Today is E.S.’s birthday.
A few weeks ago, he got his call schedule for the hospital and found out that he’d be on long call today–that is, that he’d go in to work at 6:30 in the morning and leave somewhere between 9:00 and 11:00 at night. This was, as you can imagine, a blow, not only for him but also for me, as I’d been looking forward to spending the day with him, and now I wouldn’t get more than an hour or two–and probably less, as he’s usually so exhausted after long call that he goes right to sleep (though often I’m able to persuade him to participate in certain activities pleasurable to both of us before he falls into the arms of Morpheus).
So I sat thinking, what can I do to celebrate E.S.’s birthday in absentia? I struggled long and hard with this question before stumbling across the utterly obvious answer that had been staring me in the face the whole time: I would pay someone to dress up as a gorilla and bring E.S. balloons and sing him Happy Birthday.
This was easier said than done, but eventually I found a satisfactory company and arranged the whole thing. I ended up discarding the gorilla in favor of a chicken because, although gorillas have the weight of tradition behind them, chickens are funnier. So a guy (or perhaps a girl) in a chicken suit would show up at the hospital between 10:30 and 11:30 (the chicken costume was only available before 2:00) bearing balloons, flowers, and a box of Godiva chocolates. He (or perhaps she) would then sing a personalized birthday song based on details I provided about E.S.
Fast forward to this morning, at 6:00, when E.S. still wasn’t awake. Worried, I woke him up. “You should shower and go,” I said. “You’re going to be late.”
“No, I’m not,” he said. “I got somebody else to take my shift so I could spend the morning with you! I don’t have to be there until noon! Surprise!”
I felt sick.
“I hate to tell you this,” I said, “but you have to be there at 10:30.”
“Why? Did you arrange a surprise for me or something?”
“Yes,” I said, gritting my teeth.
“I’m not telling.” Even if he knew something was going to happen, I could still surprise him with the particulars. “But you have to be there at 10:30.”
“That’s too bad. I’m not going in until noon.”
There was no way around it. I was going to have to reveal the whole plot.
“If I tell you what it is, will you please, please, please go in?”
“Oh, all right. But I hope it’s not something stupid that I won’t like, like a happy birthday singing telegram or something.”
“Um . . . yes. With flowers and balloons and chocolates. And dressed like a chicken.”
He stared at me. “In the CANCER WARD?”
I defended myself. “Look, when my mother was dying, she would have been HAPPY to see a giant singing chicken, okay?”
I spoke with him at noon. The chicken had apparently been a big hit. “I was mortified,” he said, “but in a good way.”
I have to say, of all who give gifts we two may not be the wisest, here or anywhere, but magi are, alas, in short supply these days, so can you blame us for making do?