Guess who's back? Reuniting with past loves

Apr 3, 2008 at 11:32 p.m. ET

Old flames still smolder, especially when they're early love affairs -- which leave a particularly vivid mark in our minds. Reawakening such a romance can be an incendiary experience... intensely passionate and dangerous to trifle with.

Couple at a party

Todd and Janelle went to neighboring high schools in northern California -- in rural towns where teens cruised the roads in big-wheeled, jacked-up trucks. All except for Todd, who drove a silver Porsche. Janelle met Todd one night at McDonalds, and "it was love at first sight -- with a side of fries," she says. On a date to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, "we were stopped by a stranger who issued us a kissing violation. He thanked us for spreading infectious happiness," Janelle recalls.

But Todd had enlisted in the Army and his final assignment was Korea. Heartbroken yet determined to keep the love alive, Janelle drove him to the airport in 1986. She wrote him every day, but word reached Todd that she was dating others. The gossip had been false, but instead of sorting it out, Todd withdrew. "I was devastated, but I went on," Janelle recalls.

She eventually got engaged to someone else, although she was still pining for Todd. The night before her wedding, she poured through the photos in her "Todd box," praying he'd swoop down and whisk her away. But of course, that didn't happen. Fast forward to 1997.

Eleven years later

Janelle's marriage was unraveling and, seeking comfort, she returned home to visit her folks. She had a feeling in the pit of her stomach that something terrible had happened to Todd, and so she went through her well-loved photos and memories one more time. Later that week, still thinking of him, she searched for Todd on the Internet. She found him in Los Angeles.

"Somehow, I managed to leave a message. Two days later, when I heard his voice for the first time, my heart melted. It felt like a dream." She told him about her foreboding, and, after a silence, Todd explained that on that day he had taken his box of Janelle memories out of his closet and thrown it away. He had spent the prior week looking for her on the Internet but could not find her and had given up.

"We talked on the phone for days," Janelle reports, "and it felt as if we were never apart." But in the real world, sorting things out would take time. They needed to talk about the past to determine what had gone wrong. And there was the issue of Janelle's marriage. "I was so afraid that, if I told him, I would lose him again," Janelle says, but finally that, too, came out.

Then, one night on the phone, Janelle blurted out a confession: "I've been in love with you my whole life," she said. "I've been in love with you, too," answered Todd. He hopped on a plane the very next morning and Janelle picked him up at the airport, the same one she'd taken him to en route to Korea eleven years before. They went straight to Fisherman's Wharf.

From that day forward, they were together. Today Todd and Janelle Graves and their two small children live in Seattle. "I love telling this story," Janelle says. "Every time I tell it, I cry."

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