Turning A Grumpy Man Into A Giddy, Birthday Boy
I was in college, and my boyfriend had been feeling neglected after spending a few months apart. We had been living together prior to my decision to drive halfway across the state to live in a dorm, but I was doing this for my own improvement. It was important to me that Shane felt secure in my love for him and not worry that my leaving home had been his fault in any way.
Tests, essays, and unending piles of reading had made it difficult for me to keep up with regular phone calls, and this had been making Shane uneasy. Then, on the Friday afternoon before Shane’s twenty-eighth birthday, he drove two hours across Virginia to meet me as scheduled, only to find out from my roommate that I’d left town for the weekend for a seminar on social policy development. I felt horrible for forgetting his birthday, and felt like what dogs leave on sidewalks for forgetting his plans to visit that weekend. As I took notes on fiscal responsibility and grassroots organization, I couldn’t keep my mind off of the guilt raging inside me. I was determined to do something for his birthday to make it up to him.
Shane was a Jehovah’s Witness and had grown up without holidays. His family didn’t celebrate birthdays, Easter, Valentine’s Day, or even Christmas. Birthdays weren’t a big deal to Shane, and I liked seeing him get excited for the first time about a wrapped present in the same way that a toddler would. I gathered my friends together the following Monday and enlisted their help in throwing a great surprise birthday party.
We had a great plan by that Friday. We bought balloons, and a lot of them. We filled them with helium and watched as they filled the ceiling of my friend’s off-campus apartment. We baked cookies and cakes, and made chili in a slow cooker. We stocked the fridge with his favorite beer and also picked up a few items to mix a “forgiveness cocktail” that I found on a bartending website. Shane still wasn’t speaking to me after my absence the previous weekend, though I had gotten him to agree to come back up and try to retrieve the missed time together. I contacted several of our friends from home to invite them out to the party and warned them not to let him know of the plans.
More than ten of our friends had driven all the way from our home town, and I couldn’t believe that he hadn’t figured out what was being planned. I turned over the slow cooker duty to my friend, made sure that our guests had plenty of beer and cookies to last a while, and headed over to my dorm to wait for Shane. He pulled into the faculty parking lot just as I was walking up and rolled down the window to crack a joke about me needing a ride out of town since my boyfriend was on his way in. I laughed and got into the car, explaining that I’d just been on my way home from my friend’s but had left a very important text book there.
Shane didn’t want to go into her house when we got there, but I managed to talk him into it by promising one of those special beers that he enjoys so much. I dialed the number to my friend’s house on my cell phone and let it ring once as planned, mentioning loudly that checking my voice mail was so much more difficult on the new phone. I pushed the door open and stepped aside just in time for Shane to see our closest friends from home and my closest friends at school hop up and scream, “SURPRISE!”
The look on his face was precious. It started as a scared infant, unsure if what’s happening around them is safe or dangerous. Then his eyes began to shake slightly, and I spotted moisture building up in the bottom corners. Finally, the corners of his mouth turned up slowly, getting bigger and bigger until a smile engulfed the entire lower half of his face. His eyes began to hop, and I realized that he was laughing uncontrollably but silently. His face leapt in chuckles and his eyes closed tighter and tighter until he had to grab his stomach and let his voice erupt into a giant, “HAAAA! HAAAA! HAAAA!” He claimed that the bright lights in the room and the cats upstairs were causing his eyes to water, but we could all see the glee and joy in each of the tears that slid down his cheek. After a horrible week and being ignored by the people he loved the most, he had finally been able to relax at the center of someone’s attention and celebrate another year of life. This was thirteen years ago, and Shane still says that it was his first true birthday celebration and the best of his entire life thus far.