Sweet Reflections from My Birthday Treasure Chest
We’d been dating precisely four months when my birthday arrived. I’d never been one to make a fuss about it like some are wont to do—I didn’t let friends know the day was approaching, and I certainly didn’t plan a festive party around it. I usually let it pass like any other unremarkable day.
But early in our relationship, Jimmy had prodded me for my birthdate and proceeded to commit it to memory. What a sharp memory he had, because beginning in early October, he was perpetually reminding me that a special day was around the corner. I reddened with timidity each time he mentioned it.
That year, my birthday fell on a Tuesday. In effect, it was Tuesday, November 1st, 2011, or 11-1-11. The palindromic nature of the date captivated my mathematical mind more than the personal significance behind it—inordinately self-deprecating, I know!
|Birthday pain perdu at Lola (Naas)|
Jimmy had started a new job just a month earlier, after a summer hiatus of "in between jobs." November 1st marked his first payday, and I’d been insisting we defer the birthday revels to the weekend—there was nothing incredibly pressing that couldn’t wait. I empathized.
But Jimmy would hear nothing of it. November 1, rain or shine, we would celebrate.
He'd asked me to wait for him after work directly rather than head home first—I sensed his excitement and politely agreed. So to the office that day I donned a casual-chic dress with a beautifully beaded collar. Over my lunch break, I walked to the nearby salon and had my curly hair tamed for a more polished look.
Jimmy was determined to make the hour-long drive from Verdun to Jdeideh during peak rush hour to pick me up, but I refused, hitching a ride with a colleague to Tabaris and meeting him at our favorite stomping grounds, downtown Beirut.
There he waited, decked in a suit and tie and grinning boyishly at me while balancing a white paper box in his hand. He gestured toward it, saying "dessert first," so we ambled to the benches behind Riad el Solh and sat facing the ancient Roman thermal baths.
Jimmy motioned for me to push back the box's flap-top lid, and inside were nestled three moist cake balls from Le Gustav. We’d discovered the Hamra patisserie a few months earlier, going berserk over the decadent red velvet- and chocolate-flavored globes of cloyingly sweet goodness. Jimmy thought they would make the perfect birthday treat and had trekked nearly a mile each way on his lunch hour to fetch them for me.
Our dinner reservation was for 8 p.m. at an elegant restaurant in Achrafieh by the name of Julia’s—today, sadly, it is no more. Jimmy had booked one of the private dining verandas enclosed by a transparent vinyl curtain. It was magnificent, even if the entire restaurant was vacant that evening and could have seated us anywhere in solitude.
He leafed through the menu with a discerning eye, the kind of confidence becoming of a seasoned chef or gourmet who knows what’s worth trying. Champignons forestière, côte de bœuf pour deux, deux verres du vin rouge. It was a mouthwatering feast.
Five days later, on a small Saturday excursion up to Broumanna, Jimmy pulled over, parking on an unpaved stretch of land overlooking the valley. He reached into the backseat and presented me with a bag. Inside, a mug and saucer with “I Love You” printed all over it (which today doubles as my cereal mug in the office); a glass bottle filled with Smarties; an adorable plush stuffed animal; and a lyrical poem that Jimmy had authored himself, rolled up into a scroll, and bound with a red ribbon. I beamed at him with childlike delight, but he beckoned to the glove compartment. Inside awaited me a delicate Carati necklace with a purple-stone heart pendant.
Every year since, Jimmy has continued to sweep me off my feet, even when I’m convinced it can’t get any better. A long weeknight drive to Byblos, when he was ill and exhausted and his taste buds dulled, in pursuit of a rustic steak dinner at Éddé Yard. A surprise visit to the mountains in Naas for a cozy French meal at Lola. A window-side table at the swanky La Petite Maison for fine Niçoise-inspired cuisine.
This year, I have no idea what’s in the works, and that element of surprise renders me giddy like a kid. I count my blessings for having made it to another year, another number, though I try to shrug off the gnawing fact that essentially, I’m growing up.
But I suppose that’s not such a bad thing, is it? Not when I have him and his pure heart to grow old with.
|Jimmy and me|