This Is 50: The Birthday

I’ve never been one to seek attention. Some people would love to be Beyoncé. Me? I’d rather be one of her backup singers — you know, like the rest of Destiny’s Child. (#PoorMichelle #PoorKelly) So parties in my honor have never been something I’ve sought. I remember when I turned 9 and my mom invited a few girls over for a birthday party. These were the days before Pinterest turned everyone’s birthday into an event, so our big activities were playing cards and eating cake before I opened my presents. Seeing the photo of the five of us sitting cross-legged in a circle with cards in our hands even now makes my anxiety creep up: What if they don’t have a good time?

Things have improved over the years, even with my attempts to avoid people making do over me. For example, for my 37th, what was supposed to be a quiet dinner with my dear friend Genilson and his now-husband, Mark, at a restaurant to be disclosed after my arrival was actually a surprise party — my first ever. Genilson throws a fabulous party, and this one was no exception. You can see the expressions go from happy to happier as we partied till the wee hours of the morning thanks to the good company … and good libations.

Fast-forward 13 years to The Big One. Number 50. Espen had asked if I wanted a party. Genilson asked if wanted to do a dinner party or something. I was noncommittal to both of them. My cousin Gina asked me about my plans. Oh, nothing, I said. I’m feeling kind of introspective about it, so I think we’re just going to chill.

Espen had other plans. Unbeknownst to me, this husband of mine had started planning a surprise party a good four months before my birthday, going through my friend list on Facebook to invite those who he thought were my nearest and dearest. As one of those nearest and dearest said later, “You should see the invitation. It’s basically a love letter to you.” It was. It is.

My birthday fell on a Sunday. Our plan was to have a nice dinner out that Saturday night at one of our favorite Lebanese places and then just chill on Sunday together. While I sat upstairs working on my post of February 25, he left for the store, ensuring before he left that I had everything I needed, including the hard push to get me a glass of water. Yes, fine, I’ll take some water! Just go to the store, weirdo!

When he returned, it was time for us to get ready for dinner. It’s a local place, and lately I’ve had a rather … casual approach about dolling myself up, so it took me all of five minutes to throw on a dress and some jewelry, fluff my hair, and tame my brows. He, however, took forever. He decided to add these silver points to his shirt collar. But then the first one didn’t go on quite right, and then the other suffered a similar fate. Like, how hard can it be to put these things on? I thought. Finally he was ready, after much mocking from me.

As we headed down the stairs, I heard sounds coming from below. “I think we left the TV on downstairs,” I told him. “I don’t think so,” he replied casually.

“Well, if we didn’t, we have burglars in the house.”

By then I was halfway down the stairs. The voices got louder. As I hit the penultimate step, the voices stopped. I peered around the corner and there standing near the dining room table were some of the dearest people in my life, including Neva and Genilson. Coming through the door? The catering van belonging to the restaurant we had been heading to.

Turns out that when the man ran to the store, it was to finish his last-minute purchases for the surprise party he’d been planning for four months.  He had even managed to squirrel away 10 extra wine glasses without my noticing.

It didn’t stop there, though. Espen had planned it so that people would arrive at staggered times. Every time the doorbell rang, there was yet another surprise guest. Cousins, friends from Virginia Beach, my friend Rachel (and her new beau) from North Carolina … one surprise after another. It was nothing short of magical.

All these months later I’m still in awe of all the love expressed that night — for me and for each other. What a way to start a year full of so many changes …

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