This is the second year in a row that I’ve been absent from any celebration with Dennis on his birthday. Today he turns one year older and while I am sitting on my orange couch writing this, he is in New York with his family eating good food. Last year he was in New Zealand and I’d just left him after a month-long visit to come back here to Brazil. He spent that day doing farm work and then went out for a boat ride. Today, one year later, he’s well underway living his dream of working in film and was congratulated by his colleagues on doing great work over the weekend on a photography project he did for this film. Lots of things can happen in a person’s year; just look at his. He went from chasing chickens on a farm to scouting film locations in New York. Who knew?
It’s hard to be away from him on occasions like this because today is a day when a person should wake up and be greeted with a big hug and kiss, not wait through two different work schedules and three time zones for a phone call. I did my best to wish him Happy Birthday over the phone–even adding extra energy to my voice–but saying that isn’t enough, not when I’m 10 thousand miles away. “Happy Birthday!” just isn’t enough. When I told him I didn’t know what to do for his birthday, he responded in the most humble of ways, like he always does: “Just tell me you love me.” This kind of response is exactly why I love him; but, of course, it’s just one in a long list of reasons.
I told him I’d write him a Happy Birthday something and so I wondered and wondered all day how I would put it into words. I didn’t get him a present this year, or last year either. Since we’ve known each other, his birthday isn’t something he’s really into celebrating and each year when the day approaches, the familiar sense of panic arises in my stomach like I should be finding something for him, some special thing I know he’d love. The distance complicates matters like gift-giving and birthday-celebrating and there’s not much more I can give him than words, either spoken or written, which pale in comparison to something tangible.
And then I remembered some pictures we’d taken together while I was sick when I went home for Christmas this year. We were lying around goofing off with my computer and took a series of silly photos. Here’s one of them. That he was willing to get that close to me when I was that sick should tell you how wonderful he is to begin with.
The thing is, when it comes to being mushy and poetic and romantic, I’m not that good at expressing myself, and neither is he. And so that works out just perfectly for the both of us because what we’re left with is telling it like it is. And so today I’m telling it like it is with all that mushy stuff on the side.
Two years ago, Dennis told me with certainty he’d pick me up at the airport when I came home from my two years in Brazil. When I asked him how he could know that, how he could say that with such confidence, he just looked at me and smiled and said, “I just know.”
And so when I look at the picture of the two of us, and when I think back on the two years we’ve been apart, I feel closer to him than I ever have before. There we are in the same frame up there, smiling and comfortable. And all I could ever wish for is for more of the same. He is my best friend, the most giving and selfless person I have ever met. He is a hard worker and despite the hours he puts in on a job, he will still let me pick out whatever I want to watch on TV at the end of the day. He bought a 50 foot ethernet cord for me so I could bring my computer into any room I want to in my house and not have to sit on the floor next to the outlet. He will make me breakfast and will hand me chapstick without my even needing to ask. He will call me from Walgreens just to tell me he’s at Walgreens. He remembers all my nicknames. When I am grumpy, which is often, not once have I ever heard him complain and tell me to cut it out or to grow up or to get over it. He has any number of rescue remedies for my mood swings, not a single one that he’s used twice. Even though he loves skiing more than any sport anywhere, on Christmas day he gave up a day of that sport so he could strap on a snowboard for the first time because he knew I needed a confidence boost with respect to my own snowboard skills and I’d feel better if he wiped out all the time. And no matter how hard I cry and fuss and yell at him when I fall down, he will not continue down the hill until I prove I’m not hurt. He was with me on the day my mom told me my cat died and when I sobbed for hours, he was so clueless about what to do or say that he didn’t do or say anything, and to both of our surprises that turned out to be exactly what I needed. He is always exactly what I need.
I’ve never heard him say a bad word about anybody, and if he’s said it, he’s never meant it for longer than a moment or two until he can look at the person in a different light, which he always does. He always gives someone the benefit of the doubt and he always errs on the side of compassion. He is dedicated and full of honor. He has allowed me to understand what trust feels like. He has friends who I love and he’s been friends with them his whole life. He comes from a family I not only admire but who I hope one day to be just like. He comes from love and therefore emanates love in a million little ways. And I am the luckiest for being a recipient of that love.
I know right now he’s probably blushing or laughing. Or both. And I know he’s rolling his eyes and thinking, “There she goes again.” But Den? It’s the truth. And I know it’s just a birthday and that a birthday is like any other day really. But these are things I should tell you everyday. They’re the things you should just know.
Je t’aime, patate.
Most in the world.
I promise it.