The Saturday night at the mall part had hit me pretty belatedly.
Sweetheart had driven around the miles of cars in search of a parking place, (my parking angel had clearly not recognized his old white van) and we had traipsed what felt like a mile to the heart of the outside shopping area. (The mile part had come from me being hungry, really hungry in my mind.) I'd left him at Barnes and Noble holding the pink bag while I went on my mission.
But, I was jostled and in the midst of it before it hit me.
Where I was, what day of the week it was, and the-season-to-be merry-realization.
We weren't "doing" any part of Christmas this year and hadn't the last few, that part of me had died sometime in the last few years and hadn't resuccitated itself.
I couldn't remember the last time I had been in a mall, and I was sure that Saturday night at the mall would now be in my book of cold-day-in-hell-before-it-happens-again-firsts. And then there was the unseasonably warm thing, December 8 at night, 70s. All of it making for something that speeded up the cranky on the way to bitchy scenario and made me walk faster and try not to think.
I made it to the inside part and found the escalator and touched the rubber rail. Immediately I went to my hand-sanitizer prayer. Please, please, please God let me have that in my purse.
I made it upstairs to Justice. Justice has nothing to do with justice. Period.
I have 15 min to find a present suitable for Mama to give our 10 year old friend and one that will pass muster from both of them. Even with the 40% sale, small fortune is ringing through my head. I find something I'm not sure about, dark purple and navy and find the glowy-nail polish of the same color, check the time, and am out of there on the run.
The only reason we are out on a Saturday, in the December summer, with Christmas shoppers is EJ's 60th surprise birthday party. I have 5 minutes to get Sweetheart and walk across the mall street to Maggiano's and wait. It is about this time I realize I'd forgotten my cell phone. Crap.
We get there 10 min ahead of the 7:30 "supposed to" time. I check with the front desk. No reservation. I'm starting to get that sinking feeling and hoping I'd not made up the restaurant name through some flight of brain fancy. They tell me they only have one surprise party and give me the name. I am thinking that Kathryn would not have used a pseudo-porn name to book the party, but, it sounds like one. (The pet and street you grew up on thing is plowing through my head and I realize hers would be Cadillac Aberdeen. Nothing like this one.) I'm getting steadily uneasier. I check my purse for the 4th time for my phone. We go by the door and wait.
Sweetheart sighs and then sighs again. I hear him.
We watch all the cars come and go and let out the people by our door.
5, 10, 15, 20 minutes pass.
I'm thinking we have already missed the window of "SURPRISE!" and EJ's look of happy followed by her trademark yet beautiful tears. Sweetheart has left his phone in the car but there is only one thing I can think to do. We trudge the 2 miles back to the van and call Mama.
"Mama, I hate to ask you, but would you go over to my house and see if my phone is downstairs?"
It had been a long day of errands for Mama, she was tired. I hated to ask. From her sitting room door to my front door is about 75 feet, unless you are Mama right now. And that rolling walker is about to walk its on nine miles. (Tim Conway, Carole Burnett Show.) I watched the minutes tick by, I figure 8 will about do it. She calls. No phone.
We got back out of the van, Sweetheart signs again---the quiet sigh intended for me to hear but not really hear.
We start to walk the 3 miles back to the restaurant, I am walking, he is lollygagging.
Maybe they came when we were gone? Nope.
4 miles back to the van, more sighing and lollygagging and we head home.
That's when the hunger and the "Survivor" thinking really kicked in. I hear Sally Field put on 40 pounds to play Mary Lincoln, I could do that.
We pull in the driveway and it is 8:47, one hour and 2 minutes after the Surprise was to happen.
K has texted, "Are you coming still?"
"Where ARE YOU?" I text back. And I start scrolling through the old texts until I find the unopened one, the text of a few days before that said Carrabas.
My phone chimes, they'd had to wait forever, they haven't ordered yet, we can make it.
I head downstairs. Sweetheart has turned on the tv and kicked off his shoes and is half-lying on the couch.
"Not so fast, get-up, we are going!"
"Really? We are going NOW?"
"We are going NOW. Period. EJ's birthday, on a mission, tonight, big deal, out the door. NOW."
The whole time we are walking to the van I am wondering about running back in to make a quick peanut butter sandwich, but know better than to lose the momentum. I don't know how 60 mph can turn to 25mph. But it does. Always, when I am in a hurry and Sweetheart is driving, it does. He and the van are torturing me with a 58mph flashing but I am for certain, we are going nowhere.
We get there. We hug everybody. I sit down and pull the crab dip and bread to the spot right in front of me, drink half my Sangria in a gulp and think how this is a Surprise party with surprise pieces we hadn't a clue about. In the end, it will be a better story and EJ loves to laugh.
I look at her and the beautiful family she loves, it is all good.
The big-loving, beautiful Smalls.
I hand her the pink bag that is filled with chocolate and holds her card.
"Dear beautiful, beautiful, beautiful one" it begins.
What it doesn't say is what I am thinking...
This will not be the year when your honey is non-weight bearing for six months. This will not be the year of a raging infection that the doctors put into his leg when they were supposed to fix it.
This will not be the year when you are standing beside his bedside after the surgery to repair him and they call you about the tiniest spot they found on your mammogram.
This will not be the year when we go for your biopsy and they biopsy the wrong place.
This will not be the year when they tell you, you have cancer.
This will not be the year when you begin radiation.
this will be the year of
of your honey walking again
of you singing melodically and happier and stronger than your already melodic, happy and strong
of you bringing music as you always have, into this world
of you crying more of the tears of happiness and empathy that water the world
of you bringing the truest of big love every place you walk in this world
of you bent over laughing
of you having a year as beautiful as the you I have known for the last 55 years
Happy Birthday Dear Old Friend.
I am grateful for the Saturday night surprises turned into laughter and grateful that you had birthday cupcakes for breakfast.
And mostly I am grateful for the knowing and loving you, and the family as beautiful as you.
EJ, (her birthday cupcakes, Kathryn who planned her Mama's party and the one whose picture comes after knock-out and gorgeous in the dictionary and me.