December 14, 2000


David had a twinkle in his eye when he dropped me off in front of the Totem Pole Company this morning.

"I need to go shopping sometime today," he said, elaborately casual. "Either during my lunch hour, or else tonight after work. Which do you think would be better?" And he beamed at me, like a besotted seven-year-old plotting to buy Teacher that decanter of drugstore bubble bath.

Oh god.

Birthday shopping! He must be talking about doing my birthday shopping!

"What are you going to get me?" I asked, in what I hoped was a bright, jokey, I-don't-care-if-it's-not-an-engagement-ring! tone of voice. All the while, The Norman Caterpillar Choir in my head was shrieking Please let it be an engagement ring! Sweet Jesus God in Heaven, please let it be an ENGAGEMENT RING!

"I'm thinking jewelry," he replied.

Oh god.

"Really?" I said. All of a sudden, that Otis Spunkmeyer Raisin Danish sitting in the pit of my stomach weighed as much as a couple of steel-belted radials.

"Yeah," he said. "Some sort of jewelry." And then -- in spite of my attempts at nonchalance -- in spite of my feigned indifference -- something in my face or in my voice or in my general demeanor must have triggered a warning bell.

"It won't be an engagement ring," he added hastily. "But something nice."

Ohhhhhhhhhhh. God.

I'm not very good at disguising the really big emotions in life. I'm sure the expression on my face conveyed every molecule of disappointment.

And he could see it.

"You weren't expecting an engagement ring, were you?" he asked, clearly alarmed by my reaction. For a bazillionth of a second, I considered trying to bluff my way through the situation ... bursting into laughter, maybe, saying An engagement ring? GOD, no. I want that new steam iron!   But like I said, I'm not very good at disguising the really big emotions in my life. I would make an excellent televangelist, but I would lose my shirt at poker.

I nodded in embarrassment and quietly said yes, actually, I sorta was expecting an engagement ring this year. (The truth is: I was expecting one last year. But I didn't tell him that.) Even though he'd given absolutely no indication that he was planning to propose on my birthday ... even though he has never acknowledged any of my not-so-subtle hints, here on the website or elsewhere [size NINE! size NINE!]  ... even though David and I love each other very much, and enjoy a solid, committed relationship, and already talk about being married someday as though it's a given, not a maybe ...

... even though we couldn't afford to throw a fudking TUPPERWARE PARTY right now, let alone a wedding ...

... still, yes, I was expecting it. I'm a female, forcryingoutloud. I was at least expecting to get the engagement part of the process started finally.

And I was expecting it to start tomorrow night, over candlelight and birthday cake.

"Sometime in the next year, OK?" he said. "I promise, it'll happen sometime in the next year."

I nodded bravely (I am a good sport I am a good sport I am a good sport), and I gave him a hasty kiss goodbye and slid out of the car, fighting back tears (Another year?) ...

... and then I spent the rest of the morning locked in my office, with my phone on "Do Not Disturb" because I didn't trust my voice not to wobble. I shuffled papers back and forth, from one side of my desk to another. I wandered aimlessly up and down the hallways. Franz, mercifully, was out of the office today, but other people came to my door and peered in at me through the glass and turned away immediately when they saw me sitting behind a mountain of crumpled Kleenex.

The funny thing is: I don't think I'd even consciously realized how much I'd wanted this until it became clear that it wasn't going to happen.

The other thing is: I'm not sure why I'm so upset. The level of my distress is perplexing, frankly. And embarrassing. I don't know whether it's because I'm disappointed that I'm not getting engaged tomorrow, or because I hate my fudking birthday so much. I suspect it's equal amounts of both. Until this morning I thought I was managing the whole birthday thing just fine. I actually thought I was looking forward to it. I realize now that I've been my usual seething cauldron of icky black emotions just beneath the surface, all along: it just took this engagement/disappointment thing to plunge me into my annual Birthday Boo-Hoo Moment.

Later in the morning -- after I'd managed to pull myself together a little -- my phone rang.

"Call the nicest restaurant in town and make reservations for tomorrow night," David announced grandly.

Frankly, by that point I'd decided to spend tomorrow exactly the same way I spent my birthday last year, once I realized I wasn't going to end the evening with a tasteful size nine solitaire on my left ring finger: foregoing dinner completely, eschewing all celebration, curled up in bed, a weeping lump of depression and self-pity, by 6 p.m., sound asleep by 7 p.m. It's not as much fun as, say, a rollerskating party at Tiffany's, or a Beach Boys concert, or having a gang of waiters plop a sombrero on your head and serenade you with a chorus of "Feliz Cumpleaños" ... but it does make the birthday just go away a lot quicker.

And something was telling me this is going to be another one of those birthdays that I just want to hurry up and go away.

"I'm really sorry, Honey," I choked over the phone. "I'm just feeling sort of stoopid and sad right now, and it's my own fault. I'll get over it."

"Never mind that," he said brightly. "Just call the restaurant and make reservations for tomorrow night. And trust me when I tell you that it's going to be the best birthday you've ever had."

So OK. I called and made the reservations (at the incredibly groovy/incredibly pricey restaurant in Berkeley we took Jaymi to, last summer). I have a brand new dress to wear tomorrow. If I'm not exactly psyched, neither am I going to freak out, I don't think. The nice thing about having my Annual Birthday Boo-Hoo Moment the day before my actual birthday is that it means I'll have it all out of my system by the time the big day rolls around tomorrow.

(I hope.)

I have no doubt that tomorrow is going to be very sweet and very romantic and very special. I have no doubt that David, in his adorably inept guylike way, is going to do everything he can to make it a festive occasion. I have no doubt that dinner is going to be wonderful.

I have no doubt that I'm going to love my new earrings.

(I have no doubt that I'm going to be reading this journal entry in a couple of years and smiling at what a big stoopid impatient baby Almost-43-Year-Old-Secra is.)

It will be a perfectly fine birthday, I have no doubt. It's just not going to be *The Big Night.*

Not yet, anyway.

repaying a little more of that karmic debt

two years ago: mushy/gooey/icky/pooey

throw a rock