Thursday, July 17, 2008

Reviving The Birthday Spirit (Conclusion)

I knew Marcie would not settle for an ice cream cake on my birthday, but I also knew that, since she had talked them up so much, she might wait before she pressed. Wait, she did. In the mean time, I decided on the cake I really wanted.

As was typical between us, an impasse meant that we both waited for an advantageous moment before we upset the apple cart. Marcie had one planned.

The week before my birthday saw her tip her hand. Not that she had a choice. Her gift to me arrived with a harried-looking Barbara in tow.

"Oh, honey!" she said. "I didn't know you were home. Well, happy birthday!"

And there he was, a little puff of fur, half asleep and clinging to her dress. Under the closest of observation I took him from her and he mewed in protest.

He was tiny and soft, and as I held him, cupped in my hands, he stood, arched his back and stretched, his little needlenails poking into my palm.

All that Marcie knew was that he fit in one of my hands. "Oh my god, he fits in one hand. How precious is that?" she asked her mother.

Barbara nodded and "mmhmm'd" a little neutrally. I would find out later that Seamus had been in her house for a week, terrorizing Samantha, their older cat, and driving her insane.

"Well, happy birthday ahead of time, Frank," she said, taking her keys and walking back to her little Sprint.

"Thanks, Barbara," I said, smiling at the yet-unnamed and deceptively calm furball in my hands.

"So what is your name?" I asked him.

He looked at me sedately and made a silent meow. His striped chunks of fur and white belly told me little about him, except some possible Maine Coon lineage. But his green eyes were a clue.

Marcie wanted to name her male cats Angus and Fergus, girls would be Talulah Belle and (as was one of her nicknames) Tink. I liked the idea of a good Irish name.

"He doesn't have a name," Marcie said. "You have to name him."

"I think he's a Seamus," I said.

"Seamus," she said. "Oh, honey. I like that name. Like Seamus Heaney, the writer?"

I nodded and Seamus decided to look to the ground. I caught him and we went inside.

We played to his exhaustion with him that afternoon, then Marcie cooked some dinner. She wandered out and smiled, pleased with herself, hands on her hips. Her gift had been a big success. Seamus slept on my shoulder.

"So I have to order you ice cream birthday cake tomorrow," she said. "I hope you like it, honey."

I looked up and smiled. "Well, it's like having cake and ice cream all at once, I guess. Do they have German Chocolate cake versions? That's what I really want."

Her eyes lit up and she shook her head. "Oh, no, honey. They have pretty basic, set recipes with ice cream. It's not really even cake, really."

I feigned thought and then some disappointment. "That's a bummer. I have a craving for some German Chocolate cake with pecans..."

"Oh, I can make you that!" she said, plopping down next to me. "Then we can just buy some ice cream and eat a normal birthday dessert. What do you think?"

She set her hand on my forearm and bit her lower lip. She was stoked.

"That sounds good," I said. "We'll do that instead. I wanted to try your baking, anyways. We can get an ice cream cake some other time."

She clapped her hands a few times and then slapped her thighs as she got up. "I am very excited to bake for you," she said. "I think you're going to love your cake."

She brought dinner, and Seamus woke to wander about begging by our feet. Pieces of chicken slipped off my plate to him "accidentally." It is a continued tradition, of course.

Marcie shook her head as a piece fell from my plate. "So, honey, I am glad you want to celebrate your birthday, and it was sweet of you to say I was the reason you had to celebrate, but why are you so anti-birthday?"

I shrugged and I let it all out. "I will be 24 and I am just finishing my first year of college," I said. "I will be six years behind most of my peers from high school."

She looked at me as if I were insane.

"I am barely on my feet and don't have a solid job, I have to scrape a lot to get by, and some of my friends are already in their careers," I continued. "I just don't feel like I have anything to celebrate, accomplishment-wise. I'm behind."

She looked at me with a look of near-disgust on her face and rolled her eyes. Her fork clattered on her plate.

"That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard," she started. "You're a straight-A student, you have two jobs at the college, you are respected, you are a member of student government and you work on the side, too."

She picked at her sun-dried tomatoes and bread, then looked over, shaking her head, "You saw a lot of the world and you have lived and struggled and overcome more crap than almost anyone who goes straight to college ever will."

"I don't care who graduates before me," she added. "Ive been to Europe twice, had a lot of fun and worked and paid my own way through. Nobody gets any credit but me. And when you finish, you'll be able to say the same thing."

I leaned over and I kissed her as she turned to continue after gnoshing a bit on her dinner. "Thank you," I said.

I had heard a lot of the ideas of my being behind from a generation of people who thought door closed at certain times. Some of those gems I remember still, like "No college degree by 22? It's too late to go back..." and "Still in school at 23? You must be a professional student..."

Luckily I was with a woman with a sense of adventure, a lust for life and a disdain for convention and conservatism. Her opinion was that the quality of the life lived mattered more than the pace at which it accumulated goods or achieved milestones.

That next week, she made me a delicious dinner of steak and broccoli, rice and a grand salad. We ate a German Chocolate cake chock full of pecans. We enjoyed feeding a little puff of personality-laced fur teriyaki beef.

She came up with more gifts for me first birthday, but she had already given me the greatest one in that little bit of sage observation, annoyed as she was in delivering it. Of course, Seamus was a close second, but I digress.

She fit a lot into her life because she was never in a rush to do what everyone else wanted her to or decided was important. Doing it your own way was what made something special, not some arbitrary right way.

And if, as Marcie observed, people were impatient with you about how long you took, then make them wait a little longer and enjoy that, too.

Of course, she eventually taught me how to do that with bacon.