No crowds. No fuss. No presents, please.
That was important. I was preparing to move but didn't know where yet.
So Joyce and Graham, the techies, got me an early iPod Mini. Laura, an artist, got me an extraordinary shawl. Vince, a true gentleman, did exactly as I had asked and felt terrible about it.
My 37th year had been full of character-building surprises. I had decided not to reprise turning 36 because the subsequent year had been so rotten, but I wasn't happy about getting older. Even before the drinks were poured, I was bitching about my age.
Joyce and Graham, who were just peeking over the shelf of 30, said, "There there, it's good to be seasoned, age brings wisdom," and so on.
Laura, a couple months older than I and the most sensible artist I've ever met, said, "Yeah. It sucks."
Vince, who was barely old enough to rent a car in his own name (although he was bright enough to write the certification tests for Borland C++), with a self-deprecating shrug and a charming little pinkness, said, "I don't know, you always seem to me like you have a mental age of 17."
I remembered being 17 -- happy, busy, fit, secure in my slice of the world, delighted with most things and amused by the rest, my adult mind just blooming, and absolutely no idea how cute I was.
Once I could reef in my grin enough to use my mouth for speaking, I said, "You just gave me the best present of all."
Sadly, he didn't exactly believe me.
The iPod Mini was superseded, then stolen. The beautiful shawl disappeared, along with everything else, when the US Mail failed to deliver what I mailed in my move.
But every year, when yet another birthday looms, I remember Vince twitching his shoulders and saying sweetly, "I don't know..."
And, really, the count of years doesn't seem quite so bad.