Friday, January 14, 2000

Long-distance friends find love

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There were no fireworks. No hearts aflutter. No exchange of dreamy-eyed gazes when Cecelia “Cece” Saunders and Marlon Casey first met.

Everyone has a story worth telling. At least, that's the theory. To test it, Tempo is throwing darts at the phone book. When a dart hits a name, a reporter dials the phone number and asks if someone in the home will be interviewed. Stories appear on Fridays.
        A mutual friend, Rosby Lee, introduced them on the day he and Marlon graduated from high school, June 9, 1990. “We didn't click that day,” 27-year-old Cece, (pronounced CC) says.

        But they clicked a few weeks later, on the phone. They talked for six, maybe seven hours that night. Although they had things in common — a love of jazz, a sense of humor — neither of them was aiming for a romantic relationship. Marlon, after all, had enlisted in the Army. He was shipping out soon.

        And they both knew long-distance romances never pan out.

        They had no problem nurturing a friendship, though. And that they did, through letters and phone calls, even as the Army sent Marlon to Maryland, then to Washington state, South Carolina, and Louisiana.

        They were open and honest enough to learn just about everything there was to know about each other's likes and dislikes.

        She valued his open-mindedness. He admired her kind heart. She felt she could tell him anything. He appreciated her understanding nature. Each saw in the other a spiritual nature.

        They became best friends. As such, they had no problem dispensing advice to each other as they dated others.

        “We were both on the same page about what a relationship should have,” Marlon, 28, says. “The irony of it is, both of us looked at each other as friends, like, nah, we'd never be together.”

        Twice a year, when he was home on leave, Marlon made it a point to see Cece. But mostly, they stayed in touch through letters and phone calls.

        Then in August 1994 the Army shipped Marlon to Germany. They were as far away from each other as they'd ever been. It was a challenge to keep the friendship intact.

        After three years overseas, Marlon got word that he would be transferred to Texas. His family planned a homecoming picnic for him that summer of 1997. Cece was invited.

        “All that day, I was wondering where she was, because I knew she was coming to visit,” Marlon says. “I just had an overwhelming feeling: I hope she's OK; I have to see her. I'd never felt this way about anyone in my life.

        “It was almost like I had the shakes. When she got there, it was an overwhelming rush.”

        Both of them came to the realization about the same time: The relationship had moved beyond the friendship stage. Or as Marlon says: “We were exactly what we were looking for.”

        Sixteen months ago, Marlon decided not to re-enlist in the Army. “God put into my heart to come back here,” he says.

        Last Oct. 16 — Sweetest Day — he took Cece to dinner at Grand Finale. They had a long wait for a table, so they talked about work, the upcoming holidays, about this and that. Finally, Marlon said, “Cece, I have something to ask you.”

        He showed her a ring.

        “Will you be my wife?”


        Life has been a blur ever since for the Golf Manor couple. She's an assistant manager for Ameritech Communications, and he's a letter carrier for the Postal Service. They both attend college full time, Cece at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College and Marlon at the University of Cincinnati. And, they're in love full time.

        Cece has now modified her view of long-distance relationships. They are not impossible. “They take a lot of work and a lot of patience,” she says.

        “And a lot of prayers,” adds Marlon. “God brought us together.” With an assist, perhaps, from Rosby Lee. Who, by the way, will be best man when they wed Oct. 7.


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