Cynthia Riggs was only an 18-year-old intern when she began working in the labs of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.
There she met Howard Attebery, who was also working in the marine labs, and they started passing notes back and forth.
They came up with a simple code, where certain letters were swapped out for others, and used it pass messages “under their lab mates’ noses.”
Most of the notes were standard water cooler talk and gossip: “Did you see that Don found a copepod in his sample?”
The two were fond of each other, but never dated. And four months later, they went their separate ways, and lost touch.
But Attebery never forgot about Riggs.
It wasn’t until decades later that the two of them would get in touch again, and though there were mishaps along the way, they found each other.
The two had first met in 1950. Now, about 60 years later, Riggs was an accomplished mystery novelist, and one day she suddenly remembered Attebery and decided to look him up online.
“I Googled his name—and I didn’t find anything, because I had spelled it wrong,” Riggs said.
Two weeks later, seemingly by sheer coincidence, Riggs received a package in the mail.
Inside was nothing but a coded note, and coordinates for a return address.
“I’m always looking for wonderful mysteries and this seemed to be one,” Riggs said. She had a pretty good idea who it might have been, and it was soon confirmed.
“The latitude and longitude—he’d gotten that wrong, so I had some trouble finding him but I did find him,” Riggs said.
The coded note was written on a paper towel, in the same code they had used decades ago. It didn’t take long for the mystery novelist to decode what it said: “I have never stopped loving you.”
They quickly struck up correspondence again, and found they had much in common. Both had been married, and both suffered the loss of a child. Attebery’s wife had passed away and he stayed single for many years after that, before reaching out to Riggs. Riggs had a failed marriage which she thought turned her off of the idea forever.
Riggs was living in Martha’s Vineyard as a writer and Attebery was a retired dentist with an active passion for science. They sent each other letters and photographs, and then a year later finally made plans to meet in California.
And when they did, Attebery proposed within the hour.
“You know, love is a great place to spend the rest of your life,” Attebery said.
The two of them were married in May at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
“It’s a wonderful story,” she said. “We keep hearing people say, your story brings us hope, and that’s just wonderful to hear from people.”