For one couple, war brought love around the world



Out of war comes a love story.

You start with an innocent letter to a stranger in the middle of a desert, and you come back with phone calls from a captured airport, and you wind up last week with a stroll to the city courthouse to see a man about a license.

"It was really funny," says Chris Berberich, 23, still not quite believing her new name.

"It's a surprise to me," adds Tim Berberich, 25, her husband of six days.

It was only supposed to be a pen-pal-ship. Instead, it's a marriage.

Tim was a U.S. Marine in the Persian Gulf last winter and Chris was living on Longwood Street in Southwest Baltimore. Tim had a Marine buddy named George Cutchall whose wife, Angie, is Chris' cousin.

"George says we should write to this friend of his," Angie told Chris late in January. "He says the guy's really lonely for mail."

The country was trying to embrace those in combat. Chris dropped him an innocent letter, saying how much everybody supported his efforts, describing herself a bit, and wishing Tim well.

A few weeks later, mail from the Middle East being as balky as it is, she got back three letters, one of which was eight pages long.

"If you could only hear the stories we do about the rape and torture and murder of the Kuwaiti people by Iraq," Tim wrote.

In Southwest Baltimore, Chris felt her heart reaching out.

"It gets lonely at times," Tim wrote toward the end of his first letter. "Some fan mail would do a lot of good, plus it would be nice to have someone to come home to. I'd better change the subject, or I'll start crying all over this letter."

"It was," Chris said yesterday, brushing a hand through her hair and gazing at her new husband, "pretty touching."

She dropped him another line, and he wrote her back late in February, saying, "We'll be taking over this Iraqi airport in a few days. Lucky for you, I don't have your phone number."

"So I sent it," Chris says now, eyes wide, still shaking her head disbelievingly.

On the afternoon of March 18, as she sat in her living room watching "As The World Turns" on television, the phone rang.

"Hi," came a voice from across the globe. "This is Tim, your pen pal."

They talked for four hours.

"We were catching up on our whole lives," Chris says, looking across the room at Tim. "Weren't we?"

"Yeah," he says. "I think we were."

"We felt like we knew each other," Chris says. "And I'm usually shy."

"Right," says Tim. "I felt like I knew her all my life. Right away, we were finishing each other's sentences, like we knew each other so well."

There were four more calls, each one lasting at least two hours.

The bill for the five calls came to slightly over $2,300.

Cheap at the price, though.

And more letters went back and forth.

"You know what's the best thing here?" Tim wrote in late March. "The stars. They're beautiful. . . . I've never seen so many stars in my life. Looking up at the sky, it's hard to believe there's such a thing as war."

In Southwest Baltimore, Chris felt her heart melting. Tim told her he was being sent back to the states, and he'd call her when he reached California.

"Come to Baltimore," Chris told him when he called.

On April 20, he did. Chris's parents, Helen and Robert Peed, took her to the airport and held up a sign saying, "Welcome to the USA."

Her sister Eileen held up a sign with an arrow, saying, "This is Chris."

And suddenly, there he was, and the scene took on all the trappings of those moments you see on television: Chris and Tim hugging, the parents taking snapshots, and then Chris and Tim hugging some more. And then everybody went home, where Chris' mom served doughnuts.

The next day, sitting on the living room couch, Tim turned to Chris and said, "Do you want to get married?"

Last Friday, at the city courthouse, that's what they did.

"Too fast?" Tim Berberich asks now. "I don't think so. I feel like I've known Chris all my life."

"Too fast?" Chris Berberich echoes. "I feel like I've known Tim forever."

"When I came here," Tim says, "it's like we were getting back together, instead of just meeting each other."

Tomorrow, though, he's scheduled to go away again. His 21-day pass expiring, he's due back at Camp Pendleton in California. In July, his tour of duty ends and he'll take Chris -- and her two small children, Amanda and P. J. -- to see his parents in Connecticut.

"At first it was all pretty scary," Chris says. "But now I feel really comfortable."

"I was pretty surprised, too," Tim adds. "I mean, how fast everything went. But this is the girl I want to spend the rest of my life with."

War may be hell, but sometimes it also holds out the possibilities of heaven.

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