Chapter 10 of “A Life Worth Living – The Story of Sassy”
Chapter 10 – Always Have a Plan
Anne, Sassy, and I had been playing house for over a year and a half and things were so great that the months just flew by. I was deeply in love with Anne and wanted to marry her. At the same time, Sassy had continued to capture my heart and I wanted to be more than just her step-father. Since I couldn’t stand the thought of ever losing either of them, I knew it was high time I made things “official.”
This then is the story of how I asked Anne (and Sassy) to marry me…
Picture this — Anne and I were walking along the beautifully serene, white sandy beach of St. Petersburg, Florida (consistently rated by travelers as one of the Top Ten Beaches in the US — and rightly so, it’s gorgeous). It wasn’t quite dusk and the sun was still tickling the horizon, giving us the promise of another romantic sunset. As we walked, we saw our friends up ahead, still gathered in a circle at the spot we’d all been relaxing at throughout the day. As we arrived back to the group, I looked down and spotted something half-buried in the sand.
“What’s this?” I pulled Anne over to the area and pretended to dig up what I knew was already there. “Why it’s a stepping stone — and look, it has some writing on it.” Anne bent down to look, but I stopped her while our friends gathered round, “Just stand there, I’ll read it. It says On this spot, Anne Marie and Michael Cory were engaged. And it’s dated Aug 6, 2003.”
“Hey, that’s today.” The Boz stated the obvious as Anne nearly fainted from the surprise.
Meanwhile I pulled up the stone to reveal a jewelry box buried in the sand beneath (thankfully The Boz had done his job and ensured the ring hadn’t been washed away by the waves!). Opening the box I pulled out a custom engagement ring that Liz had recently helped me design — a one carat brilliant cut diamond in a lovely antique setting of white gold, surrounded tiny pink sapphires on each side. After placing the stepping stone back down and pulling Anne forward to stand on it, I got down on one knee and held the ring up, “Anne, you’re the love of my life, will you marry me?”
Breathless she replied, “Yes. Oh, YES!” And she pulled me up to kiss me as all our friends joined in for a big group hug just as the setting sun licked the horizon and dazzled us with a display of pastels that even Monet would have been jealous of.
That’s the story of how Anne and I got engaged.
Well, at least that was how I envisioned it would happen — unfortunately that is NOT how it actually turned out.
Oh, I did get the whole crew down to St. Pete for a beach weekend — and everybody except Anne herself knew the reason we were there — Anne simply thought it was a mini-vacay to celebrate her birthday weekend. And I did have the stepping stone (carved it earlier that week), the plan for the walk along the beach, and of course the ring (which I actually did plan to entrust to The Boz’s possession (crazy, huh?) so that he could bury it at the proper time when Anne and I went away for our walk). It was indeed all planned as per my vision. However there was one thing I did not plan on, one thing I could not control — the weather!
As you probably know, Florida is famous for rain during the summer. Usually it’s just an afternoon shower to cool things off and then it’s back to 90+ degrees and full sun. Unfortunately that was not the case on this weekend — there was some minor tropical storm activity in the Gulf and as a result it had rained all day since the time we arrived. After two days went by like this it became apparent there would be no way to pull off the Beach Engagement.
Luckily I am a man who always has a backup plan, and given the importance of this event, I realized that if the weather wasn’t going to change, then it was time to switch to Plan B.
Enter The Don Cesar — a true landmark on St. Pete Beach and the perfect setting for my backup plans. (What’s The Don? Well if you’ve ever been to the area, you’ve probably seen a massive Mediterranean looking castle that sits right on the beach and looks like something out of the Great Gatsby — you really can’t miss it because the entire structure is PINK — thus the reason locals have dubbed it “The Pink Palace.” Seeing this on paper, I realize it may sound kind of corny, but trust me the Don Cesar is all class, and when it comes to luxury on St. Pete Beach there is no finer hotel than this pink mecca).
Now at the time we were in St. Pete, staying at The Don was too rich for the blood of anyone in our group, so we stayed at the nearby Sirata Beach Club. The Sirata was a great place to party for families and friends — but it didn’t have the glitz and glamour of The Don. As a result, my Plan B involved utilizing the romance of the Pink Palace for Operation Engagement – Part Deux. (Since Anne’s favorite color was pink perhaps this was just the way Destiny had planned it all along?).
The story my friends and I came up with was that we were all going to go out for a fancy dinner at the Salt Rock Grille (another local landmark) for Anne’s official birthday celebration — and since this was part of the plan the entire time Anne had no reason to suspect anything different. Since rain continued to pummel the beach, everybody retreated to their rooms early that afternoon and took extra time to get dressed up in their finest ‘beach cocktail’ wear (AKA men in Tommy Bahama Hawaiian shirts and women in silky beach wraps, etc). Now I should probably also tell you that this was a period when fashionistas required that you wore some form of chic sunglasses even indoors — so we all had on imitation Gucci glasses with grey tinted lenses — and as I recall the girls took this to the extreme with on some pretty flamboyant specs. Between the loud shirts and the crazy glasses, our group was certainly a sight, but it was all in good fun and it really put us in the mood to live it up — a la the famous slow motion (homage to Reservoir Dogs) walking scene from the classic Vince Vaughan-Jon Favreau movie Swingers (you remember that movie, right, Money?)
In any event, before heading over to the Salt Rock, Kris casually suggested we go to The Don for a pre-dinner cocktail (all part of the plan). Everybody agreed. The lobby of the Don (at least back in 2003) was both awe-inspiring and romantic — a mix of velvet, gold, and wood (if it was up to me I’d outfit my entire house in that ‘trifecta’ of style). As soon as we arrived, The Boz scoped out a group of chairs in a corner of the room and we parked ourselves there and ordered up some drinks.
After we finished the first round Liz got up from Kris’s lap, “Anne, dear, care to join me in the ladies’ room before we head over to the Salt Rock?”
“Sure thing, love.” Anne gave me as kiss as walked out.
“I’m coming too.” Cindy hurried after them.
Now what everybody knew except Anne was that Liz’s little bathroom trip was also part of the plan — since it gave me and the boys time to set up the scene. Kris hurried over to the bar and ordered a round of champagne and strawberries, The Boz pulled the stepping stone out of a backpack he’d smuggled in for us and also handed me a custom made teddy bear. Meanwhile Kris got the video camera ready.
I tried to calm my nerves as I looked at the bear and realized this was a moment of destiny. The teddy was from Build-a-Bear, a chain-store that was relatively new at the time but which has since spread into malls throughout the country (if you’re not familiar with it, the basic premise was that you got to build your own teddy bear, thus the name). A couple months back, on the same day that Liz went with me to design Anne’s engagement ring, we also stopped at the mall to get a few more odds and ends in preparation for this beach weekend party. One of the stores we went into was Build-a-Bear and that’s where I created a bear dressed in a top hat and tux who carried a little red velvet pillow on his palm — it was inside the little pillow that I now placed the ring. I also tested out the voice box I had installed in the bear as well, “Anne, you’re the love of my life, will you marry me?” My voice came loud and clear out of the bear’s recorder — just as I had hoped.
“You’re sure you want to do this?” Kris joked.
“Yeah, I mean, this is kind of cra-” The Boz stopped short as he spied the girls coming back from the bathroom; he and Kris quickly stood up to block the girls from seeing me.
Meanwhile, Liz smiled slyly as she led the way back to the group, and when the girls reached our area, The Boz and Kris parted to reveal me standing there with the bear holding out a hand to Anne. At first she didn’t realize what was happening… until I got down on one knee.
“Oh my gosh,” She gasped, shaking as she held my hand.
Suddenly nervous, I didn’t trust my own voice to speak without cracking — luckily I had the bear (yet another backup plan!) — so holding it up, I pressed its palm and heard my voice speak “Anne, you’re the love of my life, will you marry me?” And I raised the engagement ring which sparkled in all directions.
Anne pulled me up to her, and with tears streaming out from behind her massive sunglasses, she said, “YES!” And again to the group, “YES!”
Everybody in the lobby cheered and our friends brought us the champagne and strawberries to toast. “Here’s to 100 years of happiness.” Liz raised her glass.
“100 years? That’s a rather long time.” Anne joked. “I didn’t know I was signing up for all that!”
“I told you to be careful, Mike.” The Boz winked at me.
As the celebration continued, Anne whispered to me with a smile, “I can’t believe you did this! I had no idea.”
“It certainly wasn’t easy.” I kissed her and then told her the story of the original beach idea.
“That’s my Michael — always has a backup plan. Good job, honey!”
I wish I could tell you that the rest of our engagement weekend was a blast — but unfortunately that was not the case.
In fact, our dinner at the Salt Rock Grille marked the beginning of the end in our relationship… with Liz and Kris. Oh nothing specifically bad happened between us and them, but looking back now I can see this as the first milestone on the path to misfortune.
It’s a tale as old as time — one couple fights, they expect you to pick sides to support their individual causes, and if you don’t then they get mad at you. That’s exactly what happened at dinner that night.
There were some rumblings between Liz and Kris during the appetizers and by the time the entrees were served it had escalated into a full blown argument. Cindy was sitting at Liz’s left and whispering support into her ear (and fuel for her fire too), while The Boz was at Kris’s right and awkwardly trying to lighten the mood with some jokes. Anne and I were on the other side, trying to enjoy our engagement dinner and just hoping the blowup would die down.
Instead Liz eventually got up and stormed out.
Cindy shot Kris a look of ice and hurried after her.
“Do you need to go to?” I asked Anne.
“Hell no.” She replied. “I’m here to enjoy my dinner, not let her steal the scene. Besides, I’m not picking sides. You know that never ends well.”
Little did we know when she said that that Anne would be foretelling the future — only with a twist. And while Liz’s scene stealing was nothing new, what we didn’t know back then was that fights like this between Liz and Kris were about to become all too common — as they moved into the next phase of their stormy relationship.
As it turned out, Liz and Cindy never did come back to the dinner. Kris got quite a few texts on his phone and each time he received one he ordered another screwdriver cocktail – which left him pretty hammered by the end of the meal. Eventually he said, “It’s a good thing we took two cars over here.”
“Why?” I asked, fearing the answer.
“Liz said that she and Cindy just drove back to the room. Oh well. I know she wanted me to go after her but I wasn’t playing that game. Especially with Cindy around — you guys know how she eggs her on.”
“You’re better off here.” Anne patted him on the hand. “She’s had a few cocktails and you know how she gets when she’s tipsy.”
“Liz is a mean drunk.” Kris didn’t mince words. “You know it and I know it. She’s had a lot to drink today — I should have seen that coming.”
“Just let her sleep it off and all will be well.” Anne soothed. “Maybe we’ll get some sun tomorrow.”
“Hey, for now, let’s enjoy the rest of the meal.” I suggested as the entrees were arriving. “Boz, this dinner suddenly has YOU written all over it. Look at all this food!”
Indeed, The Boz was in hog heaven — literally. For you see, The Boz was well known in our group as a ‘human trash compactor’ — whenever someone didn’t finish a meal, he’d happily do it for them. Rarely did he ever order an entree himself — but he always encouraged the rest of us to order heavily — so that when the meals came and we inevitably didn’t finish, he’d scrape all the plates onto his own. There was an additional side benefit to this little strategy of his — when the bill came, The Boz rarely had to put any of his own money in since he’d usually only had a couple beers to account for on the tally. This had been going on for years and the Salt Rock dinner was no different — The Boz ate Liz’s lobster, Cindy’s salmon, parts of Kris’s t-bone, and most of Anne’s sea bass.
“We need to come here more often!” The Boz licked his fork. “I’m loving this!”
“I’ll bet.” I laughed to see him in such good spirits.
Meanwhile Anne turned to Kris again, “Don’t worry. It will work itself out.”
By now Kris was totally plastered, “I’m not worried. She’s a big girl but she’s acting like a baby. This was supposed to be a dinner to celebrate the two of you and she had to go and make it about herself — again.”
Anne overlooked the truth of Kris’s words. “It’s been an amazing weekend. I couldn’t be happier and I am so glad you are here with us. Both of you.”
The Boz pulled his head away from the lobster, “Sing it, sister. Cheers!”
“Cheers!” We all raised our glasses back.
After we arrived back to The Sirata, the storms continued — Liz and Kris continued their argument inside their room, while a tropical storm outside raged full force all night. The winds of that storm were so powerful that at one point the sliding glass door of Anne and I’s room shattered inwards — blowing shards of deadly glass all over our room! Luckily we were in a suite (hey, big spender) and the blown-out sliders were in the living room portion so we didn’t get hit by the glass, but even still it scared the you-know-what out of Anne and I.
“That sounded like a sonic boom!” I jumped out of bed to the sound of howling winds raging through our room.
“Oh my God,” Anne gasped as she surveyed the damage. “Thank heavens we were in the other room. Look at this mess!”
It was the middle of the night and the winds continued to rip through our room; obviously we had to ask management for help and they readily agreed to give us a new room. But the next day when I took Kris’s advice and went to ask them to comp us for our troubles, they were not so amenable to my request. Given that this was the place we chose to hold our engagement party — which brought them business both now and the promise of it in the future — I expected that they would do the right thing and take care of our room expenses since we were so put out by the storm. They argued that it was an act of God and not their fault; while that may well be true, I pointed out that our room was on an upper floor, regularly exposed to hurricane force winds, and thus should be expected to be able to withstand a storm like last night’s without shattering inward. “After all,” I asked, “what if my fiance and I had been in the living room at the time your faulty glass shattered?” In the end, they comped us only for that night — and we haven’t been back since.
Nonetheless, in spite of these little pitfalls, the bottom line is that Anne and I did get engaged and that allowed us to continue further down the path of a future together. Since that future promised me a life with both Anne and Sassy, I was all too happy to hurry forward.
As for the little queen be, Sassy had spent the weekend with Nana Rose – being spoiled with food, calm, and love — and when we went to pick her up, I’m not sure she was ready to leave! After all, Anne and I still lived in an apartment that Sassy was none too fond of. As a result, besides planning a wedding, Anne and I realized it was time to look for our first house — one that would provide Sassy with the creature comforts she deserved. When I explained this too her, Sassy gave me a kiss — I took that as a sign that, like Anne, Sassy was saying ‘Yes’ to my proposal. Whew! (Score another one for Mike!)
But before we moved, there was one final visit that occurred while we were still at our apartment — my grandmother came to visit. That’s right, my Italian, Catholic grandmother (who everybody in the family called “Sister Pauline” because of her devout faith), came to visit me (her firstborn male grandchild and former altar boy), who was now living with his girlfriend out of wedlock. Can you spell N-E-R-V-O-U-S?
Sassy’s Life Lesson #10 – The Power of Planning
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery (author of a The Little Prince):
This is one of my favorite topics and I’ve given countless presentations on it over the years. I truly believe the old adage that ‘if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right” and if you believe that too then I’m sure you will agree that the first step towards doing something right is to come up with a plan. When you take the time to develop a well thought out plan not only are you giving yourself options but you’re also setting yourself up for success. Without a plan you are likely just winging it and increasing your odds of making mistakes or failing all together. You are too good for that. Take the time to make a plan and start turning your dreams into realities.
Points to Ponder
What do all of the following have in common?
Your children’s (and your own) long-term/continuing education
Saving for retirement
Becoming more physically fit
Growing into the best person you can be
The answer is that all of these are critically important AND because of that, all of them would benefit from having a proper plan. So the question is, do you have a plan for them? If not, do yourself a favor and start making your plans today. It doesn’t have to be overly detailed to start, just begin the process and see where it leads to. You’ll be surprised how empowered you begin to feel when you start having plans to guide you.