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Jim and MaryAnn Fletcher met when they were just children, in the first grade. Later, they became high school sweethearts. But then they split up — until they found each other again, more than 20 years later.
Both Jim and MaryAnn are now 50 years old. And they spoke recently about how they met, and the twists and turns their lives have taken since that day. Jim started by recalling the first time he laid eyes on MaryAnn.
"It was the first day of first grade. And there was this kid who said to me, 'That's MaryAnn Lando. She can read.'"
"And I just fell in love with her right there," Jim says, as MaryAnn laughs.
That was on New York's Long Island. MaryAnn, who lived in Deer Park, soon transferred to another school, while Jim lived in Wheatley Heights. But they were in the same school district.
"Nine years later, when we went to the new high school, we started dating," MaryAnn says. "And then we went through college. And I think we were trying hard to grow up and mature, in different ways. And so we decided that it was time to try out life apart."
"Yes," Jim says. "I asked you to please not get in touch with me, because I knew if I saw you again, I couldn't help myself."
"That was the hardest thing I ever did," MaryAnn says. "And so we went our separate ways, for 22 years."
One year after they split up, MaryAnn moved to Chicago. And Jim moved to live in Georgia, where he eventually married and had a son, Miles. But he and his wife broke up. And 12 years later, he decided to get back in touch with his old flame.
"In 2009, I checked my e-mail and there was a message from Facebook," MaryAnn says. "It said, 'Jim Fletcher has sent you a message.' And my heart stopped."
In all the time they had been apart, MaryAnn says, she never found anyone she loved as much as she loved Jim.
The two exchanged just a couple of messages — and then, Maryann recalls, "I said, this is crazy, there's no reason we shouldn't talk."
"I knew five minutes after we talked the first time that I was still in love with you," Jim tells her. "And we decided that we should meet."
He flew to Chicago's O'Hare Airport, where MaryAnn said she would be waiting for him. After Jim landed, he started looking around, searching for a face that he'd known since childhood.
"You know, I've not seen you for years," Jim recalls. "I'm seeing people of the same hair color — maybe that's her; maybe that's her."
"I heard somebody call my name, and I turned around, and you were there," MaryAnn says. "And you dropped everything — you dropped your coat, you dropped your suitcase, everything — to the ground, and just enfolded me in the biggest bear hug, and you looked at me."
Jim told her, "You are every bit as beautiful now as you were when I first fell in love with you."
"And that's when I knew, I never ever wanted to let you go again," MaryAnn says
"And we've been together ever since," Jim says. "Every morning I wake up, and I know that I'm with the woman I was always meant to be with, and always will be with."
Just 12 hours after that reunion, Jim asked MaryAnn to marry him — and she said yes. Eight months later, they were married. They now live in Lilburn, Ga. Jim's son, Miles, is now 18.
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher.