It was 1968 at Fountain Valley High School in California. “Hey Jude” and “Young Girl” topped the music charts and a cute girl in a miniskirt caught Tom McCaffrey’s eye.
“She was pretty,” he said.
Rebecca McKee also noticed him.
“He was a surfer with a hot car,” she said.
That car, a 1959 blue Chevy, took the couple to area beaches where Rebecca worked on her tan while Tom hit the waves.
“I was terrified of the ocean,” she confessed. “He’d swim a mile out in the dark and I’d pace the beach and worry.”
They were going steady.
“That’s what we called it then. I had a big old ring of his I wore on a chain around my neck,” Rebecca said.
Young and in love, the future stretched out before them filled with promise and possibility. Even when Tom had to switch high schools, their romance continued.
But in 1970, Rebecca’s parents, staunch Scientologists, pulled her out of school.
“I was forced to go to Scientology college in Los Angeles.”
Tom dropped out of high school, and he would often visit her in LA.
“I knew I was going to make my living with my hands,” he said, shrugging. “I didn’t see the point of school.”
He’d moved to Santa Monica and she would scrape together bus fare to go visit him.
Because the religion was so important to her family, Tom, a Catholic, enrolled in a course at the Scientology Celebrity Centre.
That class proved to be the undoing of their relationship.
“I asked a lot of questions,” he said. “They didn’t like my questions. I was told I wasn’t welcome there and I should not see Rebecca anymore.”
He didn’t tell Rebecca anything about this. Instead, he joined the Army.
“I couldn’t find work. I was 18 and hungry. I went down to the induction center and signed up.”
Bewildered and sad, Rebecca said, “I took him with his sister to the military base. I didn’t see him again until 2014.”
The Vietnam War was drawing to a close and instead of being shipped out to the jungle, Tom was sent to Germany.
At first Rebecca tried to stay in touch. She wrote letters and left them with his sister.
“I did get a few of them,” Tom said. “But I was a half a world away… ”
So they both moved on.
Eventually, Rebecca’s entire family left Scientology. She moved to Germany and got involved with international real estate and consulting, working for Toys R Us and then for United Parcel Service where she worked as an international real estate manager.
She married in 1986 and was widowed in 2001.
“I retired from UPS in 2007 and joined the federal government as a real estate manager. After working for GSA (General Services Administration), U.S. Department of Commerce and Department of Homeland Security, I transferred from Washington, D.C., to Wenatchee, Washington, in 2014 to be closer to my family in Vancouver, Canada,” she said.
Tom, too, moved frequently, plying his carpentry skills in Hawaii and across the Pacific Northwest. His brief marriage resulted in a daughter, and later he had a son from another relationship. He raised his son as a single dad, and when he and his sister bought a place in Chattaroy, he went back to school, earning an engineering degree from Spokane Community College. He worked for Pend Oreille County for 18 years as a bridge inspector before taking a job with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Rebecca injured her back shortly after her move to Wenatchee, and while recuperating she decided to look for Tom on Classmates.com.
“I had never stopped thinking about him,” she said.
When Tom got an email from the website, a flood of memories filled his mind.
“I’d thought about her over the years, but never pursued her. I thought she was still involved in Scientology,” he said.
The email prompted some soul searching.
“I realized I’ve made very poor choices in women throughout my adult life,” Tom said. “I was at the point where I avoided relationships.”
He decided to give Rebecca a call. When he found out she’d been injured, he made a trip to visit her.
In July 2014, they saw each other for the first time since 1971.
“It was like no time had really passed by at all,” he said. “I looked at her and saw that 16-year-old girl I remembered.”
Rebecca felt the same.
“The heart never forgets,” she said.
By December she’d moved to Sacheen Lake where Tom was now living.
“We were on the same page, going in the same direction. We just got along,” he said.
On June 18, the high school sweethearts married at the Semiahmoo Resort in Blaine, Washington.
As Tom, 62, gazed at his bride, he said what he most appreciates about Rebecca is “her ability to stop and think about things before speaking. She really thinks about things and I’m the same way. It avoids a lot of miscommunication.”
Rebecca, 61, remains thankful for a second chance with her first love.
“We’re just so happy that we still have some time together,” she said. “I wish we had more, but we’ll make the best of these years.”
She reached over and took his hand.
“He was my first love, and he is my last love.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.