Early in our courtship, my husband Bob and I found ourselves strolling through the picturesque campus of Princeton University. After browsing through the quaint shops and enjoying our fill of ice cream, we made our way back to the car, admiring each ivy-covered building full of stories seeped in history. Yet the structure that caught Bob's attention - a bland looking series of buildings reminiscent of army barracks and seemingly devoid of any beauty at all - held stories of a different kind for my husband-to-be.
"Susan and Ron lived here," he whispered, staring at the building.
I looked at my beau and his eyes seemed far away, lost in another time. He had journeyed to this place before, accompanied by a man named Marty and his wife Frieda who had lovingly opened their hearts to a precocious young boy. They had brought Bob to Princeton with them to visit their daughter Susan and her new husband Ron, who was a graduate student at the prestigious school.
"I always wonder whatever happened to Marty," shared Bob, who continued to stare at his memories. "I wonder if he's still alive."
I wondered too.
Bob, who grew up in a single-parent home, first entered Marty and Frieda's life at the age of two when the couple volunteered to babysit him for a week. Almost as soon as he came through the door, the family embraced him as their own. And for the young boy who lacked a father, Marty's love helped to close a hard to fill void.
Bob spent many a weekend with Marty, going to the movies and baseball games, sitting on his lap and reading comic books or just enjoying one of Frieda's delicious home cooked meals. Their loving relationship spanned several years, but as Bob inched closer towards adolescence, things slowly began to change. Bob's mother found well-deserved happiness with a new man in her life, and eventually she remarried and moved her four children from their apartment in Nassau County, Long Island to a home on the north shore of Suffolk County, only an hour's drive, yet worlds away.
Out of respect for Bob's new step-father, Marty drifted away, leaving my then 13-year old husband left to wonder why this man that he had loved no longer had a place in his life.
The years passed by. Bob married young, divorced a year later, and became a single parent to his daughter Jessica, who had just turned 15 when I came into their lives. Marty had missed out on so many of life's precious moments for the boy that he had loved like a son. Bob thought of him often, but didn't know where he was, or what to say if he ever did manage to find him.
As we stood looking at the barracks which had so long ago served as campus housing for Marty's daughter Susan, I resolved, right then and there, that I would find Marty. I would do it for Bob, for the man I loved.
Since Facebook and Google had not yet taken us out of the dark ages, I began my search at the local library, where I looked up phone directories from the New York City area, only to discover there were a myriad of "Martins" who shared the same last name as Bob's Marty. Not to be deterred, I photocopied the pages, typed out a letter, and sent it off to the many "Martins" of New York City. While my search did not yield success, I still treasure a heartfelt response I received from one of the "Martins", who wished me luck in my quest.
Unsure if Marty and Frieda still lived in the New York area or if they had moved to Florida, Bob and I turned to Plan B, which involved finding Susan. Bob could only remember the first initial of Susan and Ron's last name, and he also had the approximate year of Ron's graduation from Princeton. Not much to go on, but still, it provided a starting point. I decided to contact the Princeton University archives department and spoke to an incredibly helpful woman who, once I explained the reason for my search, eagerly helped me with my sleuthing activities.
Turns out she had a work phone number for a man who matched Ron's description. Throwing caution to the wind, I dialed the number as my heart beat in anticipation. When a man's voice answered the phone, I tried as quickly as possible to describe the purpose of my call, fumbling my words along the way. The man's response: "I'll call you back."
Convinced I had done nothing more than make a fool of myself, I had no choice but to wait out the agonizing ten minutes until, true to his word, the man named Ron did, indeed, call me back.
Later that evening, via telephone, my husband reunited with Susan, who now lived in Buffalo, New York, coincidentally only a few miles away from Bob's brother Bruce. Marty had, indeed, moved to Florida and sadly, Frieda had recently passed away. Throughout the intervening years, both Susan and Marty had often thought of Bob and wondered how he was, where he was, and if he had turned out ok.
A few months later, our annual visit to Bob's family in Buffalo also included dinner at the home of Ron and Susan, who had three grown children of their own. Within a year's time, we were able to travel to Florida, giving Bob the long sought after opportunity to embrace and thank the man who had been there during such a vulnerable time in his young life.
On April 23, 1994, Ron, Susan, and Marty lovingly took their rightful place among our circle of family and friends as Bob and I exchanged our vows of marriage.
Although we cried upon learning of Marty's death a few years later, Bob will be forever grateful for the opportunity, however brief, to see him again. For the reunion finally put to rest the fears that Bob had held onto for so many years. Marty had never forgotten him, and never stopped loving him.
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