For the record, today is my birthday.
In a normal year, Zach and I would be out celebrating, concluding the day with a fancy dinner out and a trip to the theater. But this is a big birthday, so we'd probably be doing more than that—taking a trip or having a party or going on some kind of adventure.
Zach and I always plan each other's birthdays, and the plans are always a surprise. It's one of the traditions I love most, whether the surprises are simply which restaurant or show it's going to be or the more elaborate kind, involving blindfolds and co-conspirators and red herrings along the way.
Sometimes we also exchange traditional presents, the kind wrapped up in paper and ribbon, but our gifts to each other are almost always experiential—the kind that claim a place in our collective memory and yield some of our favorite dinner-party stories.
Several years ago, Zach surprised me with a trip to New Orleans for my birthday and our wedding anniversary, which are a day apart. It was an elaborate ruse that got me all the way onto the airplane, seat belt fastened, before I knew where we were going—and only then because a flight attendant blew the surprise. He had completely thrown me off the scent, telling me to pack my passport and to leave my cell phone behind because it wasn't going to work where we were going. He even called my boss to arrange the vacation days, so I had no idea how long we'd be gone. Once we got there, I was completely unplugged and incommunicado—while the e-mail and voice-mail messages piled up at home and at work, we just relaxed and rejuvenated. It was heavenly.
One of the best things about that trip was what happened before we left. Zach had told me to have my bags packed and ready to go on January 1st because a car was coming to pick us up and take us to the airport that afternoon. A few minutes before the pick-up time, he came into the bedroom and hurried me along, then rushed to the front window to see if the horn he'd heard belonged to our car. When I walked into the living room a minute later, bags in hand, he told me to put them down and take a seat. Suddenly, the rush-rush-rush was over.
He looked at me and said something like, "My first gift to you is the gift of time."
It turned out that our flight wasn't until the following morning, which meant that the whole rest of the afternoon and the evening were completely free—found time, to spend however I liked. And because I was already packed and ready to go, our departure the next day was guaranteed to be an unhurried, flurry-free affair.
Of all the gifts and surprises Zach has given me, that is one of my favorites—not just because it was so clever and creative (and devious), but because it was exactly what I needed, and he knew that.
What I needed this year was even more time. Four or five months of it, actually.
Because as much as I want to rejoice at reaching this milestone—at being alive and relatively well after 40 laps around the sun—I just don't have it in me to celebrate right now. I am spent, strung out, completely sapped.
Months ago, when I thought this particular week would be merely "busy," I told Zach that I wanted to defer any birthday festivities until after I graduate from the J-school. Back then, before my dad's surgery, before Zach left for L.A., before I knew what kind of school work I'd be facing over the winter "break," I looked ahead and figured this would be crunch time, not down time. I knew we'd have a lot to accomplish in a short period, between finishing the house upstate (or so we thought) and me getting the first draft of my master's project done, and the thought of trying to cram a celebration in between all of that intense work, that complete slogfest, was more than I could fit into my already overtaxed brain.
Now that the day has come, I am grateful and relieved that we agreed to observe the occasion several months hence. Because not only are we both tired, not only is my psyche operating on fumes, but I have been sick as a dog for the past 36 hours. I'm pretty sure it's a food hangover from the very rich meal we had on New Year's Eve, but it's been absolutely brutal.
I haven't felt this bad since the late 1980s, when I visited Paris and ate too much Boursin and too many buttery biscuits one night and then puked in three public places in the next day. I haven't eaten Boursin or buttery biscuits since. Nor can I stomach Orangina, the completely benign orange soda that happened to be the last thing I ingested before the Revolt of the Rich Food. I didn't eat for two days afterward.
I repeat: I was in Paris
and didn't eat for two days.
This time, at least, I am not in a foreign land. And I haven't puked at all, either publicly or privately. (I'm sure you are very relieved that there will be no graphic descriptions to follow.)
Yesterday I fasted for 23 hours and then had about four spoonsful of applesauce.
Today I have moved on, barely, to some Gatorade and half a dry, plain bagel.
As horrible as I have been feeling, though, it is really nice to just be sitting still for a change. If I feel substantially better later on, we will go to see my dad. And if I don't, I will stay in my pajamas and in my bed. Maybe I'll read. Or maybe I'll move to the couch and watch a movie with Zach. Or maybe I'll sleep.
We'll find another time to celebrate. For now, we'll just hibernate.
It may not have been the nicest birthday surprise, but it's what I need.