her father’s anger and slipped next to the young man as he slept on the living room couch. They lay together and he whispered, “Do you want to stay a virgin?” And she whispered, “Yes.” And he held her and honored her.
They had tamed each other, so it hurt when he went away. But he thought she deserved someone better; she thought she didn’t deserve him. He never came back, thinking that, after all, she is so much younger. She deserves a chance at life with someone better. So he never came back.
She tasted the world’s delights as ashes, roaming aimlessly and alone for a while, and then she grew up. She abandoned herself to God, and later her husband & children. She enjoyed everything and everyone that God gave her. She poured herself into her children, nurturing them.
But she never forgot. Not when she read aloud to her children from The Lord of the Rings he had given her. Not when she opened the jewelry box he brought back from Thailand. Not when she saw the cross with the broken chain he had once placed around her neck. And so she prayed for him, and hoped that he was happy in the Lord. Many years passed, years of happiness and sorrow, joy and pain, strength and vulnerability; years strung together with faith and loyalty to God’s Word.
He found another, married, had a fine son, found Christ, divorced, married again, another fine son. Life was, well – life. Some sweet, some bitter, but always, when he smelled orange blossoms, or saw blue hair ribbons, or especially when he was alone at night, he remembered his rose. And at those times, his heart was both comforted and destroyed, for even though he tried his best to push her out of his life, she always survived, hiding, waiting to pop up and surprise him. And at those times he said “I hope, I pray, that her life is full and happy, and she has peace.” And then he would softly put her away again.
Her husband died and she lost her spouse, ministry partner and children’s father. But God was not finished with her. He strengthened her, comforted her, blessed her. Everyone said, “She’s so strong! She’s handling this so well!” And she thought, “Don’t they know that it’s God’s power in me, not myself?” And a year later she looked back on her year of loss and counted it a year of gain, despite its origin in death.
She felt a little guilty for her discontent. So she asked God’s forgiveness for her greediness. “Please,” she prayed, “just one more blessing. Please bless me with contentment in loneliness.” And she prayed every day, and waited for God to answer her. Life continued. She was nearly content.
For him, years had passed; His sons had grown to be fine young men. He was blessed with two beautiful grandchildren. His marriage was miserable, although there were good moments; but there was no trust. So afterwards, for many years, he slept alone, thought alone, lost hope, lost himself.
Then he had a dream. Dreams are strange, but this one was also unusual. It was about his rose, and although he could not remember much of the dream, when he awoke his heart was broken. The memory of her presence was as strong as it had been all those years ago, when he had left her unattended, and alone.
So he started to search for her, and one day saw her name – a new name, but he knew it was her – and after drying some tears and quelling some fears, he wrote to her.
And she saw a name in the midst of her e‑mails. The same name as her little fox. What a coincidence, that he would come to mind just now. Then she read it. It was her little fox. His message was simple and innocent, but with the power to slay her: I hope this finds you well and happy, though I know of your recent loss and am truly sorry. You seem to have found peace and contentment in your life, and that knowledge brings me the same. If you wish to reply, I would be grateful. If not, let me thank you for being a wonderful and loving person. I do think of you often, and even though it may be moot to you, I do want to ask your forgiveness for being so cruel so long ago. I have paid for it.
She wrote back very carefully. She was no longer a young, naive teenager. He was just being kind and nostalgic. He couldn’t have planned to prick her heart again. How could he? She hadn’t known there would be such power in his name, his words. She replied, Looking back now I think a Marine far from home and facing death needed a young girl to admire and worship him, and a young girl insecure in the foreign land of late 1960s Southern California needed a boyfriend who was half a world away. And when it was over, it was very realistic that a relationship of a young teenager to someone nearly 7 years older was not a good idea. And inside she longed for the truth of the secret the fox had told the Young Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
At first he only saw the first part of her message: I’m in New York. I’m very busy. I’ll write you in a couple of weeks. Well, what did he expect? That she would feel the same as he did? How foolish! Be content that she is alive, she is successful, she is happy. That is much more than he ever expected to know. But he saw, or thought he did, a little glimmer of interest, of sadness? Maybe, what if, no, don’t be crazy, how could that be?
They corresponded. Always careful to stay clear of the thorns, to avoid the teeth, to keep themselves guarded. She told no one. God could not mean anything to come from this. She had asked only for contentment in loneliness. She deserved and expected no more, if that. But he haunted her dreams. And memories clouded her days.
The phone rang. She saw his name on the caller ID. She forced him to identify himself so he wouldn’t know she had been distracted for hours, her hand inches from the silent phone. They talked until the batteries went dead. They described themselves — older, wrinkled, lumpy, and slow. Not at all like 34 years ago. Both had full lives and were devoted to their children and grandchildren. Both had to make room in their schedules.
They agreed to meet a week later.
The little fox and the rose met the next evening in a restaurant parking lot.
She remembered it this way. He jumped out of his truck and hurried toward the restaurant. She was behind him. She called out. He turned and his face lit up, and she saw that young Marine – the close cropped hair, the wind‑burned face, the muscles tightened by training, the ramrod backbone, the loping gait of the warrior. And in a moment she was enveloped in his arms, and they fit together perfectly.
He remembered that moment this way. He drove to meet her, drove past the restaurant, afraid to stop, drove back. He got out of his truck, headed in. And then he heard the voice call his name; the same voice. He turned, saw her then, his rose. The same beautiful deep eyes, the same smile, the same girl he had given his heart to so long ago.
It was 5 o’clock. They went inside & ordered. She took a deep breath. “Why did you send me that first e-mail? He took her hand in both of his & looked directly into her eyes. I loved you then. I realize now I’ve always loved you. I always will love you. I want to marry you and spend the rest of our lives together. She could barely speak over the lump in her throat. I love you with everything I am & everything I have. Of course I will marry you & spend the rest of my life with you. It was 5:05.
They completed each other. They healed each other. They loved, laughed, cried, and prayed together. And when they were very old and very tired, they lay together before the fire and he read to her from The Little Prince: “An ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you – the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses; because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.” And he gave her her last kiss. And they were content.