Valerie and John Carpenter, who met at Langley High School in McLean decades ago. (Family photo)
Columnist

It was a most romantic gesture made in the least romantic of settings: Lined up in the hallway outside the school cafeteria, about to take the SAT, John Carpenter handed Valerie Glines a piece of paper inked with the lyrics to a Beatles song.

Something in the way she moves, attracts me like no other lover.

“Whenever I hear this song,” John said, “I think of you.”

Music and movement would tie Valerie and John together in ways that transcended time and space.

John thought Valerie was out of his league. They were both in the Class of 1970 at Langley High School in McLean. She was a cheerleader, a dancer in the musicals. He was a nerd who wore thick, black-framed glasses and played the piano.

They met on the stage in the school auditorium, where both would retreat at lunch: John to play the piano there, Valerie to practice her dance.

She liked the way he played. He liked the way she moved. Soon, they were dating.

“Not to sound corny, but his music stuck in my soul, I think,” Valerie said.

John still shudders with mortification when he thinks about their breakup. He’d told a friend that he and Valerie had kissed at her house when her parents were out. But instead of saying they were “making out,” he’d said “making love.”

He didn’t understand the difference. He soon would.

“It went around like wildfire: ‘Oh, Valerie’s a slut,’ ” she said. “It scared me. I didn’t quite know what to do with it. That kind of stopped things.”

The couple split. Valerie went to Massachusetts to study dance. John had some success in the Incredible Fog, a rock band out of Langley. (They released one of his songs, “Princess of a Fool.” Valerie was the princess. You can guess at the fool.)

“I never forgot Valerie. You kidding me?” John said. “She was this really, really important moment in my life that just vaporized.”

They saw each other at their 20th high school reunion, but it was awkward and brief. That connection was still there — an electricity in the air between them, a ripple of soundless music — but they were both married to other people. John had three kids.

In 2003, a website went up for the Langley alumni association. Valerie — divorced and living in Colorado — decided to check it out. She saw a post from an old friend: “Getting older,” John had written. “Single again. Living in New Hampshire.”

Said Valerie: “I immediately wrote back: ‘I found you. Where have you been all these years?’ ”

John wasted no time in calling, and the two spent nearly three hours on the phone. They talked the next day, too.

Toward the end of that call, John said to Valerie: “What are you doing Thursday? I’m going to come visit you.”

Valerie said to John: “That’s not a good idea. I’m old and broken.”

Old? They were the same age: 51. But broken?

Three years earlier, Valerie had been in a Sedona, Ariz., hotel room with her then-boyfriend. Rising in the pitch black from the unfamiliar bed, she fell awkwardly. Her head struck the floor. She broke her neck.

Valerie spent years in intensive rehabilitation. She regained the ability to walk with a cane, but she would never again be the girl who danced on the high school stage.

That didn’t matter to John. He flew out to see Valerie. They’ve been together ever since.

In 2015, Valerie and a Langley High classmate, writer Mark Osmun , published a memoir called “Dancer: A True Story of Tragedy Overcome By Love and Strength.”

The couple’s lives have been marked by setbacks, including sorrows in John’s family. But the important thing is they have each other. They married in 2010 and live in Littleton, Colo. The Rockies are outside their window.

“It’s kind of otherworldly in a way,” John said. “We just fell into it so easily that we really never thought about it being all that unique or weird or special or peculiar. It just was our life.

“I’m sure in the back of both our minds all those years, it was like ‘What if? What if?’ You learn at some point, ‘What if’ is not healthy. It doesn’t change anything.”

Maybe “What is?” is a better question than “What if?”

The years had passed, and the wheels had turned, and these former teenagers had another chance.

“All of a sudden, bingo, there she is,” John said. “There’s Valerie Glines again.”

I asked the now-66-year-old Valerie Carpenter what she would say to the 18-year-old Valerie Glines.

“Carpe diem,” she said. “Seize the day. Don’t mess around. Follow your heart.”

Valerie’s heart led her to John. His heart was waiting.

Twitter: @johnkelly

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