How to throw a surprise party for someone who detests surprises:
- Anticipate the needs of the person the surprise is honoring, and make those a priority.
- Inform guests of the schedule (and verify their knowledge) so they may be the best co-conspirators on the face of the planet.
- Allow a graduation of events. Expect something to exhaust itself and be ready with the next order.
How it started
My 2nd baby just turned a year old, I was still nursing, and I was particularly tired at the moment that planning ought to have started for my 30th. My husband wistfully reminded me of my favorite restaurant on the island, and the capacity he and my brother had together, to take me to it. That minimal effort on my part, would produce the maximum reward. I nodded Yes. The promise of getting ready for anything gave me hope, and I liked to encourage people to go places and take people along, even the sullen; creating occasions, even if there were none prior. Yes.
What I wore (Act I)
Monochrome palette of cremes with gold accents. Long gauzy skirt; linen tank tuck-in tight; double string of oversized pearls wrapped in fine netting, with a tired satin bow in front and to the side; four-inch stack heels, thick and strappy. I felt like an angel that had been flying too long, worn on the edges and beautiful for the effort.
On cue, I floated to the back table at Hitchcock and around the bend, there sat all of my girlfriends. All of the good ones anyway. I was overwhelmed and so I ignored them. When the males remained standing with the baby, and handed a gift card to the nearest girlfriend “for the drinks” I realized the company I had arrived with would be abandoning me to this newfound crowd, and I had either to assimilate or to run. I kept run in my back pocket.
They sat side-saddle looking at me expectantly, their faces especially dolled-up for an island party, their perfumes wafting, the whole of them sumptuous and embarrassing. I did what I could do at least, which is to shrug my shoulders at each pair of sweet inquiry eyes until something else happened. I don’t like surprises but I soon forgot this and settled-in like a regular surprise go-getter, chatty mcChatster.
The food courses came and went, as did the jokes we played off one another. We laughed and laughed. My face was sore, presumably for all the smiling and not for all the eating when one of my friends remarked that the night had only begun and I was not going home.
Momentarily, I was cross. Already my shoulders were getting cold and this didn’t bode well for the rest of me, should I be subject to the rest of the night out. What had happen to me? Had I become a lame-ass ninny a mere 30 years in?! I decided that if I had, I may be young enough still to outrun it. Also, I blamed hormones, which are transitory in their effects and may be powered over and through by a willing-enough subject.
What happens with hormones is, your baby needs you (food) so your cave (feeding space) becomes desirous over anything, even the stuff you once thought entirely pleasurable. It’s like a depression only you don’t feel depressed, you feel focused, and right. I tried to be quiet about it, least something like I love my cave, leave me alone! burst out, a statement I could very well not pass without fanfare in this company, for they would pull me into explaining, and well, I might kill them. It was paranoia without the fear; sort of amazing.
I digress. What ensued felt like a movie.
We carpooled through the winding roads in the woods, on the darkest of nights. Screaming as we hit bumps in the road and turned onto dead-ends that we had only to back our way out of. We spooked ourselves into a delirium like the grown women that we were. I loved everyone a bit more for it. The friend driving could see well out of only one eye. I was thankful she had the one eye.
Eventually set before us was a compound of sorts, a lovely estate on the water, complete with a pool house that rivaled the main house for old-world class and sophistication. I fell in love again. I decided to be a lover of surprises from there on out.
What I wore (Act II)
My moment was crushed by the idea that the presence of the pool would require my presence in a swimsuit. I was sure I didn’t own a swimsuit. My husband packed a bag. Of course he packed a bikini I thought I had thrown out when I turned 19. Of course I hadn’t shaved in this millennia, and my breasts look like something someone going into the porn industry may very well like to try on for size before they commit to the surgery because they were so large.
I wanted a solid, sleek, racing swimsuit that cut right up to my neck, with a slight turtle, a zipper in the back, and high-cut leg holes so I could scissor kick fast or swim like a frog without any chaffing or slippage. Assholes made bikinis and even bigger assholes wore them, I was convinced.
In my master suite on the bed, my dear friend had so carefully laid out a razor all tied up with a bow, and I cried at the site of it. It was a 5 blade thing, I could do anything now, even wear a bikini. Certainly, I had the best friends in the world.
Note: Never underestimate the power of anticipating needs. The smallest acts of kindness can make the all difference. There is always something you can do in a moment to connect with another person; it’s one of the gifts of being alive. If the best gifts could talk, they would say “Me, too.”
Candles, food and drinks, hot tub and pool, jaunty photo from the 60’s or 70’s of people in this very place having a hay day, stuck in the mirror of the changing room just like I was. And here we were, making another hay day! Was I dreaming? How long could I stay in the changing room stuck in the mirror with the picture?
It occurred to me that to socialize would require that I show off my crazy big nursing boobs in asshole swimsuit. It felt like a fair trade after a few glasses of wine. I was the birthday girl after all.
After kibitzing in the pools with my friends and forgetting about my breasts, the lot of us padded-out onto the lawn that rolled into the Puget Sound out back.
We took turns making wishes and lighting lanterns to hold them together until they summoned enough heat to rise into the air. We watch them rise and reflect on the water, dancing with the moon twice.
Eventually we shuffled into hot showers and slipped into pajamas. One friend unrolled a poem she had written for me and read it aloud. We clapped. She went on the write a book. Another woke from sleep crying and begged forgiveness for missing her family. We consoled her. She went home. I fell in love many times over that night, rolling into the morn.
I never met the woman that owned the estate, Mrs. Webster. She lived there in the main house, on the night of the party, too. I imagined her discrete, understanding, and to think bikinis assholes, although not one to use that language, but the kind to share a knowing smile.
To give of one’s place is a giving of one’s self–for a fete in my honor at the ask of a dear friend–what a gift! I learned today that Mrs. Webster died a few weeks ago. This article is dedicated to her, and to all of her dear friends.
“Are you ready?” Klaus asked finally.
“No,” Sunny answered.
“Me neither,” Violet said, “but if we wait until we’re ready we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives, Let’s go.” ― Lemony Snicket