I didn’t have a whiff of anything regarding my birthday until a random email came through in mid-July confirming Major’s boarding reservation for August 1. I didn’t arrange to have him boarded and it would’ve been strange if Chuck had, so I asked him about it. Obviously, I didn’t want to pay for a faux reservation.
The snowball had begun. Yes, Chuck made a reservation for Major and no, I wasn’t supposed to know about it. Dang those helpful automated emails.
Chuck wouldn’t budge on information. Are we going somewhere? Just for the day or for the weekend? Is is nearby? Is it far? Who’s going? All four of us? Just us? Just me?
Nada. He said absolutely nothing, except, “It’s something you want and something you need.”
I pestered him for weeks and got no answers. I texted Corey. She didn’t have a clue. Lesli didn’t know either. I didn’t ask other friends because why would they know anything either? I nearly asked around at church, but that could get annoying. So, I just waited for August 1.
Chuck told me what to pack. We were headed west and I needed a bathing suit and something nice to wear to dinner. I grabbed a book to read in the car. I was a good, patient little birthday girl.
We took this photo leaving our driveway.
We were going to Nashville, a small detail he finally disclosed. But what were we going to do there? It almost didn’t matter because spending alone time with my husband is a favorite hobby of mine. I settled in with a book and then I made Chuck listen to a podcast about The Goldfinch. It passed the time.
His phone dinged a few times. A co-worker was texting, he said. He checked his watch occasionally. We arrived downtown and I had to use the bathroom immediately. There was a line outside Biscuit Love, a restaurant in the Gulch. Were we going there? What’s that line for? I raced into a nearby restaurant to use the bathroom, then headed across the street to where the people were. We surpassed the line – was this rude? Shouldn’t we wait in line too, I asked him. Nope, he said. Inside we went.
I saw a face I recognized, and then another, and then another. Six whole faces of people I love. They stood there taking pictures of me with their phones, laughing at my jaw on the floor. Corey, Karin, Amy, Kathryn, Lesli and Susan. And then there was Chuck, beaming. He wouldn’t be staying in Nashville but rather dropping me off. I pulled him into a hug and cried. None of this I deserved.
What’s a girl to do? I have more than one hundred years of combined friendship with these people. Corey, friends since 1991, when she took a chance on the shy new eighth grader in the church youth group. Then Kathryn, friends since 1993, when tenth grade was especially hard at a new school and she provided all the comic relief and support I could need. Good grief, the stories she could tell! Then came Lesli and Susan in 1998, forming a trio of friendship that is completely irreplaceable. I met Amy in 2000 when one of Chuck’s best friends made an awesome choice for a girlfriend (and eventually married her). Karin showed up in 2001 when I took a new job and we became friends at first sight. That kind of magic doesn’t happen everyday.
And then there’s Chuck, together since 1996 – post-Corey and Kathryn, pre-everyone else – he learned early on that my friendships were invaluable to me. They are the family I choose, and though it was a road we had to navigate in those early years of marriage, today it’s a no-brainer. These women make me better, and he thought it was the best gift he could give me.
Once I stopped crying, we sat down to eat. Afterward we went to the hotel where Chuck had made arrangements for us and then he kissed me goodbye, leaving me in their hands. I cried again. That man. I swear.
The rest of the day was lovely. Hot-tubbing, dinner at Husk, wine after. Lots of laughing and talking and enjoying each other’s company. My cup runneth over, and more.
The only negative – and I wouldn’t mention it if it didn’t explain how the weekend ended – was that I must have eaten something that didn’t agree with me because I spent most of the early morning hugging the toilet. No, friends, it wasn’t a hangover. It was food-related, so come morning I was pale and weak and craving my own bed. I really wanted to see Trainwreck and grab one more meal with these women, but physically, I just couldn’t. I cried over that too.
There aren’t words to describe how grateful I feel. All the planning, the details, the sacrifice, the time… This was less about celebrating my birthday and more about celebrating the longevity of these relationships. They’ve ebbed and flowed for all the obvious reasons – moving, jobs, kids, illness, whatever. But all the lines are still open, still being nurtured, still hanging on. Because even though Chuck is my cornerstone, life isn’t fully lived without friends like these.
So thank you, everyone. I’m completely overcome.