Not Enough Candles
I know a lot of people don’t like birthdays, mainly because they don’t like to think about getting older. My comeback was always “it’s better than the alternative.”
Well, this year, I got older, while Rich did not.
And yes: we have (had?) the same birthday. April 14, two years apart. And, since we met in 1986, my first year of college, this year was the first year I didn’t have him as my birthday twin.
Our first shared birthday was humbling for me. In my family, birthdays were always a big deal. The birthday person was feted with presents, cake, and a dinner at a restaurant of their choosing (I pretty much always picked fancy places. I was into all the new stuff even as a teenager.). I had a party for my birthday every year until I arrived at college.
My parents and brother drove to see me at school, and I felt as special as I always did — until they dropped me off and headed back home. You see, I turned 19. But Rich was turning 21.
Let’s just say 21 trumps 19 in college, and I was basically unnoticed. I was most displeased, but tried to suck it up. Rich’s roommates had a plan: they took him around to every apartment in our off campus housing complex, knocking on the door and playing a sort of college trick or treat: they asked the resident of each apartment to “donate” a shot of something alcoholic. Since most of us were under age, pickings were slim, varied, and, ultimately, not pleasant. To make things worse, they refused to let Rich walk at all, carrying him from one boozy pit stop to the next.
Flash forward a few hours, when Rich is passed out in his bedroom. We had the smarts to keep an eye on him, and I volunteered for my shift of sitting with him, making sure he didn’t well, die in his sleep. For me this was more than a babysitting gig, though. It was my chance.
I had been dating someone else for several years at this point, but I was totally crushing on Rich. But of course I could never admit it! But, when he was fast asleep? I fessed up, letting him know that I was into him, and kissed him.
The next morning, we were all gathered in the dining commons, laughing about the night before. In the middle of breakfast, in strolls Rich, more chipper than the rest of us. In fact, he had just come back from a run. While he professed to feeling fine, he didn’t seem to remember everything about the night before, much to my relief, and so my secret was safe.
A few years later, when the other guy was out of my life and Rich and I finally got together, I revealed what I had done on his birthday. He grinned, and from then on always insisted “that mut have been why I slept so well.” I mean, we both new it was more likely demon alcohol, but the story became a part of our lore.
So, our first birthday together was our first kiss.
We shared a lot of special birthday celebrations over the years. On my 21st, he took me out at 1201am for my first legal drink (a vodka martini. A very poor choice). We celebrated in California before he moved to the midwest, graduating a year before me.
Over the years we celebrated in Ohio, back in California, in Minnesota, and back to Ohio, and back to Minnesota again.
For his 40th, I hosted a surprise party, which stressed him out completely, as I had invited both work colleagues and social friends. He remarked that he didn’t like seeing his worlds collide. It was fun though for folks to see different sides of him — the coworkers learning that his neighborhood buddies thought he was the life of the party. The neighborhood friends were shocked to know of Rich’s serious side. I delighted in his feigned discomfort.
For my 40th, he tried to surprise me with a trip to Vegas with our friends. It was the first of many for what would become known as the Unicorn Squad. I say he tried to surprise me because I actually figured it out in advance, but I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to spoil his fun! He worked so hard — arranged child care, hotels, flights, dinners, shows. This time, I was the star (I even got to wear a crown!).
Because we had the same bday, I realized we could actually have a 100th birthday party the year I turned 49 and he became 51. We booked a venue, hired a caterer, and invited everyone. Frankie and her friends provided the music, and we danced and laughed and partied our butts off.
A few months later, on our anniversary, he handed me a card with a special message in it: we were going to Pars for my 50th. He knew I had always had a silly fantasy of dancing on the Champs Elysee on my birthday, and he wanted it to come true. He also knew that for me planning a trip was half the fun, so he decided he was better off letting me handle that. I agreed, but said he was in charge of planning our actual birthday celebration.
We did so much, and had such a magical time.
On our actual birthday, he booked us a table at one of the most famous restaurants in Paris, with a view of Notre Dame (I blogged about this trip. The one that talks about our actual birthday and dinner can be found here.)
Little did we know that the cathedral would catch fire a year and one day later. We watched it burn on tv, crying, holding hands. I thanked him so much for the trip, and for having the chance to be there with him.
That was 2019.
In 2020, we were in quarantine.
In 2021, we went to dinner at the restaurant that had replaced the one we went to when he handed me the Paris card. The next month, his leg went numb.
In 2022, our friend Erika brought us cakes, and he blew out the candles while laying in bed, surrounded my me, Erika and his brother Frank. He died 6 months and 8 days later.
People used to say they thought it was s cute that we had the same birthday. It’s so easy they said, you’ll never forget! Early on in the relationship Rich offered to let me have all the rest of the birthdays, as he knew I was sometimes sour about sharing the spotlight.
I’d give anything to share it now.
So this year was hard. I knew it would be, and I wasn’t wrong. The week leading up to the 14th was probably the hardest I’ve had since he died. I cried every day. But now it is over, and I survived. I made sure I did fun thigs, and spoiled myself a bit. Not sure what I will do next year. Maybe I will travel somewhere new, or maybe I’ll host a party. But whatever I do, I know that Rich will approve — as long as I get to be the star!