by Barbara Neal Varma
When I realized his birthday was coming up again, I started to panic.
Oh, we laughed at the Murphy’s Law of it all, shook our fist at Mother Nature and her wry sense of humor. But each time Murphy or Mother N. shouldered the blame I felt more and more guilty. Deep down I knew I was rushing to plan these events, not taking the same time I lavished on myself to get my nails done every Friday, or weekly make my way to the mall like a pilgrim to Mecca. With each celebration gone sour I felt like the universe was trying to tell me something: He’s worth your time and attention, more than you’ve been giving him.
I’d heard this before. I remember a fight I had with my ex-husband – well, you couldn’t really call it a fight because there weren’t two combatants, just me sitting there stunned as he flung angry words at me. “You like to joke you’re good in other rooms besides the kitchen,” he said. “But the truth is you’re not good in any of them.”
Shocked, I had no retort. He was a frustrated man, prone to moods and flashes of anger but, until that moment, I’d never been the enemy. Unchallenged, he went on: “If this was a business and you were my partner, people would say I was a sucker.”
Not long after, he did leave our marriage, our partnership, with a final slam of the door. During the ensuing months of grief I never once told the friends who comforted me that it may have been my fault.
Five years later I met my current love, a kind, generous man who celebrates me with gifts large and small. I am a Sign language interpreter so on his own he learned enough Sign to silently propose. For our seventh wedding anniversary he sponsored a tree to be planted in our neighborhood park near a bench where we could sit and smooch, the tree’s commemorative plaque etched with our names and the sentiment: “To the future.” One time when our minestrone soups arrived too hot to even sip, he reached over to stir mine while I was busy tapping a note on my Palm pilot. When I looked up to see him swirling the steaming liquid as he regarded me with patient indulgence, I melted.
It all made last year’s birthday bash doubly tragic. I took him to an Italian restaurant I’d heard was great for birthdays. Yeah. If you’re twelve years old. In front of a table full of honored and invited friends, my husband was given the same treatment as Chad who was all of 10. His chair was turned to face the crowd (my husband protested but our waiter was a big guy), and everyone in the room was led to sing Happy Birthday to the two birthday “boys.” I saw the discomfort on my husband’s face, his forced smile, and knew I’d hit bottom.
A few days later I overheard him joking with our friends about this latest birthday goof. “I could have done it myself,” he said. “But you know, you shouldn’t have to plan your own party.” Despite his teasing tone, I heard frustration in his voice. My ex’s angry words echoed in my head. I closed my eyes. Not again. My husband came over to me and held his suddenly serious wife. By my next heartbeat I had resolved to love better this time, to come up with a plan. A love plan.
We left the house at 6:00 p.m., sunset time in Southern California. I drove, giving him hints along the way about where we were going. He enjoyed the game, and by the time we turned on the 5 freeway toward Anaheim, he guessed it right. “Are we going to Club 33?” His question came in a whisper, the kind used when inquiring if Santa was real.
“Yes,” I said, thrilled to hear the excitement in his voice.
Club 33 is a secret, members-only restaurant in Disneyland, an historic hidey-hole that Walt had dreamed up to entertain original investors. Advertisement is by word of mouth and entry is gained only through the good graces of a small but elite membership. To go had been a dream of ours separately before we even knew each other, then after marriage, a quest left unfulfilled. That I was taking him there spoke of planning, of preparation, of slaying dragons and stalking friends of friends of acquaintances who were members.
Eagerness made us hurry down Main Street. Soon we were turning into New Orleans Square and heading straight for door number 33. I let my husband ring the bell, state our names to the old-fashioned voice box, and be the first across the threshold when the door opened and a tux ushered us in.
And then it was good. No, it was great. Romantic French decor, soft lights, and a wait staff trained to pet and pamper. The magic was not found in the place but that for this night, it was all about him. The self-centered woman he’d married had sacrificed her precious “mall and me” time to plan for this event, to think of something he’d enjoy, and move heaven and earth to get it.
We ordered champagne, a rare brew for our In ‘N Out Burger palettes. After dinner we heard the crescendo of music and coaxed by our waiter, stepped outside onto the balcony to watch “Fantasmic,” a laser and light show over the water.
My husband wrapped himself around me like a cloak against the cold, resting his chin on my shoulder. The music swelled and so did my happiness, dissolving any ghosts of marriage past. I snuggled deeper into his arms. He held me tight. “Honey, thank you for all you did.”
Joy returned to my soul, home to stay. “Ah, it was nothing,” I teased. Nothing he didn’t deserve. Because he is my everything and I now know to love someone well takes a little practice and a love plan.
Michael’s voice was warm against my ear. “So where are we going next year?”
About the Author:
Barbara Neal Varma is an award-winning writer who has written for Image, Cup of Comfort, Kaleidoscope, and various other magazines and literary journals. Her essays have won awards from Writer’s Digest, the National Writers Association and Anthology magazine. Visit her Web site at www.BarbaraNealVarma.com.