My parents-in-law lent us their northern Michigan vacation home, so we took the children and spent a few days relaxing together for the last breath of summer before school starts Wednesday. And while we were up there (yesterday, to be exact) I turned thirty-three.
It was just the sort of perfect day you can get when you have a spouse who's remarkable at noticing and picking up slack. I let out ALL my slack on my birthday, and he picks it up expertly. So that's nice. Being thirty-three has been pretty excellent so far, thanks to him.
Birthdays always make me think of my sixteenth birthday, now more than half my life ago, because Bryan was there then too. (And on my seventeenth and eighteenth, on which he gave me the exact same number and type of flowers without even realizing it, and on my nineteenth, on which he gave me a dress and took me up the tallest tower in town - not that many hundreds of steps, because it's a small town so the tower is small too, but I was in the middle of an awful bout of anemia and almost collapsed, and he's going to be mad at me for bringing this up but it's so FUNNY now - and on my twentieth, by which time we were married.)
But on my sixteenth birthday, we barely knew each other, and he taught me to play poker.
During the first half of 1998, Bryan was an exchange student in New Zealand and I became pretty good friends with a guy named Chris. And I spent basically the whole summer at his house (on the beach) and when Bryan, who'd been Chris's best friend for years, came home from down under, he was suddenly present at all of these casual beach parties we'd been having, including the one on my birthday.
There were reasons I was feeling adrift that night, and reasons I ended up at the poker table even though I a) was the only girl and b) had no idea how to play, but those have faded over the years. What hasn't faded is my memory of what it felt like to sit there in my bathing suit with a t-shirt over it, with cool lake breeze coming through the windows, holding cards and trying to play a game I didn't know, but warm and sure in spite of everything because of the surprise of the boy sitting next to me: his smile and his kindness and his patience and his wit, as if the two of us were sitting at the table alone.
There were (dumb) reasons why he didn't call me the next day, but by six weeks later we were on our first date and you know the rest of the story. (And Chris was the best man in our wedding.)
It's funny how that night takes on so much significance in retrospect. Sixteen-year-old me thinking "Hey, this guy is kind of nice" was definitely not looking for "...and marriage and four children and many happy years together" but as I think about it from seventeen years later, the night glows with the potential of all the things that followed it. And I love thinking about that every year on my birthday.
There was a while when it felt like a disadvantage that Bryan and I met so young, because it was complicated and diificult in ways that it wouldn't have been five years later. But now, even just a decade and a half out - and I have to think it will feel even more this way as time passes - those extra years together feel like a gift. Who knew sixteen would bring me such a good one?