We hear this all the time whenever either one of us responds with “We are high school sweethearts” to the question of, “How long have you been dating?” Yes, we became a couple, boyfriend/girlfriend, whatever you wish to call it on April 14th, 1989 – during second period English class. My dad however referred to our relationship as “sparking” and for years I thought this was just another dad-ism. He was known well for making things up in an attempt to get a laugh out of someone and I honestly thought his use of this word was no different. However, it turns out there is some history to the root word “spark”. The word’s archaic definition of the word, when used as a verb, means to “engage in courtship”. Seem my dad may have seen something in us even before anyone else. We sparked throughout the remainder of our high school years.

Without Tammy’s influence on my life, I am not sure where I would be today. All through high school and college, she was my rock, my encourager, and my best friend. Whenever I found myself nervous about anything, be it a test or an oral report, I knew I could count on her to be there by my side. She was there when I hyperventilated at band camp our junior year due to heat exhaustion. She was there when I finally made a B in English class. I am convinced that had I never met Tammy, I would be where I am today.

As our junior year was coming to an end, we looked back on our one-year anniversary of ‘sparking’ with our typically date night. Me and dad would pick up Tammy at her house and return back to mom and dad’s house for our date. Mom would make her usual brownies and then the four of us would sit at the card table for a couple games Pollock Rummy. We could usually get in two games before Tammy’s 10:00PM curfew which I am proud to say we were never late in returning her safely to her parent’s house – though we did come close a few times.

At the conclusion of our junior year, we attended the annual high school carnival. The band was tasked with running the concession stands with the proceeds going to support the band. The next morning, my family was making our annual pilgrimage to the Outer Banks. In years past, the annual trip to the beach was the highlight of my year however this summer, Tammy was not going with her aunt and uncle as she had done the summer after our sophomore year. The thought of a week without seeing Tammy was not sitting well with me. As we walked around the carnival and we partook in everything that a typically carnival had to offer, I could not get the thought out of my mind that I would not be able to see her for a week. Even though I had come out of junior high shell, I was still in utter awe and disbelief sometimes that Tammy actually wanted to be with me. I often thought how could someone as beautiful and talented as her would want to be with this awkward chubby kid who stuttered and struggled with slight tics – of which I still battle today.

“We will be OK Jackie. I love you and it is only one week”. Her voice was always so soothing. Sometimes, when I hear her talking, I only hear her voice and not what she is actually saying.

We kissed and said our goodbyes.

She knew how insecure I was and has always had this uncanny ability to reassure me that we would be OK.

The week away from Tammy was OK – NOT! This was also the week where my mom and dad realized that a trip to the beach without Tammy could never happen again. I must have worn the look of sadness on my face all week and my parents had had enough. Next summer, Tammy would go and stay with us – in a separate room of course.

Our junior and senior years in high school seem like a blur now. The junior prom came and went just as quickly as the senior prom. We competed in band competitions, performed in band concerts, and marched in parades. We attended school, made decent grades, and Tammy graduated with honors. Our senior year was marked by many firsts. My first straight A report card and we both started driving. This opened up many different dating options including movies and dinner out on our own – though without our own vehicles, our date nights pretty much remained the same.

For our junior prom, Tammy’s mom drove us to the Marriot in Charleston for our night and my dad picked us up. However, for our senior prom, I was given permission to drive our family car; and we were given a later curfew because it was prom night.

Another first for us was our band trip to Disney World. Our high school at that time had sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The marching band always took a trip every three years and the last trip had been when we were freshmen in junior high. This meant that our senior year afforded us the opportunity to visit Disney World. We had saved our pennies all year, sold oranges, sold candy bars, sold milkshakes during lunch until finally the time had come for our trip. Having only ever been on one school trip to Washington DC in sixth grade, this was my first time travelling this far away from home for a school trip. I had never really had an interest in Disney however the thought of four days of walking around the three Disney World parks in 1991 with my Belle sounded pretty good to me. Our uniforms were Red, White, and Blue and our white pants really emphasize our military style of marching.

The day finally came for us to march in the Magic Kingdom parade. Many of my friends were excited to be marching in the parade as some of them had been to Disney World many times before. Me – I was just meh because Disney really had no special meaning to me at the time. My sister had gone to Disney when she was in the band 9 years before me but for our family, we did not have much so our vacations had to be cheaper. We would save and save all year long so that we could rent just for one week a very small and modest beach house. Many years this was a challenge. Yes, I was excited to be marching with the band in the parade but the meaning was lost on me having never seen a Disney parade before. But when those doors beside the fire station on Main Street USA opened and we kicked off with our salute to the military in song, I immediately had this amazing and indescribable feeling of pride for my country. The first Gulf War was still fresh in everyone’s hearts and minds and with the crowd on Main Street USA cheering louder than we had ever experienced in our previous parade performances back home, the feeling was amazing! The pouring rain did not damper the feeling one bit – other than making us all sopping wet.

Our first Disney trip was simply amazing. Little did I know that in less than six years we would be back at Disney celebrating our honeymoon.

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