Neil and Felicia

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How We Met

I wish I could remember the exact date I met my wife, then stranger, for the first time. I would bet all of the money in my pockets, against all of the money in your pockets, that not even my own wife could remember the date. As I curiously checked my pocket I was saddened to learn the only objects living within were a piece of lint and a soon-to-be-used poop bag for my dog, Atticus. Now, in this day and age, I’m sure I could conjure up the date like some social media archeologist, but really… who cares. It’s not the date our kids will be asking about one day—it’s the story.

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The story differs depending on whom you ask. I tell it one way, my wife tells it another. It’s the Rashomon effect—the major storyline stays the same, but the interpretations are contradictory. Fortunately for you, I am writing the story—so you will be getting the true account!

I never thought I would meet my wife in a bar but that’s what happened. It’s not something that romantically rolls off the tongue when you tell your mother, or when your mother has to tell her friends. It doesn’t sound as divine as say, meeting in church. So no, there isn’t a church in this story, but there certainly is an Angel (see what I did there?) After shooting a game of pool and having a beer with some newly acquainted pals I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned to see a beautiful girl staring into my eyes. I didn’t know her, I was sure of that. The first thing I noticed was her smile. She had an amazing smile, an infectious smile. She still does. She had a way about her I was immediately drawn to, a confidence that radiated out from her. It’s as if I had known this girl for years. And then she spoke to me for the very first time…

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“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” She didn’t say that, but that’s what I heard. I looked down to see the strap to her purse was caught in her shirt. Her shirt was made of that material things easily get caught in. Damned if I know the name. She was looking around, embarrassed, as if she didn’t want to be seen. I knew right then and there, I needed to be her hero. And her hero I was. I untangled the purse strap nervously, hands shaking, like a game of operation. But this game had far more consequences. If I touched her breast I would be met with not a buzz but a slap. I succeeded admirably. Chivalry is a lost art in this age of social media leviathans. A “kid” my age would as soon let a door close on a woman before unlatching their finger from a Snapchat video.

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So there she was, my future wife, standing before me—backlit by the neon Guinness sign in the window. As an Irish-American, you’d think that was the moment I knew she was going to be my wife, but it wasn’t. It came just moments later. She thanked me and we had a good laugh. I asked her who she was, and she told me. I loved hearing her talk. It was that moment I learned she was training to be a nurse. Suddenly, this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. You see… I have a strong affection for nurses. My grandmother was an Army Nurse in WWII. My mother is a nurse. My sister is a nurse. Many of my aunts are nurses. A nurse is one of the most hardworking, selfless, honorable careers in the world. I can’t explain it, but I almost felt as if it was a signal being sent down by my grandmother. She was telling me, “Here she is. This is the one. Don’t let her go.” I smiled. I asked for her number. And I’ve held on tight for the last five years.

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So, what’s her side of the story? She might tell you that I was the one who saw her in distress and approached her. She might tell you that. But we all know the truth… She chose the most handsome guy in the room.

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how they asked

I’m proud to be a New Englander. It’s my home. It’s my first love. I lived in Connecticut from 1985 to 2003. I was just seventeen when I left the changing of the seasons for the desert shores of Southern California. I came here to follow a dream. I left all of my family and friends behind. But I also left a piece of my soul back in New England, buried deep within the foliage like a Horcrux. I was terrified when I moved here. They didn’t have Dunkin Donuts. They thought a Package Store was a place to send mail late at night. I asked for a “Grinder” at a Subway and they looked at me like I was certifiably insane. I didn’t know if I was going to make it. But I did.

Since I can remember, my family has vacationed every summer in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. We stay in a little family owned hotel called, The Royal Anchor. It sits on 400 feet of the most beautiful seven-mile beach in Maine. I have my fondest memories there; days of extreme happiness—a youthful exuberance only childhood can create.

When you meet someone you love, you cherish the moment you can introduce them to all of the people who care about you, the dreams that inspire you, and the traditions that you hold near to your heart. After introducing her to my family and friends, and exposing her the great land they call New England, the next step was to take her on one of our beloved summer trips to Vacationland (that’s the slogan for the state of Maine, if you didn’t know.) And wouldn’t you know it, she fell in love with it just as much as I did. And so, when it came time to ask those four magical words, I knew there was only one place to do it. The only question was… how?

A friend of mine had introduced me to something called Geocaching. You download an app and it brings up a compass. In any given place around the world, the compass leads you to a hidden item placed by other Geocachers. Each Geocache is given a difficulty level, as some are much harder to find than others. Once you find the item, you must be sure no “muggles” (non-geocache folk) discover the whereabouts of the item. Usually, it is a small box. Within it is a notepad where you can sign your name and date. Some people leave little knick-knacks within. If you are like me and love an adventure, it’s a lot of fun. After learning about this, my wife and I would pull open the app wherever we were and take a little side adventure to find the nearest Geocache. As I started to think more about this, a plan began to form in my mind. I called up my dear friend, Bryan Schulz, and asked him to carve a message into some stone for me. He agreed, no questions asked.

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Months had passed. I traveled across the country with my wife, then girlfriend, with the carved stone wrapped in a cloth, buried deep within my duffle bag. The ring I had shipped to my mother in Connecticut for safekeeping. I was later told they didn’t leave the house for weeks while it was in their possession. Thanks, Mom! I was terrified as we traveled up the New England countryside to Old Orchard Beach. I had always heard how nervous guys were before they proposed. I thought that would never be me. Boy, was I wrong. As soon as we checked into the hotel, my wife unpacked her bags. I on the other hand ran like a bat out of hell down the beach. I knew I only had fifteen minutes or so before she would start asking questions on where I had been. I ran down the beach until I came upon a yellow house with a blue umbrella. I knew I would be able to recognize it later on.

I moved toward the yellow house to where the sand met a patch of long grass sticking out of the sand. It was there I sat down and started to dig a hole with my feet, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible as nearby beach dwellers laid on towels, their oily bodies cooking in the sun. As soon as I had a hole to my liking, I unwrapped the carved stone and placed it into the ground. I used my feet to bury it in the sand. A part of me wanted to bury the ring as well, but I pictured a ten-year-old boy using a pair of binoculars, watching me from afar. He sees me burying “treasure” and as soon as I get up to leave he comes over and digs up my ring, running off into the horizon screaming, “Hi Ho, Silver!” After this brief imagination I am confident in my decision and run as fast as I can back to the hotel to find my wife who did not once think about the fact I was gone. I tell her we should go for a walk. She smiles.

We left our family behind and took a stroll down Old Orchard Beach. I realized I had missed the New England air more than ever before. I was shaking but she couldn’t tell. I pulled out my phone and I suggested we try and see if there is a Geocache nearby. Well, how about that. There is one just up ahead. We follow the compass down the beach. There is no Geocache nearby of course. It’s me guiding the way—thankfully she did not ask to look at the compass. As we get closer I tell her there is a clue, a yellow house with a blue umbrella. I look around, confused, but I know just where it is. “Hey, there’s one!” she says. The “compass” guides us closer to the house. We reach a patch of tall grass sticking out the sand. I tell her to start digging. She does. I dig my own hole. I wait for it. “I found something!” She unearths a stone covered in sand. She blows off the sand to see something carved into it. YOUR FUTURE LIES BELOW. As she looks at the stone I continue to dig where she left off. Like some half-assed magician, I pull the ring from my pocket and pretend it came from the sand. She starts to cry. I ask her if she will marry me. She says yes. It was one of the happiest moments of our lives.

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We sat in the sand for a moment, collecting ourselves. It was one of the most profound moments of silence I have ever experienced. Just listening to the waves, the wind, and the seagulls. Just then, one of the oily beach dwellers leaves their pack and walks to us. “Did you just propose to her? All of us are wondering over here.” I tell them yes. They yell and applaud. The beach dweller takes our photo.

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We decide it’s time to walk back to The Royal Anchor. “Does your family know?” she asks. “No. Not yet.” We walk back to the hotel. As we slowly approach, she sees my entire family waiting for us outside. They cheer and wait for us with open arms. She looks to me with a smirk. “Okay, so I lied” I say. Music plays. We laugh and dance. We drink champagne. I look out to the beach. I think about how I used to play here as a boy. I can’t think of a better place to ask the girl I love to marry me.

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It’s a day I will never forget.

Special Thanks

Julie Shuford Photography
 | photographer