Today is My Birthday
And since I’m allowed to break the rules (as the birthday king), I’m going to tell you something different.
I’m going to tell you about the greatest compliment I’ve ever received.
It was a party, mid-October. Most of the people I knew, but some I didn’t. In general, I am not a party person. When my attendance is required, I prefer to observe rather than participate.
The room was packed with people chatting and catching up. We weren’t allowed to eat or drink yet. Apparently the host wanted to make a speech or something first. I remember being hot. Very hot. Sweating, actually.
My brother and I stood awkwardly in the front of the room. He glanced sideways at me.
“Dude, this is weird.”
“Tell me about it.”
It was weird. Had I known how little time we’d spend together after that day compared to our youth, I would have given him a hug. I would have said “I love you.” I would have tried to find words which would somehow explain what 21 years of shared experiences, fights, meals, late nights, and early mornings meant to me. I may have done any or all of those things.
But the only thing I remember saying was:
He shrugged, then pointed at my ankles.
“I learned from the best.”
He and I both laughed while I straightened my tie. Then I loosened my collar. Then I wiped the sweat off my face.
Did I mention it was hot?
Then —she stepped through the front door.
Like so many have described before in reference to love, the clock stopped. My heart dove into my stomach. I swear everyone in the room turned to stare at her. Probably because she was late for the party. I don’t think many people cared. They would go back to their chatter soon enough.
Defying all logic or good sense, she ignored everyone and walked toward me. I remember her red hair up high. I remember the pattern of her freckles. I remember a perfect dress.
All the noise which previously occupied the room swirled together in a fog overhead and drifted out the window. The loudest silence of all time pounded in my ears as she walked closer still.
A man in a black robe stood walked up to me — the host. It was an odd choice for a party, but who am I to dispute fashion choices? He muttered something, but the words evaporated, like everything else tended to do in her presence.
She stood in front of me now. I glanced at the man in the robe, pleading for instruction. He nodded and smiled. Priests are good at comfort. Part of the job description I guess.
Thank God he was there to help me remember my lines. My mouth mimicked his after every passage.
Then, he turned to her. I turned to her. Everyone stared, waiting. I remember thinking:
“She hates being the center of attention.”
That’s when I received the ultimate compliment. I have not heard anything so beautiful before or since. I wear this compliment with honor every morning when I roll out of bed, take it with me to work, lean on it when I am angry, and tuck it in next to me before we turn out the light.
That’s when she said:
There are, of course, way too many pictures of our wedding night, but the one I think best sums up my response to the day is this one. (Also, since I don’t know which pictures she likes and hates, you’ll have to settle for looking at my goofy mug.)
I love you, Kate. I’m Still Thinking About You.