Yesterday, on the eve of your 49th birthday, I was running late for work because I went through a dozen outfits before settling on one that didn’t make me look as fat and bloated as I felt. You came to gently warn me that my bus was just a few minutes away. I scowled. You offered to pour me a cup of coffee to take on the bus. I snapped: I never want coffee to-go! (I don’t; invariably I will spill it on myself.) When I lamented that I had cramps and back pain but the Advil was all the way upstairs, you dashed away to fetch me not one, but two pills.
I apologized for being a bitch. You riffed on that line from The Princess Bride: “You’re not a bitch, you’re my wife.” We both laughed. Then I almost cried because I’m almost 50 and am afraid I’m starting to look it, with my bloated and/or fat self that doesn’t look the way I want to look. “Don’t think about those things,” you said. “Just know that I love you.” And we hugged, and I felt my bitchiness melt a bit, and then I left. If you were grateful that I was gone I do not blame you – it might be better for me to focus my period rage on people I am not married and/or related to. Especially on the eve of your 49th birthday.
So while it's your birthday, I feel I'm the one who has been given the gift. You have always been my stresstab, my zen, the force that grounds me back to earth. When I am flailing emotionally, you inspire me with common sense. When I am crying out of anger or hurt, you validate my feelings. You have always been my champion and my warrior, and my best counselor. You’re the person I want to tell everything, from the latest annoying interaction at work to a period-triggered rant. And you’ve always listened to me, and made me feel safe in the stories I tell, and that tops the reasons I love you so fully deeply truly.
You’re also someone I admire tremendously, for your talent, your grit, your heart, and your humor. When we first met, at age 15, you ensnared me with your drive and determination, coupled with the talent to match. I knew whatever you wanted you would achieve, and life put that to the test. Very little professionally has come easy for you, but you have never, ever given up. Even in the darkest hours, you persevered.
A year ago, on your 48th birthday, you were coming up on the year-anniversary of being thrust unceremoniously onto the job market, in the middle of a pandemic no less. The unemployment benefits that had kept us afloat had run out. Our daughter was starting to apply to colleges. The bills were piling up. But it was your birthday, and I insisted on celebrating it. You had been through so much, and job or no job, you are the person I always want to celebrate simply for who you are.
I woke up early that day and packed a charcuterie lunch. I bought a large bottle of not-great wine. I packed everything into insulated bags, and we took our beach chairs on the ferry and headed to Brooklyn Bridge Park. It was an unseasonably warm day, the sun shining bright, and we ate cheese and drank cheap wine and stared at the Manhattan skyline. And we hoped. And we sighed. And we held each other’s hands, and we committed to pushing through this challenge together, knowing that as long as we had each other everything else would fall into place eventually. It was your birthday, but it was a bittersweet day because neither of us knew when this crucible would end. There were so many unknowns, but I still remember the pure joy I felt holding your hand, and the faith I had in the energy that passed between us. No matter what life threw at us, I knew we would be okay because we were able to still turn toward each other, and not away.
A couple of weeks later you got a job interview. Followed by several rounds of interviews. A little over a month after that bleak but beautiful October day, our prayers were answered. You were offered not just a job, but the perfect job. A job you would love. The job that would make all of our short-term needs and even some long-term dreams possible. I thought about the many days you spent sitting on the couch, revising your resume and writing cover letters, the times I’d catch you scrolling through LinkedIn in the middle of the night, the way you found ways to save us money—you did bake a lot of bread, refused to buy anything for yourself, even tried to talk me into selling the car that you loved (I refused).
When you got the job, the first thing you said was to our daughter: “Now you can go to any college you want.” For all the challenges unemployment gave you personally—the self-doubt, the frustration, the Sisyphean tasks that defined every day of job hunting—the win in the end was not about what you could achieve for yourself, but what you could give to your family. And that is who you are your core: A person who values family over everything and whose greatest joys come from making the people he loves happy.
You get this, and so many other qualities, from your dad. Pops would be so proud of your tenacity, of your sacrifice, and your tremendously huge heart. You remind me of him every time you warn us all about the day’s weather, encouraging everyone to wear more layers than likely needed and, do you need a hat? Your love of cooking and feeding people comes from him, as does your wanting to have everyone together to complete a task even if the task doesn’t require everyone. Your love of knowledge, and your great empathy for the world around you, especially the natural world – these are all him in you. I see it, and consider us all blessed.
You are a giver, and as a result I have received the greatest gift of all. I long ago realized that all good things in my life came because I met you. A strong and loving marriage (24 years!), two amazing children who have been blessed with your talents and kind heart, and a foundation that keeps me rooted despite what storms arise in our lives.
On your birthday, I want you to know that I am blessed to have someone who knows me so well, who loves me when I’m at my worst, who celebrates me when I’m at my best, and has never ceased making me feel like I am the most amazing person you’ve ever met. Ever. Even on the days when I am far from my best, you find a way to love me still and make me laugh.
The unconditional nature of your love still absolutely boggles my mind, but then I realize that’s exactly how I feel about you.
Our lives together have rarely been easy or peaceful, and there have been a lot of challenges and upheaval. But I wouldn’t want to be on this journey with anyone but you, and am so grateful that you chose me. Happy birthday, my love.