51. Forgiveness After Forty Years

51. Forgiveness After Forty Years

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

Forgiveness After Forty Years

When you hold resentment towards another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.

~Catherine Ponder

In the winter of 1967 I met Marina, the girl of my dreams. We began dating, and before long we were inseparable. Our relationship typified the classic teenage romance—spending hours on the phone, writing letters, going out on weekend dates and long Sunday afternoon drives. We had fallen in love and our dating rituals continued uninterrupted until the spring of 1968 when I was drafted into the U.S. Army.

I spent the first half of my two-year enlistment stateside, so Marina and I were still able to see each other but with far less frequency. We missed each other terribly, writing letters almost daily. During my off-duty time, I would go to the nearest payphone with a fistful of change and spend every last cent listening to her sweet voice.

Then in the spring of 1969 I was sent to Vietnam for a yearlong tour of duty. Marina’s frequent letters were just what I needed, for a soldier had no greater morale booster than knowing he had someone at home waiting for him. I loved Marina and I thought about her every day.

Initially, Marina’s letters were filled with passion and she always wrote about the day we would be married. Then, around the midway point of my tour, her letters abruptly stopped for nearly a month. There was no problem with the mail delivery because I was still receiving correspondence from my family, so something else had to be wrong. Finally, a letter from Marina arrived, but it read like someone else wrote it. The familiar passion was gone and the words were mechanical and held little meaning. Although Marina continued to write, the frequency was sporadic and at times the content was not worth reading. She was slipping away and I was helpless to fix the situation because I was so far away.

I knew that if I were able to see Marina, then I could get our relationship back on track. But the only way to make that happen was to send for her. After six months of duty, Vietnam servicemen earned a full week of vacation known as R&R, Rest and Relaxation. The only stateside location soldiers were allowed to visit was Honolulu, Hawaii, where spouses, sweethearts and family members separated by the war could be reunited.

The trip was arranged, and one month later I was at the Hawaii R&R center anxiously waiting for Marina to rush into my arms. Instead, my sister stepped off the plane in her place. To make matters worse, when I phoned Marina from my hotel, she thought that I was the guy she had been secretly dating while I was in Vietnam. I nearly died when she mentioned how much fun she had had the previous week. When Marina realized it was me on the phone, the long uncomfortable silence confirmed my every fear. I had lost her months ago and never knew it.

We slowly resumed our conversation but it was muddled. Even though I did not want to know any details, Marina confessed that she had been intimate with the other guy. I was crushed. We said goodbye on somewhat friendly terms and she promised to write more often. Big deal—any future letters would be from someone who used to love me.

I finished my Vietnam tour and returned home. The first person I went to see was Marina. If she still had a tiny spark of love for me, then perhaps we could renew our relationship. Although she tried, Marina’s heart was elsewhere and we parted ways less than two months after I came home. I was devastated. Marina was the only girl I had ever truly loved and she no longer wanted me.

After our breakup, I drifted in and out of lousy relationships. I was unable to trust or love anyone, and I cursed Marina for what she did and for having such a hold on me. My heart hardened. For several years I hated her even though I still loved her. I became lonely, depressed and drank heavily, which caused me to fall into poor health. However, my illness turned out to be a blessing because it forced me to get sober. That was when I realized that if I were ever going to find love again, I would have to forget about Marina. So I locked her painful memory away and although she occasionally rattled around in my head, I managed to no longer allow her to have influence over me. Eventually, I met my wife and we have been happily married ever since.

Then in 2010, almost forty years after I last saw her, Marina contacted me after a member of her immediate family had died. The tragic event caused Marina to reflect on her life and try to undue any harm she had done to others. I was the first person that she thought of. She admitted to having made some terrible choices regarding our relationship, which unknown to me, made her life just as miserable as mine was so long ago.

Initially, I was angry that Marina awakened my dormant memories because I was soon reliving the heartache all over again. I even thought about ways to strike back at her for contacting me. However, nothing would be gained from revenge, especially since Marina’s plea for forgiveness was genuine.

The passage of time certainly helped to soften me. But more important was the realization that Marina played a significant role in my life during a period that helped define who I am today. Now, whenever I am reminded of those days, I can do it with a smile.

~Arthur Wiknik, Jr.

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