07/06/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT
After 14 years, some of the details are a little fuzzy, but John Gallagher never forgot his first love. There were ice cream cones and trips to the mall and a $15 ring that Gallagher slipped on Anjali Henry's finger one day between classes at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass. The legally blind Gallagher, 37, who can discern only shadows and light and also has a muscular disorder that slightly impairs his ability to walk, doesn't remember exactly why he called off the romance only weeks before Henry returned to her native India at the end of 10th grade. But he regrets it. "I admit," he says, "I was a young fool."
A less determined young man might have chalked it all up to experience. But not Gallagher, who drifted through three separate colleges before enrolling at the University of Massachusetts in 1992 to study public policy. "I kept thinking, 'Whatever happened to Anjali?' " he says. "I never lost a soft corner in my heart for her."
And so, in 1988, he decided to track her down. Gallagher mailed a letter to the address that Henry had given him before they parted. When he didn't receive a reply, he wrote again. And again. Finally, in the spring of 1996, a former neighbor of Henry's took pity on the lovesick correspondent and sent him her family's new address in Bissamcuttack, 1,000 miles southeast of New Delhi.
Anjali Henry, now 32, wasn't exactly sitting by the mailbox waiting to hear from the boy she had last seen at age 16. After leaving the Perkins School in 1982, the ambitious daughter of an American nurse and an Indian surgeon earned a master's degree in medical and psychiatric social work at the Indore School of Social Work. Despite complete blindness, she opened Bissamcuttack's first psychiatric ward at Christian Hospital. Understandably, she had little time to fan a long-distance flame. "When the first letter arrived, I just left it and didn't write back," she says. "But when another one came, my mother said, 'I think this guy is serious. Why don't you write back?' I said, 'Okay.
Okay, indeed. Once he had heard from her, Gallagher didn't take long to get to the point. That fall he wrote, "After 14 years, I know I still love you." Henry's first reaction: "This is absurd!" But after a few weeks (and several long talks on the phone), Gallagher convinced Henry that he was sincere. He arrived in India on Dec. 30,1996, with a diamond engagement ring tucked in his pocket. "We tried to talk him out of it," says John's father, Bernard, 65, a retired AT&T manager, who worried that the trip would be too much for him.
Gallagher and Henry have had other romances. Henry dated a young doctor for a year, until the physician's mother persuaded him to end the relationship, in part because of Henry's disability. Gallagher, who has dated off and on, understood the scenario only too well. "People don't want to be more than friends," he says. "It's like they think they will catch a disease."
But for Gallagher and Henry, who share a love of roller coasters and Ferris wheels, the challenge of living with a disability is no disability at all. "To see them together, you know instantly why they work so well," says John's close friend Drew Carlson, 35. "They can't give each other visual cues, so they lean in and whisper. They are very cute together."
On June 20, after an 18-month engagement, during which a nervous Henry arranged to quit her job, say farewell to her family and move to the States, she and Gallagher were married at the First Congregational Church in Cambridge, Mass., not far from the one-bedroom apartment in Belmont where they plan to start their new life together. "It's a nice, secure feeling," says Henry, "to know there is someone just for you."
Tom Duffy in Belmont