Another Surprise

Several weeks ago Michael began researching hot tubs. “Just because we rent doesn’t mean we can’t have the things we want,” he told me. Even if such purchases require us to reinforce and extend the deck.

So a few days ago when I walked out onto the front porch and saw an outdoor heating lamp, I just rolled my eyes and went back inside. Michael had mentioned this potential addition to our life a few days earlier. Little did I know it was bought for a particular occasion: a large party Michael was having. Completely unbeknownst to me. In honor of my upcoming fortieth birthday.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary: My parents calling to say they wanted to come down to visit, Michael making plans for dinner and a show while they’re here, Michael hatching a plan for a male bonding adventure with my dad–helping reinforce the aforementioned deck–while Mom and I take off shopping.

So when Mom and I turned onto Shelburne Drive, I didn’t think anything amiss. I could’ve sworn a sign we passed said my name and the word “Compostela”, but that didn’t make sense. And all those balloons and cars? Well, the neighbors stopped by weeks ago inviting us to their fall party. And when I turned into the driveway and saw a fire pit that wasn’t there when we left? Well, by now I’m used to new purchases showing up around the house without my knowledge.

But then I saw Michael on the front stairs, and I read the large sign hanging from our deck–a sign that announced to anyone walking by exactly how old I will be in two weeks time. And just to be clear you knew who they were talking about, my picture was on it.

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But behind that sign is what brought tears to my eyes: a crowd of people larger than I would have ever expected to see at our house–because Michael always says it’s too small to host a large party. Turns out he was wrong.

There were people there from every part of my Asheville life:

  • David and Deanne, the wonderful couple in whose house I lived for seven months when I moved here.
  • Their son Fletcher who had no problem sharing his parents with me.
  • Mark and Linda, Lauren and John, Barbara, Chris S and Chris Y, with whom I’ve spent countless Tuesday mornings recalling Camino memories.
  • Barry and Margaret, Michael’s best friends who, four years ago, convinced Michael to move to Asheville.
  • Rick and Pamela, a couple Michael and I met while hanging out at the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar a couple years ago (because talking to strangers is a perfectly normal way to meet people here).
  • And then all my friends from the Asheville Hiking Group (and the friends they’ve since brought into their lives, and now into  mine): Brooke, Julie, Sarah, Ashely, Ruth, Jewel, Anna, Jeff, Kim, Doug, Tracey. And Mike The Hiker. Who received that nickname when I lived with David and Deanne so they could distinguish him from “Dr. Mike”– and (eventually) Michael–when I sat around at their dinner table telling stories of my Asheville adventures.

On my 36th birthday, many of these same hiking groups friends sat around the table as Mike The Hiker told us about the woman he’d just met.  Three years later, she became his wife. And thank God for that. Because I understand Michael decided, just a couple weeks ago, that he needed some reinforcements for party preparations. And he called Mike and Ashley. Mike, who had his ACL replaced a couple weeks ago, and Ashley, whose first experience with our hiking group friends was an 8 mile hike that turned into 14. They didn’t hesitate.

“In your brace?” I said when I saw Mike on my deck. “You came and helped when you just had surgery?!”

“Oh, this was so entertaining!” he told me. “Watching Michael and your father trying to put that fire pit together, and then when the sign fell off the deck, and then . . .” My mother wished she had hired a videographer to catch all mayhem that she knew would ensue because Michael chose to have my dad stay back and help instead of her.

“We needed you out of the house for five hours,” Michael told me. “And you can’t survive alone with your dad for that long.”

“Oh, you should have seen Michael this morning,” my mother said. “He didn’t want you too hungry or tired because then you’d be crabby. But he didn’t want you too full because we were having all this food. And he didn’t want us to go shopping too early because then we’d get back too early.”

 

Well, he pulled it off. I arrived neither hungry, nor full, nor crabby, and spent the rest of the evening marveling at the event Michael (and Mike, Ashley, my parents, and friends) had all managed to put together.

Postscript: The heating lamp still stands on our front deck. Reinforcing the back deck? A hoax. The hot tub? Not a hoax. It will arrive in two weeks.

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A New Year’s Valentine’s Day Gift (How We Met: Part 4)

My second date with Michael (or the third, depending on which of us you’re talking to) was one of those marathon dates newly-dating people do. We began mid-morning with a trip to Good Will to find sweaters for an Ugly Sweater Christmas party that night. After fifteen minutes, we had our choices. We put them on the scale (this Good Will Outlet charges by the pound) and Michael plopped down $3.18.

Bags in hand, we headed to a costume shop to hunt down matching costumes for a themed New Year’s Eve party the following weekend. Michael wouldn’t let me pay for those either.

New Year's Costumes

New Year’s Costumes

Hungry and not yet sick of each other, we shared a late lunch at my favorite restaurant downtown, and then took a walk around Asheville.

During the walk, Michael asked if I collected any art.

“Not really, but I’d like to start. I actually have my eye on a piece in a gallery here.”

“Oh yeah? What is it?”

“It’s a ceramic boat. But on top of it is a scene that looks straight out of the Camino. There’s an old church, a path running in front of it, a little bridge crossing a creek. And you know what’s really funny? The piece is called, ‘The Pilgrimage.'”

Why I hadn’t bought it yet, I wasn’t sure. Or so I told him.

The following weekend Michael came to pick me up for the first of two New Year’s Eve parties we would be attending. I opened the door to my back porch to find him standing with a wrapped box in his hands. This was the third time he’d brought me a wrapped gift in as many weeks.

“What’s this for?” I asked.

“Well, it’s your Valentine’s Day gift, but I couldn’t wait that long to give it to you.”

Valentine’s Day was not even on my radar, let alone the thought that Michael and I would still be dating by then. Not that I didn’t think it possible, I just wasn’t in the habit of planning six weeks into the future when you’ve been dating for less than four.

I invited him in. He put the box down on a table while I finished getting ready for the party. I opened the door to leave and he said, “You’re not going to open it?”

“I thought you said it was for Valentine’s Day.” 

“It is. But I want you to open it now.” I peeled off the paper, opened the box, and moved tissue paper aside to find The Pilgrimage. I stood there speechless, mouth agape, looking from him to the box and back again.

“I can’t believe you did this,” I said to him. “How did you . . . I didn’t even tell you what gallery it was in.”

“Yeah, that took some searching.”

In the car on the way to the party, Michael told me how he remembered the name of the piece, and what it looked like, so he Googled it.  Eventually he found a blog post I had written about it–a blog post that included the name of the gallery. 

He went to the gallery, but didn’t see it. When he then asked, he was told it had been moved into storage downstairs, so they went to get it for him. He plopped down his credit card and, four hundred dollars later, it was his. And now mine.

The Pilgrimage

The Pilgrimage

And that’s why I hadn’t bought it yet. I couldn’t justify spending that much money on myself. All in one place. And on just one thing–a thing that served no other purpose than to remind me of one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.  Michael, however, thought I was worth it.