Ringing in a Dark Birthday

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK



            There are certain questions guaranteed – absolutely guaranteed – to cause trouble: “What else could go wrong?” “What does this do?” “Why don’t we invade Russia?”

            I planned to cook my fiancĂ©e a birthday dinner. My question:

            “How hard could it be?”

            Emily didn’t try to stop me, so in my mind she’s at least partially responsible. The plan was simple: I would take one room in the house and clean it to within an inch of its life, and there we would have a romantic, candlelit dinner to celebrate her birthday, which happens to fall on December 21st. As that’s normally the shortest day of the year and the first day of winter, before I met her it was traditionally my day of mourning.

            This year the world is scheduled to end on that date, so you’d better believe I’m just going to take her out to an expensive restaurant. According to the Mayans, the VISA bill won’t arrive next January.

            This year the normal “what could go wrong?” festivities began three weeks earlier, when I got sick – as is also a tradition for me in December. Then she got sick. Then I got new medicine, which cleared up the original problem but made me sicker. Then she was put on an antibiotic that actually has the word “nitro” in the title, a warning sign if I ever heard one, and it made her sicker.

To make matter worse, she’d ordered something special for me that didn’t arrive in time for an earlier anniversary of our relationship, so when it arrived she began agonizing over when to give it to me.

It was under these circumstances that we entered the week of her birthday, so I threw caution to the wind and suggested we just go out to eat.

            She refused, citing money issues. See why I love her so? Ordinarily I could be nothing but thankful to have someone who doesn’t want to spend money, but I was seeing the big picture: I owed her a meal, and I cook about as well as I do car maintenance – usually with the same disastrous results.

            The next day, while still trying to talk her into it, I took my car to my son-in-law so he could change the oil (see above about car maintenance). As I sat inside, pretending to play with my grandsons while actually nursing a massive headache, he came in with the same look I get whenever someone says “snowstorm”: “You need to see something,” he intoned.

            The tread was coming off my tire. Just … peeling off. Like it was something I’d glued on. “How far can I drive on this?” I asked.

            “Across town. To the tire place.”

            So I gave up hopes of taking Emily out to dinner, or of sneaking take-out into the house, and settled on … cooking. Also, I needed to make a cake. And, because we’d both been so sick for so long (being sick together isn’t nearly as romantic as they make it sound in Hollywood), a room still had to be cleaned.

            And that’s when I said it: “I have a day, extra-strength ibuprofen, and antibiotics … how hard could it be?”

            I’d never made salmon before. Or deep fried anything. Or made a cake. And once I got into the nook and crannies of the kitchen, I got to thinking I’d never cleaned it before, either.

            No, it didn’t turn out to be the perfect birthday for her. I mean … it’s me. Although I managed the cake myself, she had to help me figure out the salmon (thank you, George Foreman) and the frying. In addition, she didn’t want to wait on that present for me – so I got a gift that day, too.

            Still, we did have our candlelight dinner – for some reason I have thousands of candles packed away in the basement – and the kitchen (we didn’t have the energy to move our table into the dining room) looked pretty good if you squinted in the candlelight. I also learned a few lessons along the way:

            Red velvet cake resembles something bloody at every step of the process. For awhile my kitchen looked like the lair of a serial killer.

            Fish can taste pretty good even without breading. Why was I never told?

            Other than food, no good can come from a pan of boiling grease.

            Overall, despite our high level of physical misery and the fact that the act of eating exhausted us to the point of collapse, we had a pretty good time. After recovering she left the room, and returned with something behind her back. I don’t recall her exact words, as I really wasn’t expecting this, but I’ll paraphrase.

            “I wanted to get you the Moon and the stars and the universe and everything … so I did.” Then she got down on one knee and held out a ring. “Will you marry me?”

            We’d been shopping for wedding rings, so she knew my size, and she knew we were both huge astronomy fans. She presented me with one carved – literally – from a meteorite. It was so much cooler than the engagement ring I gave her.

            Naturally, I said yes.

            What could go wrong? Lots. But that doesn’t mean things don’t go right.


34 comments:

  1. So when's the wedding? And do all your WMD friends get to come? :) There's always SKYPE.

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    1. We were trying to keep the wedding small, but who knows? Maybe we'll set up that Skype connection with a camera and monitor!

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  2. Skype! I hadn't thought of that! It might help with the problem that all her relatives are in southern Missouri, and all mine are in Norther Indiana.

    We haven't set a date yet -- getting married right now would screw up her college financial aid, so we have to get that taken care of, first.

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  3. Great column, Mark -- and congratulations! (on the ring AND the salmon...)

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  4. A ring from a meteorite-that is so way cool! I never understood the attraction of red velvet cake. I don't even know what red velvet tastes like.

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    1. When it comes to cake -- I'm just there for the frosting.

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  5. You will never forget that day! All in all, I would say it was a success!

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  6. Despite all that went wrong it sounds romantic. Congratulations!

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  7. Aw, that sounds so sweet! And here I was expecting you to tell us the kitchen caught fire or something!

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    1. I'm always a little surprised when the kitchen *doesn't* catch fire ...

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  8. I tried smoked salmon for the first time last year when my sister ordered it. It was fabulous. Congratulations on your engagement. :)

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    1. Thanks -- and I guess I'll keep doing salmon, since it's not only good but good for my cholesterol ...

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  9. Fun blog post! I'm glad I found it.

    The only bad thing here is that now that she knows you can cook salmon, there may be an expectation that you do it again and/or try cooking something else! You've set a precedent!

    Congratulations!

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    1. Oh, that's definitely a great fear of mine! Thanks!

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  10. Hey, think of it this way, you're fiancee is a Capricorn and they're used to roughing it. And when dinner or birthdays or whatever go wrong, you have the makings of a LOL post. Thanks for your humor, I need it badly this time of year.

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    1. You don't know the half of it -- she was a Girl Scout for many years! Yes, this is certainly a time of year when we need all the humor we can get.

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  11. How romantic! The whole story is. All I read between the lines was; we love each other. Great story to share. Thanks, Mark.

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    1. When a man's being romantic, it's one of two reasons -- mine is love! :-)

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  12. Sounds like a beautiful beginning! Oh and I have to give you a hard time for not using my Salmon recipe posted on my blog!! Easier than a George Foreman. Moon Child is right about us Capricorn's roughing it, but on our birthdays we like to get spoiled. Thank God my sweetie got that memo!

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    1. Sorry I didn't see the recipe! Emily's totally sold on the Foreman Grill, though ... and at least it's easy to clean up!

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  13. Mr. Hunter, I have a terminal illness and am no longer involved in the humor group. Would you please stop emailing me? Thnak uou.
    Gene L. Gillette

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    1. I'm so sorry to hear about that, Gene. I don't know if you'll get this since you posted anonymously, but I haven't been sending you any direct e-mails. Is it possible the humor group is still set to automatically send you updates? You should be able to turn that off, so they don't bother you.

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  14. Wow -- what an overwhelming response I got to this column! Thanks, everyone -- and as Moon Child says, we all need humor this time of year.

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  15. Congrats to you both! Hope you feel better soon.
    Argus Wayne

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    1. Oh, we're doing okay -- better than last month, anyway. Thanks!

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  16. Congratulations! And even though you were both sick and it was difficult, it was really romantic! Hope you both get well soon. By the way, the ring looks really nice!

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  17. Never ask "how hard could it be" or any variation. You might get an answer.

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  18. Oh, what a story, Mark! You had me laughing right from the start!

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    1. Glad you liked it -- and I didn't even have to embellish!

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