Lion in Winter

You know, after the mad rush to get to the end of that godforsaken year and the insane crush of work I leapt into the moment 2008 hit, I hadn’t given much thought to my birthday.

Before my friend Ian left for England in December, over a cup of desperately-needed whipped cream and caffeine, he had asked me about my big birthday plans.

“Well,” I said, licking the caramel off the plastic lid, “I’ve been invited to Portland, but I imagine I’ll be mired in editing at the time on top of all the other work I have to do. So nothing, really.”

And suddenly “nothing” sounded like the most wonderful thing in the world.

Ian smiled one of those unconvinced smiles. “I’ll get you something in England,” he said. I smiled back. He knows how much I miss England. Even if he never got around to it, I’d love him just the same.

Soon after, Ian sent me a Zen Christmas card reminding me that every snowflake lands where it’s supposed to land. His message inside said, “Be the snowflake.”

My friends rock.

Mom had sent me a card for my birthday, with instructions not to open it until the day of. I received it in my cavernous, Andre Norton-sized mailbox (my birthday gift from my parents while they were here over the holidays), and tossed it on the dining room table with the rest of the neglected envelopes there.

Despite the intense workload, I still wasn’t sleeping well. I’d get up at 4am and lie in bed, my brain too busy to be bothered with sleeping and my body too pissed off to move. So I started making a list of all the “nothing” I wanted to do for my birthday.

I’d get take-out, of course, because I had no desire to cook anything. I didn’t want to go anywhere, but sitting in front of the TV and watching a movie sounded divine. A bath and the Christmas episode of Doctor Who — that had to be on the agenda for sure. A hot cup of tea. A brisk walk on the treadmill. There were also several stories by my friends that I had lined up to read, and I looked forward to getting to those as well. Above all, no work (despite the obligatory dayjob). No writing, and no editing. No fables, no fairy tales. Zip. Zero.

When I told Sami my plans, she was jealous. So I’m guessing they were pretty good plans.

Had I thought about it, I would have put “sleep” on that list too. Like clockwork I woke up at 4am on January 11th, the first day of my to-be-infamous thirty-second year, and with an exasperated sigh, I got out of bed. I played on the computer for a little while, grinning at the messages from Australia where my creaky bones were old news already. The hour ticked over to five, and I looked at the pile of junk mail on the table.

That’s right. It was my birthday now. I could open that card.

It had a bunch of ladybugs on it all marching in order, with one wandering off to the side, no doubt distracted by a stray patch of sun or a four-leaf clover or a shiny…anything. The card said, “You’re one in a million!” My curse and my blessing. My parents know me so well.

I flipped open the card…and inside was a poem.
A riddle.
A birthday riddle.
A friggin’ Jane Austenesque RHYMING birthday riddle.
Oh my god.

Now, keep in mind, it’s 5am. As busy as my brain already was with calculating the time in Melbourne, the price of tea at the current exchange rate, why the Brits don’t just say “garden variety” like the rest of us do, and how the flapping of a butterfly’s wings might affect my lawn service bill, it was definitely not up to the challenge of walking into my parents’ twisted minds and figuring out what the heck “bridges and crossroads and highways” had to do with being to the left of “spiders and vermin and slithery things.”

But the synapses did fire enough to realize the important part: While Mom and Dad were here over the holidays, they had HIDDEN my birthday present somewhere in or around my house, and now I had to FIND IT.

Oh my god.

Setting aside the riddle I wasn’t up to solving, I decided to use the Brute Squad approach and simply tear the house apart. My house is not that big. There aren’t a whole lot of places to hide things. Especially things you don’t want to be discovered until you’ve been home in Florida for two weeks.

Highways. Crossroads. Did they hide it OUTSIDE, to the left of the car? I put on my shoes and went poking around the freezing cold bushes by the dawn’s early light. Surely they wouldn’t have left it out in the elements. But maybe…spiders and vermin? Was it in the backyard shed? To the left of the lawn mower? A quick trek through the house and across the lawn. No dice.

Giving up any thought of arriving at work on time, I stomped back into the house and stared up at the attic. It was the only place left. I pulled down the folding stairs, turned on the light, and climbed up.

There’s a decent amount of junk in my attic, but not a ton, and it’s all very organized. There’s still stuff from the previous owners I never had the energy to drag down and dispose of. There are boxes for Christmas and boxes for Halloween, and boxes with journals and yearbooks and Star Wars toys. There are empty boxes for some of the electronics I have because you never know when you’ll need a serial number. And there are the remnants of my life at the movie theatre: the posters, the ammo box of buttons, the batsignal I painted for the marquee, and the standees.

Including my life-size Kurt Russell from Escape from L.A., with a yellow caution sign beside him announcing, “Snake Xing.”

HIGH ways.
CROSS roads.
Slithery things.
Those clever toads.

To the left of Snake Plissken, covered in a soft painting tarp, was a beautiful, oversized suitcase. It’s positively marvelous — now I don’t have to borrow Janet’s every time I go overseas, or to an awards ceremony. I pulled it out from behind the row of empty boxes.

A beautiful, oversized, HEAVY suitcase.
It was full of presents.
My parents rock.

I was a little late for work, but not terribly. I decorated my office and wore a tiara around all day. Some people noticed, and some people didn’t bat an eyelash. Hard to say which group made me happier. My boys at Solaris sent a beautiful bouquet of pink and yellow happiness so that I could stop and smell the roses whenever I wanted to. Dee took me out for lunch, and I OD’d on frappucinos and thai iced tea.

Turns out I had made far more plans than I had time for. Take-out became leftover pad thai, and I watched Sense and Sensibility before crashing. I made time for the other stuff over the weekend; I secretly squeezed it all in between everything else and stretched my birthday out for a good long while.

And every day I asked Glenn if my present from England had come, and every day our Mail Guru shook his head.

I knew what it was — Ian had let it slip after New Year’s during my enthusiastic interrogation and his multi-media presentation on how his trip went. But it was arriving separately, and I just had to be patient. Ian knows me so well. Damn him.

Late Tuesday, five minutes before I left work, during an animated discussion of butterflies and the New York Times with the owner of the lawn service, Ian’s package arrived. I was giddy and dancing around the office before I even opened it. There, under the paper, in blue and white and stripes and lions, straight on the heels of their Saturday win, was my very own Chelsea football club scarf.

“You’re officially a Chelsea supporter now,” Ian said when I thanked him for the millionth time.

Why, yes. I suppose I am.

I turned left onto the highway that night, warm and blue and pink and yellow and full of happiness as the other snowflakes fell around me. I pulled in behind a humongous truck with a license plate that said: MISTHNG.

Why, yes. I suppose I am.
Murphy knows me so well.

I am Miss Thing, and this is my year.
The Year of the Lion.
Hear me roar!