The first time I met her, I was 13 years old. She was 17 at the time but age didn’t even go through my mind. I was sure it didn’t faze her either, but it did. I was a very confident, persistent kid. I used to ask her to be my girl and she would say to me, “Ben, you’re too young. Maybe when you’re older.” She would look at me like I was a baby and I would look at her like she was the love of my life.
It all started on a hot Saturday afternoon in the middle of September. I took my routine spot on the couch to settle down and watch some mind numbing cartoons while secretly eating a candy bar for breakfast. My sister, Melissa had been at the mall with her friends and I was on the couch bored out of my mind. As I sat fixed on the furniture inattentive to the cartoons, our creaky front door began to open.
“Hey,” I heard Melissa say. I didn’t answer and could hear her muffled footsteps mixed with those of another person. I tilted my head back and met the eyes of an angel.
Her looks were the center of my attention causing me to roll on my stomach to get an upright view. She was wearing a yellow Aeropostale t-shirt and blue jeans, torn at the knees. She was wearing leather flip flops on her feet and a blue iris in her hair. Her silky brunette hair hung down elegantly past her shoulders. As I watched her intently, I noticed her dark green eyeliner making her radiant golden eyes shine. Her smile made my heart skip a beat and the bridge of her nose was lined in freckles.
“Hello,” she said kindly with a delightful smile on her face.
Her harmonious voice left me stunned and lost for words and I tried regaining my composure, “…hi.”
“I’m Rebecca,” she kept a constant shining grin that consumed my attention.
I decided it was time for me to stop making a fool of myself and rose to my feet. She was a bit shorter than me and she looked up to my face as soon I stood, “I’m Ben.” I took her hand delicately in mine and raised it to my lips. As I kissed her hand softly I could hear my sister mutter something under her breath. When I looked back up at her, her face was fiery red and she was laughing quietly. “It’s very nice to meet you, Rebecca,” I jawed smoothly.
She nodded and smiled, “You know, you’re pretty tall. How old are you?”
“I’ll be 17,” I smirked cleverly.
“And when exactly will that be,” she asked obviously trying to chew me out.
“Four years,” I shrugged, “But that doesn’t mean I can’t look like I’m 17. Its ok, we can just pretend I’m older.
“I’m sorry Ben. I’m just too old for you.”
She had me stuck, “Age is just a number, baby.”
“Would you like to talk to my boyfriend,” she grinned playfully.
I knew she wasn’t too serious, “How old is he?”
“I thought you said age is just a number.”
“You forgot the baby part,” I said in a sly tone. She laughed, rolled her eyes, and sat down next to Melissa on the couch.
That’s how it all started. You could say my smart mouth got me places, or you could say it held me back, but my nerve was the only thing that kept my determination alive.
I spent the next full year wooing her, flirting with her, and doing anything I could to make her like me more. And she did, but she only liked me as a friend. I often told her I wanted to be more than friends, and every time I got the same answer, “I’m too old for you.” Though her answer disappointed me, I never became impatient, and waited for her to realize that I was the one for her and she was the one for me.
On a blistering hot Friday morning in June, I sat in an uncomfortable seat, sweating bullets under a 500 dollar suit and watching high school seniors in red robes step up to the podium and accept their diplomas. I almost missed my own sister receive her diploma because I was staring at Rebecca. After the ceremony, I spoke to her for what I thought would be the last time.
“Hey,” I said to her quietly in a glum tone.
“Hey,” She smiled obviously acknowledging my sadness, “What’s Wrong?”
I stiffened up, “Nothing. I’m fine.” I looked up at the sky trying to hide my expression.
“Look,” she put her hand on my cheek, “You can’t think that this is gonna be the last time we see each other. Here,” she took a pen out of her pocket and took my hand. Then she began to write her number on it, “This is my phone number. You can call me any time you want.”
She grabbed me and wrapped her arms around my waist. I smiled and hugged her head close to my chest.
She looked up at my face, “I’m gonna miss you, Ben.”
As she walked away, I let out a sigh of relief knowing I had that number on my hand.
I didn’t see her face for six years. I spent my high school years after in my room on the phone with Rebecca. She seemed bothered sometimes but always let me talk to her. I talked about school, home life, sports, anything. But one thing I never talked to her about was girls. Never in those six years did I have one girlfriend. I’m not saying I didn’t have game, I just already had Rebecca. My heart was hers, but hers wasn’t mine. Even though I loved her, I would let her talk about her many boyfriends and guys she would flirt with. She knew I liked her which made it an all the more enjoyable experience for her. I did what I could to hide my jealousy but I could tell she knew.
Summer after my senior year, I got my routine Friday night phone call. We talked about the regular. It was a predictable conversation, but I didn’t expect what she had in store for me next.
“Are you gonna be in town this weekend,” she asked.
“Yeah, I’ll be here.”
“Well,” she started, “I’m coming in tomorrow, and I think I’m getting an apartment there. I got a job for a newspaper.”
I felt an enormous grin form on my face, “Ok,” I mumbled hastily, “Well do you wanna do dinner or something?”
“Yeah that’d be great.”
“Ok, how about tomorrow at seven. We could meet at the grill downtown,” I said hopefully.
“Ok, I’ll see you then.”
I hung up the phone then let out a yelp of excitement throwing my fist into the air.
I sat outside the restaurant on a bench in an Old Navy t-shirt, jeans, and flip flops. My nerves were going out of control as I ran my hand through my hair repeatedly. I rubbed my knees carefully and tried to rest in my seat.
“Hey,” I heard her long awaited voice behind me and as I turned to see her face, I felt one last nervous shock run through my spine.
Just like the day I met her, her looks took up my attention. She was wearing jeans and a pink tank top. Her hair was even longer than before and her golden eyes were sparkling more than ever. Her features were more mature and her smile was even more beautiful.
She ran up to me and wrapped her arms around my waist just like before and it felt so right. She looked up at me and put her hands on my face, “Look at you,” she smiled, “You’re so grown up.”
That wasn’t what I was expecting. “You look,” I let my eyes wander a little, “…amazing.”
She blushed and let her grin shine, “Thank you.”
After our greeting we walked inside the restaurant to continue our date.
“Thank you,” she said to me as we walked out the front door of the grill, “I had a really nice time.”
“Yeah, me too,” I mumbled quietly but happily.
We stood there awkwardly for a lengthy few seconds. She looked around for a moment and then back at me, “Ok, well um…I have to go. I have a busy day tomorrow.”
“Ok,” I stood there disappointed in myself for not making a move.
She smiled and started to strut the other way. Then suddenly a bolt of adrenaline burst through my mind and I reached out my hand a hers. As I felt contact I pulled her back to me and laid my lips right on hers. As they connected, I felt the rest of the world disappearing around us, And to my surprise she wasn’t resisting. I didn’t break away quickly. And neither did she. Our lips disconnected leisurely and she looked up at me with gleaming gold eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I said feeling my face get red.
“No,” she smiled, “I don’t mind.” She still held my hand. “Ok, I have to go now,” she laughed and let go of my hand then walked to her car.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” I said smiling. Then I turned and sprinted the other way with my hands in the air, shouting at the sky in happiness.
Finally after seven years, seven long years of waiting for her to want to be more than just friends, we were more than just friends. I spent every minute I could right by her side holding her hand. I could finally call her my girlfriend. I had spent years of my life telling my friends she was mine, knowing in my head I was lying. Now I could say it and believe myself.
That was the first of many dates to come. We would walk on the beach together, and sit by the mountains and watch the sunset. We dated for two years. Some thought that a four year age difference wasn’t right but age didn’t even go through my mind. And now it didn’t go through hers either. The day finally came where I decided it was time for us to be than boyfriend and girlfriend.
It was a bitter cold Thursday in December weeks away from Christmas and the icy wind chilled the marrow in my bones. We walked slowly on the sidewalk of a shopping center downtown holding hands and talking.
“I’m cold,” Rebecca whined. I glanced at her and cocked an eyebrow playfully. “What,” she laughed.
“Okay, Okay,” I unzipped my jacket and pulled her inside close to me. This made it harder for us to walk but we didn’t mind. “You know, I’ve been thinking,” I slowly reached in my pocket to pull out the diamond engagement ring, “We’ve been dating long enough for this.” I put the ring in front of her face and her feet came to a halt. “Will you marry me?”
My heart was thumping wildly as I prayed for the answer I needed to here. She turned her head to face me, “Oh my god.” My sheepish grin faded and my mouth hung open nervously. “Yes…yes, I’ll marry you.”
I sighed deeply and hugged her even tighter. “I love you.”
“I love you two,” he gorgeous smile widened.
Our wedding took place on the beach, in our special spot. It was on Valentine’s Day, the day of love, and boy did it feel like it. The cold tingling sand stung my feet as I gazed down at her. She stared back at me glimmering gold eyes and the most beautiful smile anyone could ever see.
I was standing on my toes when we repeated our vows.
“Ben, do you take Rebecca to be your lawfully wedded wife,” the preacher said.
“I do,” I almost whispered.
“And Rebecca, do you take Ben to be your lawfully wedded husband,” he asked her.
She looked up at me through the strands of long hair hanging over her eyes, “I do.”
“You may now kiss the bride.”
I rested my hands on her face and kissed her passionately on the lips. As we broke away and smiled at each other, the applause behind us was almost non-existent.
Our exultant lives together started with a small house in Monterey Bay, California. Our house was placed carefully on the beach just 100 feet from the water and had just enough space to hold our small amount of belongings and furniture.
I made my living at a surf shop just ten minutes away from our house and spent my hours with Rebecca while selling chips and surf supplies and watching kids surf on the beach. We made just enough money to stay happy and maintain a good lifestyle.
I had never thought about kids but the day came where I had to.
As I sprawled out on our couch with a piece of pizza in my hand watching comedy central, my eyes started to close. Then a high pitched squeal penetrated my eardrums.
My head jerked upwards causing a tweak in my neck, “You okay, babe?” As I peered around attentively, I could hear light footsteps behind me. The two warm arms wrapped around my neck. “What is it,” I asked her cautiously.
“How do you feel,” she said amorously, “about being a father?” She put a pregnancy test in my view with a black plus on the end.
My jaw dropped as I looked back at her, “No way.” She nodded and her radiant smile glowed. I paused for an instant then scooped her up in my arms and kissed her passionately.
“What are we going to name it,” I asked curiously.
“I like Sarah,” she said.
“I like Lacey, but what if it’s a boy?”
She glanced at me, “It’s not a boy.” I laughed and wrapped my arms around her affectionately.
Three months into the pregnancy, I got a letter.
I stood in front of our kitchen stove in pajama pants, a t-shirt and slippers, making eggs and watching the sun peak over the water’s horizon. I wasn’t very thrilled about having to make breakfast at seven in the morning but Rebecca was tired and needed rest. I was about to head down to the shop and start the normal Saturday routine, but decided I could head in a little late and surprise Rebecca with eggs and bacon.
“Hey hun,” I heard her voice behind me, “I got the mail.” She handed me a pack of filled envelopes and I set them on the table. Rebecca sat down on our kitchen table and patiently waited for her food while reading a magazine. I noticed a large yellow envelope at the top of the pile with my name printed in bold black in the center of it. I set down my spatula and took the envelope in my hands. Slowly and carefully, I slipped my finger under the envelope and tore it open.
As I pulled out the letter I notice the US military seal on the front of the letter. I started to read:
Dear Ben Pearson,
We are writing this letter to inform you that you have been drafted into the United States Army. You will report to Fort Martin, California on June 21, 2019 at 0700 hours.
The letter continued on about things I would need and what platoon I would be in. I held the letter in my hand and stared at it blindly. How would I tell her? My thoughts raced and I decided to do it the easy way. Before thinking twice about it I turned and handed her the letter.
She looked at me curiously and smiled then glanced at the letter. The pain then engulfed my mind and took over as I raised my hand to cover my face and leaned against the wall.
I had almost forgotten she was reading the letter when she spoke. “This is tomorrow,” she quivered. Her eyes were outlined with tears and her face was pale. Her voice was never that heartbroken. She was never that heartbroken.
I glanced at her and nodded bluntly, “I’m sorry.” Stunned as I was, I had to stay calm, stay calm for Rebecca, and stay calm for myself. She rose from her seat and embraced me meaningfully. As I held her close, I could hear her sobs as she shook in my arms.
I stepped out of my tent and into the bitter, polluted air of Seoul, North Korea swarmed my lungs like an ambush. I coughed loudly and stood next to the mail truck waiting patiently.
I had spent the previous three months in Fort Martin, running every day and becoming a soldier. The rigorous training had taken its toll on me and made life a burden, but I had hardened mentally and physically. They prepared me for being a soldier when I wanted to be home with Rebecca preparing to be a father.
“Pearson,” the man at the mail truck belted suddenly. I hustled to the mail truck and took one small envelope from his hand. Gradually and cautiously I opened the envelope and pulled out the letter to read it.
These past months without you have been unbearable. I miss you so much and I can already feel the baby kicking. Every day I wish you were here with me because the shop is doing great. Usually there isn’t much business in September but the waves are pretty good this month. I had an ultrasound last Tuesday but I decided not to know the gender of the baby. I know you like Lacey for a girl but I really do like Sarah. I like Steven for a boy but I will try to call when the day comes and we can decide. I hope you are safe and everything is going great for you. I miss and think of you every day, and I love you.
As I put the letter in my pocket I heard a man’s voice behind me, “Who’s that from?” The broad shouldered man about 6 feet 2 with short but shaggy brown hair stood behind me looking curiously at the letter.
“My wife. We’re having a baby,” I said proudly, “Due in December.” He smiled and nodded once. “Do you have a family back home?”
His small grin faded and a grim looked overtook his face, “I did. They…uh…they passed a couple years ago. It was a fire. I didn’t find out until a couple weeks after.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I frowned, “So you just stayed here.”
“Yeah, I just volunteered to stay. Been here ever since and-,” then suddenly there was a blast of lightning and I was being sprayed with the man’s blood.
“GET COVER,” a voice boomed. My mind went blank as I scrambled behind the mail truck. As I watched soldiers struggle to get to safety, I shook feverishly in my place. Shrapnel and who knows what zoomed overhead and struck some men in front of me. I was almost delirious watching men mowed down by what was out there trying to kill us. I picked up a gun next to me and rose to my feet. Fumbling my gun in my hands, I placed I on top of the hood of the truck and shot a few rounds. The recoil was shockingly painful against my shoulder and I yanked myself back swiftly and unintentionally.
“We got three at 12 o’ clock,” a man next to me shouted, “On three we shoot.” I nodded apprehensively. “One…two…three,” we shot up stiffly and shot wildly at what seemed like 12 o’ clock and even after his blood squirted my face, I shot blindly at nothing. It felt like suicide, throwing myself out there, just waiting to get shot in the forehead. Then I heard her voice piercing my mind, screaming for me to duck. The screaming continued and finally I fell to the ground.
Not a single thought passed through my mind as I sat against a pile of sand bags. I lacked any feeling at all but suddenly an uncontrollable rush of emotion struck. I screamed at the top of my lungs and the tears started to fall.
“What are you doing,” another man screeched, “SHOOT!”
I hastily propped my gun up on the sand bags and pulled the trigger harder than necessary. The fire at the end of the gun blinded me but suddenly stopped. Just then, I was struck fiercely in the shoulder by a flying bullet and I slammed against the ground uneasily.
The petrifying scene spun around me leisurely as I tried to pull out the 4 inch deep 6 inch long bullet. The pain was delayed longer than I would’ve hoped. I would’ve preferred if it came and left quickly but it didn’t. Pain was nonexistent at first but suddenly stabbed through me like a spear carving out my insides.
“REBECCA,” I screamed at the top of my lungs, “REBECCA!” I could hear someone shouting in Korean, but that was the last thing I heard before I blacked out.
Six years, I spent six years in that POW camp being tortured and ridiculed. Every day was a new attempt to make me suffer and wish I was dead. And they succeeded. I wished I had never been born every day. But there was one thing keeping me alive, my wife and child. I didn’t know my kid’s name, or gender, or anything about it. But I knew it was out there, living peacefully. Well, I hoped it was.
I was released April 3rd, 2025. I got on a plane out of Seoul, and flew back here.
“Wow,” the cab driver says, “that’s quite a story you got there.”
I stare out the window at my old neighborhood on the beach as we drive between houses, “Thanks.” The houses aren’t as nice but it still feels good to be home.
The cab slows to a complete stop and I stare at my old home. The paint is scratched off and ruined but it is still the same little old house. I pay the cab driver and step out of the car.
As he drives away, I stand as still as possible and just stare. Without thinking I almost ran to the door, and quickly knocked loud as I could. My feet rose to the toes in excitement and I bit my lips.
Then suddenly the door creaks open, but it isn’t Rebecca. A short skinny blond woman stands at the door and watches me intently.
“Uh…,” I start, “Does Rebecca still live here.”
“Is she still in town?”
“Do you know where she is?”
Her eyes widen, “Are you Ben?”
I look around dumbfounded and nod once. Then suddenly she places her hand over her mouth and starts to bawl. “What’s wrong,” I demand.
She opens the door and pulls me inside then brings me to where my old living room used to be. “Sit down,” she mumbles between sobs. I do as I am told and rest uncomfortably in a chair. “I’m Rebecca’s sister, Janet.” She looks at me again and lets loose another great sob. I don’t know what is going on. “Three years ago,” she mutters feebly, “Rebecca died in a car accident.”
I don’t know what to say. My emotions are mixed with shock and desperation at the same time, “No.” I rest my face on my hand. I don’t try to hold the tears back. I am stunned. How could this happen? Why? It isn’t right.
“Six years ago,” she says, “They sent her a letter saying you went missing in action.” And after two years, we gave up hope.”
I shake as my tears drench the collar of my shirt, “No!” I sob uncontrollably.
“You have to see something.”
I look up at her as she walks down the hallway. “Lacey,” I hear her say, “come here baby.”
Janet walks back into the hallway followed by a little girl with long brown hair and beautiful golden eyes.
“Oh my god,” I wail.
“Lacey, this is your daddy.”
She stares at me curiously then waddles up to me and grabs my finger, “You’re my daddy?”
I am shocked and the tears still run down my face, “Yeah honey. I’m your daddy.”
She stares me which gives me a better look at her features then she smiles. Her grin glows just like her mother’s. The bridge of her nose is lined with freckles and her eyes are pure gold.
I look up at Janet, “She’s beautiful.”
“Daddy,” Lucy says, “I’ve been waiting for you. They said I wouldn’t see you but I knew I would.” Her eyes sparkle and her voice resembles Rebecca.
“Well I’m here now. We’re together,” I say, “We will always be together.”
She reaches up and wraps her arms around my neck. I complete the hug and pick her up in my arms. As I hold her carefully, it’s like holding Rebecca, my one true love, in my arms one last time.