Birthday Plans Gone Awry

Dearest Rachel –

There are times when I wish I was better at writing at certain hours. The early mornings, in particular, are fairly conducive to the process, as there’s nobody up but me and the dog. Even on our busy thorough fare, cars are few and far between at this hour. I have the time, I have the quiet – I should be able to do this.

The problem is, it’s hard to be witty on four hours of sleep. I’m sure you remember about how many times I would see you up in the morning (particularly in Sundays as we prepared for church), and always ask you how you managed to function on so little. You rarely had a good answer – maybe you just didn’t want to admit you slept more of that time you were supposedly ‘up’ than I was aware, and you wanted to keep that secret. For what it’s worth, I knew you slept out there – I just didn’t know how much. I still don’t. All I know is that I can’t function on that schedule.

Be that as it may, I should really just go ahead and fill you in, whether it’s particularly witty or not. Hopefully, I can get in at least a sentence or two each time before the old boy starts whining for attention – and whatever else he wants me to do; I seriously cannot figure him out at this hour – and I have to set you aside again.

So if this letter seems disjointed and incoherent, now you know why. The dog didn’t eat my homework (although I’m sure he wouldn’t mind doing so), he just prevents me from doing it.

Anyway…

So yesterday was Ellen‘s birthday.

And, being a Friday, the girls were over last night. In addition, so was Logan. So we managed to have the whole gang here – well, except you, of course.

The thing is, we weren’t really going to make a big deal out of the fact. Because, as it turns out, Ellen would just as soon not make a big deal out of it.

In that respect, she is very much unlike me. Given the chance, I would love to have a big deal made out of my birthday; heaven knows, my parents tried their best when I was a kid. But it was never quite perfect, because… well, you know. And of course, once you’re an adult, there’s absolutely no chance of a perfect birthday happening, because the real world interferes. Life goes on, and so must you.

But that doesn’t phase Ellen, because that doesn’t seem to be her attitude towards it. I asked maybe about a week or so ago what she might like, and she responded with, “I thought we agreed we weren’t going to give gifts going forward.” Oh. I’d forgotten that. Well, I guess that makes shopping a lot easier.

At least she can choose where we eat that night (and at least she’s willing to let me pay for it), so I suppose that’s something, at least. We actually had it all planned out: pick up from one of the local Mexican places, head over to the nearby park, and enjoy the meal there. Granted, it wouldn’t be perfect, since Daniel and Logan would probably prefer to stay home, but at least they’d be enjoying themselves in their own way.

But it’s amazing how plans slowly begin to unravel when dealing with reality.

Even in mid July, the days aren’t as long as they were a month ago. Combine that with a slightly threatening weather system, and it gets darker than you’d think sooner than you’d like. She showed up at the house before seven, but only just. Still, we had a fair amount of time together to relive old memories.

Reminiscing with Ellen is an odd experience. I mean, it’s not like we’ve been apart for a great length of time; we just saw each other last week, not to mention getting together for gaming on Sundays. But between visits, I’ve been working on the house with Jan, and things just keep coming up. While she reminded me of the ‘no presents’ rule, I actually managed to find some thing for her: a postcard you’d written from our Wisconsin trip back in 1997. Based on the cancellation mark, she must have received it at some point, but somehow it wound up in the office by the time we’d gotten up there to clean the place. And since his postcard was meant for her, I figured there was no reason for me to hang onto it so tightly myself (I did make a point of transcribing it for my records – heck, I may remind you about it in a post later on).

I do so hate to be the downer in our relationship, especially on her birthday like this. But she’s the only one left who knew you when. She knows things about you that I don’t (although she acknowledges that certainly goes both ways).

You do know we both miss you, albeit in very different ways.

I did also show her a cache of letters she had written to you, back in the days before she made a practice of creating her longer missives on computer, and distributing them throughout her network of friends and family. She was amused to note that you had to re-folded her letters, and placed them back in each envelope, presumably to make it easier to file. In particular, she told me about one letter that was almost entirely made up of leftover valentine cards. Apparently, she had written you a letter on the back of several dozen of these cards, shuffled the cards and sent them off to you in no particular order. At least she sent them as a pack rather than by individual cards – she wasn’t a complete sadist. In fact, the particularly nasty part about it wasn’t even intentional – apparently the letter of cards arrived on campus just as finals week was beginning. And rather than focus on your studies, you found yourself compelled to arrange Ellen‘s note in order before you could do anything else – you were always obsessed with puzzles – and as a result, you didn’t do nearly as well on your exams as you could or should have. I have to say, girl, that one was kind of on you.

Another letter had a couple of sticks of gum – well, I say sticks of gum, the gum had already been taken out, and it was just the wrappers, which Ellen had then enclosed in a piece of paper instructing you not to open and chew those sticks (which, of course, weren’t there). And you dutifully left the sticks of gum untouched. Either that, or you opened them, realized Ellen’s prank, and re-wrapped everything back the way it was.

I had no idea Ellen was such a prankster back in the day. And that’s to say nothing about the fact that each letter had been folded up in a different weird origami sort of way, which again, you re-folded and preserved in its original envelope.

We actually lost track of time, I think, before the subject turned to Erin, who had yet to arrive. And just as it did, the phone rang. Yep, Erin. Frantically apologetic, explaining that she had slept a little too long, ran a little too far, and was running a little bit late. I assured her that it was okay, and let her go to take care of whatever business she still had to do.

Now, at this point I was starting to wonder if we were going to make it to Grande Jake’s as planned. You see, it’s been a little… challenging… knowing when their hours are. There are times when you’d think they’d be open, and when you get there to order something for takeout, they’re closed. I even ran into the proprietor one time when I was trying to do a lunch takeout, and he was closing up the place; he informed me that their hours would be from three until eight p.m. going forward, due to the labor shortage. So, as the time crept along, I began to wonder if we needed to change our plan.

Fortunately, I had an alternative in my back pocket. And to be honest, it would be more convenient to go to Señor Tacos in any event, because it was closer, not to mention en route to Kimball Hill Park (we had originally planned to set up a picnic at Busse Woods, but Erin was suitably impressed by Kimball Hill on our walk this past Tuesday that she suggested relocating).

And by the time Erin actually did get here, it was decidedly past eight. I figured we might be out of luck, but Logan went online (in order to determine what he might want) and saw that Jake’s claimed to be open until nine. So the three of us piled in the car to check it out, while Daniel and Logan stayed behind.

You’re familiar with the expression ‘the lights are on, but nobody’s home.’ That was about what we encountered. Several neon lights – including one actually saying “OPEN” – were on in the front windows, but the place was dark and empty. Erin ran up to the front door to check the actual hours, but they weren’t particularly clear either, noting that certain days the hours ran from 130 to… 000? Ellen, in particular, shook her head, saying that this was no way to win customers and influence repeat business, at least not positively.

At least the back up plan worked perfectly well, although since their hours were only until nine, we got there with barely half an hour to spare. But we got everything we wanted (at least, so we thought) and made our way back home (to drop off food for the boys) and heading out to the park.

By now, it was actually getting dark. Not grey, not twilight, dark. Ellen suggested, much to Erin’s dismay, that we not bother with the park. “I want to be able to see my food,” was her explanation.

Hey, her birthday, her rules.

We were almost to the house when Erin gasped, “Oh! I forgot to order my horchata!” Ellen and I each briefly considered offering to turn back, but at this time of night, I think we all agreed that the place would actually be closing up, and we would hardly be welcome. And as it turned out, once we were inside, I realized I forgot to order a bag of chips (you remember, theirs are amazing). At least in both cases, we hadn’t ordered or paid for them, so it’s not like we lost money on the deal. Just… completely forgot.

So, a change in restaurant, skipping the park, forgetting to complete our orders… are we missing anything else? Oh, yes… By not going to the park, we’re skipping out on the walk, too. Although, I think only Erin was truly heartbroken about that.

Although, speaking of Erin and heartbreak, I don’t remember if she spoke to you about it, but she’s been asking me about certain things that she thought she had lent us, and that I haven’t been able to find throughout all of the cleaning process. I’m still not sure when – or if – the Rich Mullins CDs will ever show up. But it turns out her books about the Wayside School were at her house all this time. Her aunt just found them the other day, and asked her if she wanted them back. So that’s one concern about lost possessions resolved.

I don’t think we finished dinner until a quarter to ten or so, and so it was pitch black by the time the girls decided to go out again and pick more raspberries. Ellen had forgotten to bring a container, but Erin had several. Trust her to be prepared. To be fair, Ellen was prepared in her own way, and brought several flashlights and a headlamp – you know, the one that she uses when she’s doing counted cross stitch. We brought Chompers out with us – a little early for his final walk of the night, but still – and went to work picking. Erin’s aunt wants a shoot from our raspberry bush, as hers was destroyed a few years ago by some overzealous landscapers. Given how overgrown it is, I’m more than happy to share. Her aunt also advises me to cut it almost completely down at the end of the growing season, otherwise it’ll absolutely take over the backyard, and I’ll admit, we’ve got more than enough raspberries as it is.

We filled up all of Erin’s containers, and came in to (more or less) say our goodbyes. I set Chompers down in the bedroom, and gave him his other nighttime treats – not without a little trepidation, as I worried whether he would fall asleep with all the people and commotion in the dining room. It seems I needn’t have, as he settled in pretty quickly – which raised a further concern in the back of my mind, that he would sleep soundly now, but then wake up in the wee hours needing to pee again. Now that was a concern I should have listened to.

It took us the better part of half an hour before everybody was out the door. And again, it’s not like I really wanted them to go. I was just worried about whether I’d get enough sleep.

And of course, hours after everyone’s gone home and the lights have been switched out, and we’ve been asleep for an hour or so, Chompers wakes up at one in the morning, and realizes it’s only now that he has to go pee. So, before he can bark, I have to wake up, throw something on, and get him outside before he does something else.

Even more annoying, while I did have to wake up this morning for the men’s Bible study, I didn’t need to wake up at 5:30. But that’s when Chompers did, so… here I am, trying to recap all this while I’m waiting for him to settle down so I can take a shower.

Oh well. I shouldn’t be too resentful of him. After all, it wasn’t my birthday.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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