Tabitha was a beautiful girl.
She wasn’t your typical ‘beautiful’, by normal ‘guy’ standards. She was unusually tall, standing eye to eye with most of the boys at Crenshaw High. She never bothered to fix up her hair, preferring to wear it in one huge ponytail. Her wardrobe of choice was either her faded blue jeans with the doily-edged blouse or ‘acid-wash’ jeans with the Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ T-shirt.
No. She wasn’t a normal ‘guy’ standard. But she had these prairie-blue eyes, which seem to make everything else around them pale in comparison. And a smile, which she wore, even at the most tragic times. She was the type of girl that had to be a part of your life. You needed to leach off of whatever energy she would exuberating.
That was my description of her, actually. But to the masses of Crenshaw High, she was just another average face in a sea of average people. There were no invitations to dances, or hanging out with the popular crowd. For the most part, she kept to herself. When we forced her to partake in miniature golfing once in a while, she’d be the quiet one who preferred to stand in the background, instead of play. She was the type of personality who screamed for attention, but had no voice. She wanted to be seen, but was terrified of what others would see in her.
She needed someone to tell her that she was special.
And one day, she got that ‘someone’. Only, not the way you’d expect…
It started with a small note, which she got one day during school, between 4th and 5th period.
I remember that first time she showed me.
“Is this you?” she asked, handing me the small piece of ruled paper.
It was a crude, quarter page with the words: ‘I’m thinking of you.’ scribbled across.
“Nope.” I replied. What is this?”
“Don’t know. It was taped to my locker.”
“I guess, you got a secret admirer.” I said without much fanfare. I didn’t think too much of it, until I saw the look on her face. She was intrigued by the small note.
She grabbed me by the cheeks (which she tended to do because I hated it).
“Dude, I gotta find out who this is.” She said with a quick smile, and she darting off to class. And as she disappeared into the mass of students crisscrossing the corridor, I realized this wasn’t gonna be something that would just fade away.
And I was right.
Three more notes appeared within the next two weeks. They weren’t fancy or poetic. They were more geared toward chit chat and small compliments.
‘I like your orange shirt, yesterday.’ had been the most recent note, at that point. This time it was full piece of paper, sign with an acronym.
“YSA?” I asked.
“Your… Secret… Admirer….” she replied. “Dude, I have a Secret Admirer!” she said with a hint of fascination.
“Who’d admire you?” I said jokingly.
With a sharp punch to my arm (which hurt!), she shot back: “Shut up, Noodle!”
Side-note: Noodle was her nickname for me, stemming from an incident with a pencil and a pack of dried Ramen noodles. Long story…
“I need your help.” She asked. “I gotta know who this is.”
“Okay.” I agreed, reluctantly.
“Great! This shouldn’t be too hard.”
Being the bastard daughter of a bastard cop, Tabitha was well-versed in surveillance and investigation. You see, she was the type of person who needed charts and graphs and pictures. This wasn’t the curiosity of 15 year old girl. This was a full-spread investigation! We were on a manhunt!
She turned her room into the base of operations. On her walls, no longer were posters of New Edition and Janet Jackson. They were replaced by the images and Modus Operandi. On her desk, were scribble notes; her crime scene notes. She was meticulous. If there was anyone, who could uncover this Secret Admirer, it would be Tabitha.
First, we needed to define the suspects. Within a week, we had narrowed it to four culprits:
1. Theo: the boy who always smelled like orange peels. He had the locker next to hers and tended to look down her blouse in passing
2. Gee: the ‘token’ Asian kid who I knew from elementary school, and who Tabitha had befriended when he made it to high school.
3. Mitch: our close friend and leader. They had dated for a while, until she broke it off.
4. Kevin: the nerdy smart kid down the hall. If there was something creepy going on, you always add him to the list.
She was sure it had to be one of these guys. They all had the proximity to her locker. They weren’t the most popular people in the world, so they could do something like tape a note to locker and not be noticed.
It had to be one of them.
But, of course, they all turned out to be innocent.
Next, it was time for ‘The Sting’ operation. Well, it wasn’t that official. ‘Operation Bushwhack’ consisted of Tabitha and myself calling in sick, and then sitting in the janitor’s closet the entire shcool day and watching her locker (because the closet had a perfect angle on her locker if slightly ajar.
How she talked me in it? I don’t have a clue.
So, there we were, sitting in this closet that smelled like a bathroom right after it was swabbed down, and taking turns watching her locker. The upside was that I brought along my Coleco Head-to-head Football (all you old schoolers will know what I’m talking about). 7:00am to 4:20pm, we sat in that closet (taking turns for bathroom and food breaks, of course), and still nothing happened. She watched the locker and anyone who came close to it with an eagle-eye. No Secret Admirer.
“This sucks, Noodle.” She told me. “I’m going to the bathroom, then let’s jet.”
I nodded and watched her go into the ‘little girls room’. Afterwards, I made my way to the bathroom, and then heard a loud ‘Son of a bitch!’, just as i finished. I quickly zipped up and made my way into the hall just in time to see Tabitha ripping another note off of her locker. I started to laugh.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I mumbled as she opened the note.
It read: “It won’t be that easy….”
“Did you tell anyone we’d be here?” she asked me.
“No! Who the hell would I tell that I’m gonna sit in a closet all day?”
Frustrated, I treated her to a Big Mac and fries and we went back to the drawing board.
For the next couple years, this Secret Admirer resurfaced, and each time Tabitha enlisted my help to try and ‘apprehend’ him. It wasn’t that she expected to catch him. The chase was a nice distraction from all the other things she had to deal with at the time. And the schemes were extensive. We tried everything from videotaping the hall (which got us suspended for a week), to offering a reward for anyone who could identify this guy. Unfortunately, $50 didn’t offer too much incentive…. even back then. We tried the ‘closet’ thing again… same result. We even wrote him a note pleading that he reveal himself.
By Graduation, any and all schemes to find this guy had ended in failure. During the ceremony, and walking the Commencement Stage to accept her fake-diploma, Tabitha made he way back to her seat. There were four kids between us in the alphabetical order, so I made it to my seat a few seconds after her. As I sat down, I looked over and saw her with a piece of nicely folded paper in her hands. She slowly opened it and almost laughed.
“Hey.” I whispered. “What’s that?”
She smiled and passed me the paper, then started to scan the auditorium for anyone looking suspicious.
The nicely folded, nicely printed piece of paper simply said. “We made it.”
Years later, long after Tabitha’s admirer had disappeared without a trace, we’d occasionally dwell back on those years; laughing at our sleuthing antics, trying to uncover his identity.
We figured that the ‘admirer’ had to have been a student, due to the wealth of knowledge he possessed about her academic life. And he had to have been within our small circle of friends, due to his ‘up-to-the-minute’ privileges. But unfortunately, the vast amount of leads we followed over those three years all seemed to be dead ends. He was always one step ahead of us. This wasn’t a bad thing. Tabitha confided in me, saying one the great things about the whole situation was the mystery. She had someone watching over her; something she missed when her father passed away. It was almost as if he’d never left her side, even in death.
On November 3rd, 1992, Tabitha was admitted to the hospital after suffering an intense allergic reaction to prescribed medication. She passed away three days later… on a Friday.
There are still times when I see something, or smell something and her face pops into my head. Like hearing, “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats. Or, eating chilly cheese Frito’s. Or, her determination to drink Milk & Pepsi, paying homage to her favorite show of all time Laverne & Shirley. (Which was funny, because she couldn’t stand the taste.)
But the one thing that still sits in my brain that defines who she was, happened during my first year in college. She had called me to make plans to hang out during my vacation return home to L.A. Of course, the conversation drifted toward recollections of her secret admirer.
“Funny.” she said. “My dad was a police officer.”
“Yep.” I replied. “I know that. I knew him well, remember?”
“Yeah, you did, didn’t you?” she paused. “I was just thinking about something he use to say.”
“After examining all the clues to a case, whoever seems to fit the profile, no matter how unlikely, is usually the culprit.” She sighed.
“That’s actually Sherlock Holmes, but okay….”
“…You’re a spikey-haired, Noodle.”
“I love you too.”
She continued. “Out of everyone that we knew back then, who’s the only person I know who had complete knowledge, motive, and opportunity to pull it off for three years straight?”
At that point, I froze.
I knew what she was doing.
“There’s only one person I can think of.”
She was trying to bait me. Trying to draw me out into the open and make me confess.
“No one’s coming to mind.” I said, trying not to sound guilty. I expected to hear my name spoken next. I ran through my spontaneous list of denials, ready to throw her off of my trail.
But, uncharacteristically, she just sighed and said. “Me neither. But I wish I knew who ‘he’ was. I have something I’d like to tell him.”