A few days before my 25th birthday, Mitch came in to our corner apartment in the old cigar factory on Edgewater Avenue. It was my first birthday with him, and he'd been shopping for me with his mom. He was carrying a large package when he came in. Wearing a knowing and mysterious smile, he carried it across the room in front of me, and placed it on the extra wide radiator to my left. Without a word, he turned right back around and went back outside to fetch something else he'd forgotten.
As he exited, I answered his wordless invitation, stepped to the radiator, and picked up the box. The department store had wrapped it. The bow was the color of buttercream frosting, and the box navy blue. I felt the mysterious weight, carried it to our mustard-colored sofa, and sunk into its cushions, slowly pulling that silky ribbon. The sound of its sheen rubbing against itself was its own delight. The sturdy box fit tightly together, and pulling the lid off was very satisfying. I smelled the leather before I even unfolded the tissue. And there it was, a leather bag with suede lining, smooth, chocolatey, and lying on its very own dust bag, further proof of its decadence. It was always warm in our boiler-heated apartment, but I had chilly bumps of delight all over my body.
The sound of shock? Or panic, maybe?
His footsteps, the sound of our door closing, traffic outside, a neighbor coming home...those sounds would have found a way to blend harmoniously in that suspended moment where I lingered, holding that leather satchel in my hands. But that staccato exclamation, that monosyllabic agony, was so unexpected and out of place, I jumped.
"It's not your birthday yet! You can't open it. Why? Why would you open it? I wasn't even here!"
His unbelief, his devastation. I was a language he did not understand, a creature he'd never encountered even in pictures. Completely foreign. Incomrehensible.
My realization was imminent and swift. I rushed to smooth out the wet concrete in my mind where I'd been impressing every sensation and detail of this moment. Erase! Delete! Do-over!
"No! I'm sorry. I thought you wanted me to. I thought that's why you left it. Oh Mitch! I'm sorry!"
So many words. So little understanding. And then laughing, but also wanting to cry. Exposed to each other as the story-tellers we are. Planning epic moments, fraught with expectations and assumptions. Writing one another in with intention and detail. Forgetting to be co-authors, and instead writing the same moment in isolation, entirely different than each other. His version, a days-long tease of anticipation with a quiet opening ceremony together on my actual birthday. Mine, an unexpected early surprise and a moment alone to revel in his attentions, while he had the cool grace to leave the room.
Our relationship was months old then. A few years later a leather tote looked more like an engagement ring, and a birthday surprise strategy like a proposal. Today, a little boy and our best guess at how to be his parents, occupies us, the story-tellers. His version. My version. Constantly bursting in on the other, reminding each other we are co-authors. Some days we catch each other in time. We get a chance to smooth the wet cement and begin again together before it hardens. On the others we're left with a hard mess of his and her versions, like a birthday plan to spoil her that she totally spoiled. One way or the other, we learn to write it better together next time.