The Secret Admirer from Doermann Theater

November 28th, 2011 Posted in From Our Alumni

A True Story – By Tom Orr (A/S ’89), dedicated to his wife, Tambra Lynn (Smith) (A/S ’96), Seminole, Florida

It was not far from Doermann Theater that I attended a Communication 101 class; I remember it was the first day of class and the room was packed. Many of the 101 freshmen classes were very large groups of well over one hundred students, which would break off into smaller labs that were instructed by graduate assistants. Communication 101 was no exception. It was in this class that I would meet the woman that would change my life forever. It was also in this room that the start of our romantic journey began.

It was the first day of lab class. I scrambled around halls looking for the room number. Finding it, I entered and sat in the back of the room. It was then that I saw her for the first time; she was a very tanned beauty with a smile so bright it could blind a torch-welder. While I was attracted to her physically, like any male student in her class with a pulse, it was her dynamic personality that really got me! Her personality is sort of like what would happen if you took the Kellogg’s characters Snap, Crackle and Pop and put them on steroids. I would find myself slipping into some sort of out-of-body experience while sitting on the edge of my chair watching her talk. I knew there was something super-special and equally as unique about her from the first day she wrote her name on the board: TAMBRA. She said we could call her Tami.

I spent that quarter in college thinking about her and talking with her, sometimes with a group of students after class. Inside me there was a driving force that wanted to ask her out, but she had a boyfriend and I was dating someone, too. I sensed she was attracted to me, too, but I left our potential relationship in the hands of fate.

It was one of my thinking sessions in the old Doermann Theater that prompted an idea. Doermann Theater was sort of a magical place that allowed me to fantasize that I was a great actor just waiting to be discovered. It was the one place that I could go and unleash those feelings we get bottled up inside us and never release. Suddenly I imagined I was Romeo and Tambra was Juliet! That day I conjured up the idea of playing a game of Secret Admirer with her, and the theater would be the perfect setting to incorporate into my master plan.

I set out that day to find out as much about her as I could, starting with a phone call to my best friend and partner in crime, Dan McCauley. We were not hardened criminals in any sense of the word, but we had been known to tempt fate from time to time. Dan fancied himself as sort of a modern-day Sherlock Homes; most of his part-time investigating was done with a computer and a phone book. His motivations each time were the same: WOMEN! I called upon his services to help me investigate my Tambra Lynn, and he did not let me down.

Before long I knew Tami still worked part-time at the University, spent the evenings as a cocktail waitress in a high-end restaurant and lived with her parents not more than a few miles from my house.

It was at the University, under her office door, that her Secret Admirer struck first. I had handwritten her a little card and slipped it under the door. The exact words of that card escape me now, but it told her she had an admirer that thought she was something special…this mystery person would only let himself be known as “Your Secret Admirer.”

The game continued for a few weeks, but each time the message was a little more creative and flowers started accompanying the notes. At one point we drove up to her house at night in the pouring rain and Dan bolted to the front doorstep and delivered a giant vase of brightly color flowers while I idled in the getaway car. Then one night we became even bolder, parking outside the back door of the restaurant where she was waitressing inside. As one of the wait staff was walking in the door, Dan casually walked up and handed over a dozen roses with a note, and asked to deliver it to her. Seconds later she had them in her hand and was running out the back door looking for clues, to no avail. The notes continued and she became even more curious as to the identity of her admirer.  The game had reached a point that I felt I needed to reveal my secret identity to her.

My next note, which I left on her car windshield, told her I wanted to have dinner with her and let her know who I am. I asked her to reply back to me by leaving a note in Doermann Theater under the old portrait on the Western Wall.   I needed to know if she would agree to meet me.

I will always remember the day I went to check for mail from her. I entered the theater from the back stage entrance. Slipping around the black drops peering out to see the empty room. As I walked quickly down the wooden oak steps toward the wall of portraits, I could feel the gargoyles peering down at me.

I stood in front of the portrait looking up at the old man’s fading face before me and paused.  My heart pounded. Many questions danced in my head as I reached out and gently lifted the hand-carved oak frame from the wall. At first, nothing happened; I rattled it a second time. Then I saw it: a folded piece of lined white notebook paper dropped at my feet. Never before had I been more excited to read a note.

Moments later I had escaped to the courtyard and found a quiet spot on a hill by some pine trees to read the note. Her first words were, “WHO ARE YOU!  WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?” All in all, I felt it was a fair question; I sort of had been stalking her. But it was not until I read her note that I realized she might have been slightly afraid of me. Regardless, I had made a decision, and it was time to let this Princess know the identity of Prince. I could only hope my armor would shine in her eyes when she found out who I was.

Her note told me to leave her a message under the old portrait in the theater and she would come for it. My note asked her if she would meet in a public place for dinner.  She was to pick a place and time and leave me a note so I could respond back by the stroke of noon on Friday, this would have set us up for a possible date for the up coming weekend. All was progressing smoothly until the unexpected phone call from my past that threw a wrench into my plans.

Somewhere during the time I left her the note and the Friday when I was going to respond to the dinner invitation I ended up getting back together with my old girlfriend. This was the same girl who prevented me from dating Tami the first time I had meet her in class the year before. Why exactly I got back together with this woman I still can’t really explain, but as we all know, when it comes to relationships we don’t always do the most logical things.

The meeting

There she was, sitting in a lone chair in the middle of the Doermann stage, reading a book. She had positioned her chair to read by the natural light that shined in from the limited windows. Her posture was perfect and her legs were crossed, it looked as if she was sitting before a panel of judges reading for a bit part in a play.

The vibe of my presence must have hit her; the feeling that someone was watching her was too strong to go unnoticed in such a still place as Doermann Theater. Startled, she suddenly put down her book and looked directly toward me! My adrenaline went into overdrive; I remained motionless, afraid to breathe.  She jumped from her chair and I felt myself flying down the stairs, barely touching them. My body was running for its life, while my mind was saying STOP! LET HER CATCH YOU! But I could not stop running; the animal instinct of being chased leads way to running, and so I did!

The next thing I knew I was somewhere on campus catching my breath, wondering why the heck I just ran from her. The poor girl was scared enough without having to chase down her stalker in a dark building, alone.

Enough was enough…I had to end it and end it now. I walked back to the front entrance of the theater; I paused briefly to hear the bell tower chime twelve times. Something told me she went back, somewhere inside me there was hope that she still had faith I would return by noon as promised in the last letter.

I did return and she was sitting right back in her chair reading again. I walked down the outside wall of theater as to be hidden from her view. As I walked I reached in my pocket and pulled out the note I had intended to leave behind the portrait. I managed to reach the stage without being noticed and stood directly behind the tattered velvet curtain six feet from her chair. I took the note and slid it under the curtain; it came to rest against her foot. As she jumped to her feet I pulled the curtain back, revealing my identity.

She was definitely surprised to see me. It had been over a year since we had seen each other in her class. She did not seem to believe I was her Secret Admirer at first.  Her friends at the restaurant had reported I was blonde after having seen my friend Dan deliver my flowers.

Her smile was bright as ever and her eyes definitely had not lost the sparkle. We laughed and talked on that old stage for awhile and then I told her I started dating someone since starting the whole Secret Admirer game, but I wanted to take her to dinner if she would accept. She seemed a little surprised, but accepted my invitation and a date and time was set.

I remember pulling into to her parent’s driveway; it was a small house in a West Toledo neighborhood full of giant oak and maple trees. I had seen the house once before, the night I pulled up in the pouring rain keep the motor running while Dan put flowers on her door step.

She greeted me at the door with a big southern smile so bright it almost distracted me from the hot black dress she had on. Tami, or Tambra, as her mother named her, had roots in Alabama. All night I kept thinking I had never gone out on a date with a Southern Belle before. We dined and we danced and we laughed.

There was only one thing I knew we would not do, kiss. You see, in order for my current girlfriend to agree to let me take Tami out on a date, I promised I would never see her again and above all, I was not to kiss her goodnight at the end of the evening. I, of course, agreed to her terms — what else was I to do?

I pulled back into her parent’s driveway. They had left the porch light on for her and I saw a little head peek out from behind the curtains when I pulled up. I put the car in park and turned to thank my Southern Belle for a great evening. All the while I kept reciting my old girlfriend’s warning in my head: Don’t kiss her, don’t kiss her, don’t kiss her. Just say goodnight and drive away. I really don’t remember much about what was said at our farewell, but I do remember I broke the rules! We kissed; I think she might have moved closer to me when I turned toward her, all I know is that our lips found each other! Somewhere deep inside I knew I would kiss her before the night was over. Not kissing her would have been sort of like opening a fine bottle of wine, smelling the cork, swirling it in your glass and pouring it down the kitchen sink without ever tasting it.

After the kiss she hugged me I watched her hop out of the car and spring up her doorstep like a rabbit returning to her den. When she reached the door she looked back and waved goodbye. She walked into her house and out of my life.

As I drove home that night I pondered the consequences I would pay from my girlfriend for that kiss. I don’t keep secrets very well; my conscience always gets the best of me. But I knew one thing; it was worth whatever penalty she could dish out.

Life went on with out my Tambra Lynn, but I thought of her often. My current relationship was less of a tunnel of love and more of roller coaster ride. The relationship lasted nine years and included dating, living together, getting married for five years and getting divorced.

During those rough nine years, my professional career did quite well. I worked in advertising for several years and made a lot of new friends. One of these friends was a middle-aged woman named Pat. She was always fun to talk with and had a bright personality. I worked with Pat for a couple of years before she left the company for another job.

One day around Christmas, I was out on the streets trying to hustle up some advertising dollars and I ran into Pat. I had not seen her since she had left the company a year or so before. We chatted briefly and I told her I had split up with my wife.  She jokingly said she should fix me up with her daughter. I laughed and told her I was sort of dating someone right now. I wished her happy holidays and was on my way.

As fate would have it, I ran into Pat again not more than six weeks later. Once again she said she wanted to introduce me to her daughter, but this time she pulled out a photo and handed it to me with a proud look on her face.

As I looked down at the small, wrinkled photo I could tell she had probably shown it everyone she could stop long enough to see it.  As I looked closer I could see there was a woman and a small child standing together.  It was very obvious they were mother and daughter; they had the same bright sparkling smile and glowing eyes. These were the same eyes that I saw on the first day of class ten years earlier in my communication class. These were also the same eyes I looked into when I had kissed my teacher good night ten years ago.

All this time I had no idea that I had been working side by side with Tambra Lynn’s mother. How many times had I wondered what happen to her, how many times was she in the same building with me visiting her mom and I never even knew it. We could have traded parking spots or drunk from the same water fountain just seconds behind each other. Did I fill balloons for her daughter at the annual company picnic?

My mind was going a million miles an hour and I began to chuckle. Pat was taken aback at my laughter and asked what was so funny. I looked up at her and said, “I was the Secret Admirer from Doermann Theater.” Pat looked as if she was going to faint! As we parted she vowed to call Tambra and tell her of our amazing discovery.

I was busy at my desk working when the phone call came. As I lifted the receiver to my ear, I heard that sweet voice again. She was talking a million miles an hour and had that same excitement and enthusiasm in her voice that she had the first day of class. She told me we had to do lunch right away! I was slightly hesitant because I was dating someone, but accepted her invitation. I knew I just had to see her again. Fate had taken a pretty strange twist to bring her back into my life and I wanted to make sure I did not miss my chance to see her before she moved out of my life again. I was to meet her for lunch the next day at a family-owned Italian restaurant named Rosie’s.

I arrived at the restaurant not really knowing what to expect. I had not seen her for ten years, except for the photograph her mother had shown me. I had butterflies in my stomach. Would she still be adorable? Would she still be spunky? Or would life as a single mom have dampened her spirits and weathered her face? I remember seeing some women at my ten-year high school reunion that really looked downright bad. Could this have happen to her, too?

I waited in the lobby for my date to arrive and watched shadows dance on the floor as trees blew around in the spring wind outside. I stared at the moving silhouettes as if watching a recital, my mind flashing back to Doermann Theater.

The next thing I knew she had arrived and we were talking over lunch. I could not tell you what I ate that day, but I can tell you what she was wearing and the color of her lipstick. I was really enjoying her physical beauty, but was continually distracted by her outgoing personality. Her smile was even brighter than I had remembered and her eyes glowed so warm I started to looe track of time. The ten years we had spent apart seemed to slowly disappear.

We talked about old times and current times and generally caught up on the last ten years of our lives. I also told her that I was, once again, dating someone right now and currently separated from my wife. I felt like it was happening all over again, just it had ten years before when I told her on the stage in Doermann that I was dating someone. Then she said something that almost knocked my off my chair. She said, “You ought to divorce your wife, drop the girlfriend, marry me and move to Florida.” I laughed and said you hardly even know me. She said, “Why? Are you an axe murderer or something?”

She made it seem all so simple; it even felt simple at the time, too. But how could it be so simple? We are taught that life is complicated and things always have complications.  She had a child, I had a girlfriend and Florida was over 1,200 miles away. Her idea was just too crazy to discuss any further, but it sure did spark something inside me.

I walked her to my car to show her some pictures of my dogs. She sat in the passenger seat; I was in the driver seat. Our date was nearly over and I did not want it to end. Asking her to my car to look at pictures was the only thing I could think to gain extended bonus time with her.

She was wearing thin white winter gloves and I had on black gloves. The weather was frigid and the wind made it feel even worse. We sat in my ice-cold car looking at photos and when they were done, I had run out of stall tactics. I reached down and held her gloved hand in mine as I told her I really enjoyed seeing her again. The bond was too strong to end it like that, so I reached down and took off both of her gloves and, feeling her hand warm in mine, smiled. I squeezed her hand in the hopes that somehow this would serve as a symbol of the feelings that were bubbling up inside me. She squeezed back; it seemed like an eternity that we just sat there holding hands, not saying a word. When our hands parted she left my car and walked across the parking lot to her car. I sat in my cold car and watched her drive off into the blistering winds.

I stared out my car window and watched the snow dance in swirling motions across the parking lot. Looking down I realized my right hand was becoming numb from the cold. The warmth from her hand was gone. It was at this point in my life that I realized I must see her again, and I could not wait another ten years to do it.

Over the next couple of weeks I could hardly sleep thinking about her. My mind was racing and I kept thinking that second chances don’t come along very often in life and I had to find out once and for all if she was the one for me. There was something about her that was different, I knew it from the day I met her. It is hard to put into words; it was more of an intuition than a physical characteristic.

Then one day the idea came to me while sitting in my recording studio inside my farmhouse in Michigan. I would write and record an original song for her with some of my musician friends. Before long I had the words written and the song recorded by a friend. We re-recorded the song by Queen, “You’re My Best Friend,” but our version had different words and the main chorus was, “Oooh Tambra Lynn.

The only thing I needed to do now was figure out a time and place to for her to hear it. With the help of her mother, it did not take long to come up with the master plan. The Secret Admirer from Doermann Theater would strike again!

After I explained my plan her mom agreed to set the trap for her unsuspecting daughter. She called Tambra and asked her to meet her for lunch. Now the clock was running again, and the Secret Admirer would take her mother’s place for lunch. But before my arrival I would have the wait staff deliver package to her. Inside this package would be a Walkman tape player with the original song all set to play.

During the course of a person’s life occasionally there will be a certain event or moment which they will remember forever. These moments etch into one’s memory like photographs. Sometimes there will even be a certain smell or other sense that will trigger the mind to return to that special moment.

Tuesday, March 12 was one of those days I will never forget. I arrived at the restaurant about 20 minutes before she was scheduled to arrive. The wait staff let me pick a booth set back from the main traffic of the restaurant and agreed to seat her there and deliver my package on a tray with the drink order.

When I spotted her through the window, she was moving quickly toward the front door. She was wearing a long gold coat with blue lining. Her shoulder-length hair had a red tint and bounced as she walked in the front door. I almost knocked over the hostess trying to dive out of her view as she entered. The days of running from her in Doermann Theater came rushing back to me as I hid behind a plant. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as butterflies did the mambo in my stomach.

She was seated and looked at her watch. She was early as usual, just like when she checked her secret mailbox in the theater. I watched has the waitress come to take her drink order — she had the small brightly wrapped package on her tray. Upon leaving the table, she handed Tambra the mystery package with a smile. I watch her open it with all the excitement of a young child on Christmas morning who has just given his parent a homemade gift. She began to smile as she read the card; I thought I saw her eyes began to glass over as she these words:

“Although your mother is very nice…
She just helped your secret admirer strike twice. 
Even though she won’t be joining you for lunch…
You won’t be dining alone I have a hunch
But before I arrive I have something to say…
So open this box and press play”

I watched in amusement as she put on the headphones and began to listen to the debut of the new single featuring her name in the chorus. The lyrics were funny and serious, all rolled up into one song. She looked full of emotions as she was sort of caught up in that place between laughing and crying, but mostly she was just smiling. She started to scope the place for her secret admirer; I knew this was the moment I had been waiting for since the day I met her. I took a deep breath and stepped out from behind my plant, just like I had stepped out from behind the red velvet curtain on the stage in Doermann Theater the day I let her know I was her admirer.

Our eyes met and our giant smiles mirrored each other as I sat across from her in the booth. I wanted to shout out, “I’m single, I’m single, and I’m single!” but I kept my cool. She listened to the words of the song and they told the story for me.  I don’t remember exactly what she said to me first, but I think it was probably some wisecrack, like, did I ask her to lunch again to tell her I was engaged to someone else. But this date ended different than the other two dates in our life, this time I asked her if she would go out with me, and she said, YES!

The next six months of dating were incredible! We did so much and had so much fun.  She had the most adorable little daughter from her previous marriage. Her name was Brittany Lynn, and she melted my heart at first sight.

The night I met Brittany I drove to Tambra’s apartment complex in West Toledo.  Brittany knew I was due to arrive soon so she waited outside the security door at the complex to greet me. I approached the building and this energetic little soul inside a seven-year old girl’s body came running up to me. “You must be Tom!” she said. She was the most incredible sight I had ever seen. Looking at her eyes was like going back in time and seeing Tambra as a little girl. She even had the same sparkle and shining personality as her mom.

That night before I left Tambra’s apartment I helped Brittany put glow-in-the-dark stars on her bedroom ceiling. She rode around the room on my shoulders so she could reach the ceiling and stick the stars on it. When we were all done the three of us turned out the lights and lay in Brittany’s bed looking up at our creation. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life, looking up at that mini-universe of plastic. It was not the stars that meant so much to me that night; it was sharing the view with the two people lying on either side of me.

Life was perfect — well, almost. I was still technically married to another woman. I had been separated for months, but my divorce was still lingering on and on. Tambra was very much looking forward to the day when it would be final, as was I. When a court date to finalize things was near I realized it would fall very close to another special date: Tambra’s birthday. I went to my attorney and told him I did not care how much money it would take, but he needed to do everything humanly possible to set my divorce date for May 15, Tambra’s birthday.

The morning of May 15, 1996 I drove north on country roads to the small town of Monroe, Michigan. I had a court date to be divorced, my attorney had come through for me, the divorce was completed and I was a free man. Now for the fun part: How do I tell my true love the good news?

I returned to my farmhouse-recording studio where I produced a mock-up radio show. There were several different segments to it — joke commercials that incorporated her daughter, Brittany, DJ song dedications and a breaking news report. I enjoyed doing the news report the most since this was my profession after college. The entire variety show was built around the news report, which announced my divorce earlier that day.

We went to dinner with her parents and Brittany that night. I picked her up at the apartment and I gave her the tape.  She popped it in her tape player and listened to my silliness.  The news report was a total surprise and she had to keep asking me if it was really true, thank goodness it was!

We went on vacation to Florida together at the six-month mark in our relationship. I had made up my mind the time had come to ensure she did not get away again, so I decided to pop the question sometime during our vacation.  We stayed at a world famous hotel called the Don Cesar; it was a pink castle on the shores of Saint Pete Beach.

We were lying on the beach by the surf; I had my bag of tricks next to me on the sand. While she took a sunbath I built a sandcastle next to the tide. Inside the castle I had inserted two ring boxes.  The first box near the top contained a joke ring my jeweler friend had fashioned after a detailed description I had given him a few weeks earlier. It was made out of pewter and had 3-D butterflies coming off of it in all directions. It was about the most obnoxious thing you could have imagined. It was exactly what Tambra had described to me one morning after waking from a nightmare. After she left the room I wrote down the exact description she gave me that morning so I would not forget it. The second ring box at the bottom of the castle contained the authentic engagement ring.

When my castle was completed I return to her side and reached for my bag of tricks. I pulled various visual aids ranging from some original homework papers I had saved from her class ten years before to the collar from my first dog when I was a child. Then I pulled out a wrinkled piece of notebook paper and read the following words:

A note behind an old picture frame
Had more meaning than a Secret Admirer’s game

I found the woman I’ve dreamed of over the years
She’s made me happy and dried my tears

Many times we shared together I have found
Have become cherished like the collar from my first childhood hound.

I have other secret treasures that I will never part
Graded papers from my favorite teacher I loved from the start

You’re the sexy Genie in my magic lamp
You’re the beautiful Ginger on my Island camp

You’re my bright shinning Lula from Doc Hollywood
You’re my devoted Samantha, witch of good

Like a shuttle launch you make my heart pound
And make life exciting like a full count toss from the pitcher’s mound

You add spice to my banana bread
And sprinkle bouncing power on our Olympic bed

You’re cleaned my closet and every inch of my place
You pack me lunches and leave notes in my brief case

You’re my red-haired Reba who sings in my heart
Songs of new beginnings knowing we will never part

You’re camped with me and climbed on a log
You’ve even spread cream on my pink-bellied Indy Dog

And after all you’ve done and all your love
I get a cheerleading daughter who fits like a glove

There is no doubt in my mind we were meant to be
Faith played her hand to bring you to me

So now it’s my turn to put my cards on the table
I’ve come back for you now to complete the fable

Please take my hand forever and let’s seize the day
For the heavenly Father has willed it that way

I promise to be faithful to you all of my life
Tambra, will you marry me and be my loving wife?

She accepted my proposal and I directed her to the castle to find her treasure. It did not take her long to find the first box. She had tears in her eyes as she opened the lid.  If I had only had a camera to capture the look on her face when she saw those 3-D butterflies coming out at her. I think she hit me, but I was laughing too hard to remember. Upon further excavations, she uncovered the second box.  Her reaction to it was much different than the first one. I placed it on her finger and the bright Florida sun reflecting off the water brought it to life.  She was relieved to have the ring out of the castle and on her finger. The entire time I was reading her my poem I had this vision of some little kid knocking over my castle and running off with the boxes.

Later that night we met up with Brittany; she was very excited to find out we were engaged. Now that Tambra had accepted my proposal to be my wife, I had one more to proposal I needed to present.

We went to a beautiful park on the shores of Gulf of Mexico called Sand Key Park. The sun was setting over the sand dunes and the sea oats were blowing back and forth in the sea breeze. I asked Brittany to walk with me toward the surf. Halfway to the water I stopped walking and kneeled down in front of her. Her bright sparkling 7-year-old eyes were now even with mine as she looked at me with anticipation. I reached in my pocket and pulled out a ring box and presented her a gold ring with a purple gemstone. I asked her if she would be my daughter and allow me to adopt her and be the lifelong father she never had.  She said YES with a big smile and hugged me. I will never find words to describe the innocence of that moment in my life.

Tambra and I enjoyed that evening at Sand Key Park so much we decided it would be the perfect setting for our wedding. We set a date and time, Christmas Eve at sunset by the water’s edge.  There would be no big wedding hall, no live band, no giant reception with hundreds of guests, just our immediate family, some sea birds, and if we were lucky, a dolphin or two.

After the weekend in Florida, and becoming engaged, we went back to Michigan and began the process of selling our house and getting things in order to move over the next three months. Then the day finally came for the big move. We packed up the biggest Ryder truck you can rent to the top, along with our two cars and rolled out of town Friday the 13th, December 1996 for our new home in Seminole, Florida. Tambra had Brittany in her car, my friend Ernie drove the truck and I was in my car along with our two 80-pound Weimerainers, Indy and Dudley.

We arrived at our new house, which Tambra and Brittany had only seen on video. I had secretly shipped down all our Christmas tree ornaments to my parents. They had set up and decorated a tree in the house to surprise the girls, and they were! After a day or two of unloading I realized I had just over a week until the wedding. I began to start to think about what I might do surprise my bride. After all, it’s not every day you marry a girl you had been stalking on and off for ten years. It did not take me long to come up with a rather unique idea.

I tend to be a little on the theatrical side of things, so what better way to sweep my new bride off her feet than by horseback? I figured skydiving was too dangerous and coming by Jet Ski or boat would be too modern. But a horse would be perfect; all I needed to do was find someone with a horse in a strange town in less than a week whom was willing to break the law by having his horse ride on the beach and give up his Christmas Eve to do it.

I stopped at some horse stables I had driven past the week before and started asking around. No one would even consider taking his or her horse on the public beach, since it was illegal and carried a big fine if caught. One of the last people to reject my idea told me there was one more person I had not asked who just might be crazy enough to do it. His went by the name Scotty and could be found in the old run-down stable at the end of the stable’s property.

Scotty looked like a character out of a movie; he had long white hair and wore a big cowboy had that shadowed his weathered face. His eyes had sort of a wild look in them as he listened to my crazy plan while chewing on a piece of straw. His face lit up and he smiled at me without saying a word. Then he spoke, and to this day I will always chuckle at what he said: “I’ll do it for a fifty dollar bill and a six-pack of Busch beer.” He later told me that I needed to come by during the week and practice riding his black mustang, Shadow. I agreed to his terms and also completed my riding lessons that week; all the while my bride thought I was doing some last-minute shopping.

I pulled into the hotel parking lot of the Sheraton Sand Key resort just before 4:45 PM on Christmas Eve. There in the corner of the lot, right next to Sand Key Park, was Scotty’s horse trailer. I had him park it between some construction trailers so it would not draw any attention from the hotel security. Scotty had executed the plan perfectly; Shadow was brushed, braided, saddled and ready to ride. All I needed was the signal from my lookout post that the coast was clear. I had positioned my brother, Sasha, on a near by sand dune on the edge of the park. He wore a big hat on his head; the moment he took it off I would know the coast was clear and the park patrol had passed.

My heart was pounding and I felt the butterflies being release in my stomach at the exact moment I saw the hat come off his head. Time was at hand, ten years of a dream in the making was about to become reality. All I needed to do was manage to keep my balance and hang on this shiny black mustang, as she galloped over the sand dunes and delivered me to the girl of my dreams. My mind suddenly flashed to the final scene from Planet of the Apes where Charlton Heston rides off into the sunset only to find he is on planet Earth in the future.  Then as I reached the top of the dunes and started down the other side and saw her standing there looking up at me on my horse with my silly cowboy hat.

She looked like a combination of an angel and a flower child from the ’60s. She wore a crown made from flowers and she was barefoot in the sand. Her dress blew in the gulf breeze and almost looked surreal in the glow of the setting sun reflecting off the water. Standing next to her was a mini-version of herself, seven-year-old Brittany. It was at that moment I realized why her grandmother always called her “my little angel.” There was no question that she was one when I saw here, and I have never doubted it since. My mother captured that view of her standing on the beach in an original painting, which she made from looking at a photograph. This painting will forever hang in our home as a reminder of our wedding day.

I dismounted Shadow as Scotty appeared from the brushes and jumped on her, sort of like a fireman jumps on his pole during a fire alarm. I could hear galloping hoofs fade off into the distance as the ceremony began. My best friend from high school, Rebecca, was a notary public and performed the ceremony for us. It was a nice touch to have her share the moment with us since she had been with me though the good and the bad times of my life.

The setting sun cast a heavenly glow on my bride’s face. We stood directly in front of each other and I looked into those sparkling eyes from my past. I remember being so close to her I could see the reflection of the sun setting over the water in her eyes. We did not know it at the time, but Brittany was crying as she stood next to us during the exchange of vows. We saw her crying on video later and asked her why she was crying; she replied she was just too happy.

The ceremony was short, simple and honest. I remember when the line came about kissing the bride no one had to prompt me to do it. Our lips were together for an undetermined amount of time, but I remember being snapped back to reality and opening my eyes as my mother said, “Oh my goodness.”

We walked down a few steps to the rolling surf of the Gulf of Mexico and waded barefoot in the water with Brittany. Next we stood in a circle and held candles while singing Christmas carols. It was an intimate moment for everyone, the kind of moment that lives forever. Some people walking down the beach stopped to watch. I think some may have even joined our Christmas Eve Choir.

To this day my bride and I have returned to the “scene of the crime,” as she calls it, every Christmas Eve. We have been married over five years and I feel even closer to her now than I did on our wedding day. I think the secret to a good marriage or relationship is to keep things interesting and enjoy each day together. I spent my time in the quiet of Doermann Theater, imagining the life that I wanted to live with the girl of my dreams. Now I am happy to say I am living out that dream each day.  Just the other day we took the boat out at sunset and ate carryout while anchored by an island. After dark we lay on the bow and watched the stars come out while we enjoyed being together. It was a night to remember, the kind that makes you excited to be alive on the planet. And as far as I can see, I plan on continuing to live happily ever after, one day at a time, side by side with my Tambra Lynn.

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