Crazily, the summer sped by, and soon it was my birthday.
I had always hated the placement of my birthday in early September. It made it hard to have birthday parties (not that anyone really ever planned one for me as a child) because you never knew exactly who would be in your class, and you never had much contact with your friends from school during the summer unless they lived in your neighborhood. Not like today with computers and Facebook and IMing and texting. When I got older it was better, because I had the car.
I was turning 18 and getting ready for college. Michigan State started back then in later September, because they worked in trimesters rather than semesters. So me and my pals were mostly still back at home for my birthday.
Joe wanted to make my birthday special, and I love d him for it for many reasons. Firstly, he hadn’t had an easy time of it. His mother was in some sort of financial trouble due to her divorce, and they had to leave their apartment. Joe was spending the last few weeks before school started living with his grandparents’ house. His mother, for lack of a better term, was “in hiding”, I think from the IRS. She contacted Joe when she was sure no one else would be home, and no one else was supposed to know where she was. He didn’t really care for his aunt, who also lived with the grandparents, but he was making the best of it for the last few weeks before we went to State.
Joe promised to take me out to a fancy restaurant on the other side of town for my birthday. It was the most grown up thing I’d ever done with a boy; dressed up and went out to dinner, just like real adults. It was calm and quiet and beautiful. During dinner, he presented me with my gift: a jewelry box with a hand painted iris on the front. It played music when it opened up, and it was stunning.
I couldn’t believe how thoughtful his gift was. It wasn’t a silly gift that a boy picked up in a last ditch effort to have something to give the girl. He spent hours, clearly, trying to find the best gift he could for me. It was not cheap. It was the nicest thing anyone my age had ever given me. In fact, I have no recollection at all of most of the birthday gifts I’ve ever been given, but I still remember (and own) this one.
After dinner we decided to go over to my father’s house. He lived not far away. Again, I was in awe of Joe. Going to my father’s house was fraught with issues; Joe knew about my father’s boyfriend, but it was another thing entirely to meet the boyfriend. I trusted him completely to meet the boyfriend and be polite, something I couldn’t say about most of the rest of the people I knew at the time (I was just eighteen, after all).
My father and his partner were gracious and invited us out to the patio for cold drinks. I sat there, soaking in the surreal moment: just a few years ago I was screaming at my father, wondering why he wasn’t there for me to protect me. Now here I was, sipping iced tea on his quiet, lush patio with my boyfriend, getting ready for college. Everything was different. Everything was good.
It was the perfect birthday.