LARGO — It was only in her wildest dreams, or when she'd find herself rewatching one of her favorite movies, Message in a Bottle, that she would let herself think it could be possible. However, on July 31, Caroline Csenge, a junior at Clearwater Central Catholic High School, received a surprise phone call that cemented her belief that "fate really, really does bring people together,'' she said.
That day, on the other end of the phone was Cindy Decker, a travel editor for the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio.
She was calling Caroline, 16, for two reasons. She was pursuing an idea for a column in her newspaper, but she was also calling to give Caroline some information.
"This might be an odd phone call, but I think I found your note in the bottle,'' Decker said.
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In early June, the Csenge family, including Caroline; her older sister Claire, who graduated from CCC in May; her mother, MaryKay; and father, Stephen, chartered a 45-foot Beneteau sailboat to cruise the British Virgin Islands.
On June 7, as they sailed toward Cane Garden Bay on Tortola, Caroline wrote a note on paper from her travel journal, slipped it into a Shiraz wine bottle, and tossed it into the Caribbean Sea.
On the paper, she wrote:
"I've always believed in the power of fate. Maybe it is just a way to get through the harder days of my life. Knowing there's a greater reason for all the little things makes each day a little easier. So therefore I believe, if this bottle reaches someone, there's a greater reason for it."
Caroline included her phone number and address on the message, but not her name.
After she tossed the bottle in the water, she put thoughts of fate, and the bottle, aside for a time. After the family's seven-day cruise, she headed to another vacation in Larchmont, N.Y., where she had lived until moving to Largo at age 9.
Meanwhile, the bottle was completing an 11-day, 5-mile journey.
It sat glistening on the shoreline on the island of Jost Van Dyke.
On June 18, while Cindy Decker and her husband, Jeff Frontz, were walking along the water's edge, the bottle caught Frontz's eye.
"There was debris on the shore, so I passed it, but he stopped to look at it and showed it to me,'' Decker recalled. "We put it with our snorkel gear and took it back to our villa, where we used a long-handled spoon to get out the note. It had unfurled a bit, so we had to work to furl it back up and unfurl it properly to get it out.''
After she read the note, Decker decided to stash it away in a safe place until she returned to Ohio.
"I could tell by the handwriting that it was written by a teenage girl, and I did feel an obligation to let her know I found it. I remember what it was like to be a teenage girl,'' she said.
Although she considers herself a romantic and she "believes in sweet stories,'' Decker was not familiar with either the Nicholas Sparks book, Message in a Bottle, or the 1999 movie by the same name that starred Kevin Costner, Robin Wright and Paul Newman.
In the story, a newspaper researcher discovers a note in a discarded bottle. The character, Theresa Osborne, is so moved by the words written by someone named Garret, she decides to search for him.
When Decker told Caroline that she had found the bottle, Caroline, of course, was thrilled.
"But when she told me she was also a newspaper editor, I couldn't believe it. It's like I was living the movie,'' Caroline said.
Decker got permission from Caroline's parents to make her the subject of a newspaper column, which was printed Aug. 11 in the Columbus Dispatch.
Mrs. Csenge said that when she got home from work the day Decker called, "Caroline was smiling ear to ear. I remember she said, 'You are not going to believe what happened to me.' "
Mrs. Csenge believes Caroline had this experience for a reason. Like her daughter, she is also "a big believer in fate,'' she said.
"When something like this happens, it brings it all home," she said. "Now she knows if you have a dream, it can come true.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4163.