CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - Imagine meeting the love of your life at a bar only to get deployed the next day, then seeing that person again months later. For Bret and Susan Fenske, that one night of "instant chemistry" turned into two children, daily love letters and 30 years of marriage.
On her 18th birthday, Susan ran away from her troubled East Tennessee home and moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to live with her sister. She started dancing at a club to earn money, and one night, she met the man of her dreams.
"It was instant chemistry," she said.
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In 1990, Bret, an Army Ranger, was stationed at Fort Bragg and enjoying a night out on the town before deployment.
"I went to a bar one evening and saw Susan and immediately fell in love," Bret said. "We talked for a while, and I waited for her after she got off and met her out in the parking lot. We exchanged a kiss, and the very next day, I was deployed to Panama."
While Bret was deployed, he wrote Susan love letters every day, but he never got a letter back. He found out they were piled up at the military postal office, never making their way to Susan.
Bret said he wrote so many letters to let Susan know he never lost interest, even though the two spent only one hour together. The letters were mostly about adventures Bret wanted to explore with Susan when he returned.
After two months, Bret returned to Fort Bragg and went to the same bar Susan worked at, hoping to find her, but the bar was closed. "I thought that I would never see her again because we hadn't exchanged any numbers."
Bret and his friends decided to go to another bar that night. As they parked their car, another car pulled up beside them.
Miraculously, it was Susan.
Bret said he remembers yelling her name when he saw her face. "It was literally like a sketch out of a movie."
30 years later, love still going strong
After Fort Bragg, Bret headed back to Cleveland, where he grew up, but said he wasn't going without Susan by his side.
"I took her back home with me, and it's been history ever since," Bret said.
A year after their move, the Fenskes had their son Nick, now 29, and got married. Five years later, their daughter, Julia, now 24, was born.
The Fenskes said they're proud to have raised two kids in an environment surrounded by love. "It makes me very happy that my daughter has an amazing dad and got to see that..." Susan said, and Bret finished her sentence: "...and a son that could see how to treat a woman, to be faithful to her and care for her."
They agreed that being married is one of their biggest accomplishments as they never even thought about separating or divorce.
In October, the Fenskes will celebrate their 30th anniversary. They moved to Clarksville two years ago, and Bret works at the Google data center.
"There's times where we may be upset with each other, but I wake up, and he's written me notes telling me he's sorry," Susan said.
Notebooks full of daily love notes
In a closet at their Clarksville home is a stack of notebooks full of love letters from the past few years. Every night, Susan leaves Bret a note before bed, and she wakes up to one before he leaves for work the next morning.
Susan's secret to marriage is to never give up on her significant other. "The good times and bad times, you have to be there for them both," she said. The Fenskes go on weekly dates, and they take several trips a year to keep things going.
Bret said communication, honesty and being immersed in your partner are key.
He describes Susan as a free spirit, and he said he loves her spontaneity and passion for life.
"He has never held me back, and he encourages every silly, crazy idea," Susan said.
In their home, there's a sign that reads, "Don't get so busy living that you forget to make a life."
Susan said its a motto they live by.
"So many people get busy with their careers and raising kids ... that they forget that if you work and do so much, the next thing you know you're going to be like us - empty nesters - and your kids are gone. Life, if you blink it's gone, so don't get so busy living that you forget to make a life."
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This article originally appeared on Leaf Chronicle: Valentine's Day love story: Couple write 30 years of love letters