What saddens me is that I missed the first forty-five of Arline’s birthdays. I missed the debutante party that Arline didn’t even want but for which she gamely wore her hair in a tower. I missed her first birthday in the States. I missed her fortieth, which by all accounts was a fabulous success, with drag queen entertainers and her friend Alberto’s Panamanian tamales.
What cheers me, though, is that I get to share her second forty-five birthdays. Every year I get to remind her all week long: It’s your birthday week! It’s your birthday eve! It’s your birthday!
Arline is not, actually, much of a birthday person. She doesn’t like people making a fuss about her. Many years she wants to go out for a nice dinner but otherwise spend the day quietly. Not all the time. One year, on her birthday, I was in Costa Rica chaperoning a group of students as they studied Spanish. I remember her telling me on the phone that she had decided at the last minute that she didn’t want to be alone, and she made some calls, and the next day a bunch of people showed up to celebrate.
When I asked Arline about memorable birthdays, she reminded me of the time I was determined to make her rack of lamb for dinner. It was ninety degrees and muggy that day, and as I roasted the lamb, the kitchen thermostat ticked up to a hundred and beyond. But I persisted. We sat on the front porch, limp in the heat, poking at baby potatoes in mint sauce and trying to work up an appetite.
This year’s birthday has a big zero in the number. She has never felt so old. But a few weeks ago when we were sitting at a bar in Portland, she struck up a conversation with a young man and mentioned how old she was turning. He said, “Wow, I want your DNA! Can you mainline it into me?” That helped. And then we went to a friend’s wedding reception, and a teenager who was making a video for the couple came around to tape us. Somehow (somehow?) the topic of her birthday came up. The boy didn’t believe her age. How old did he think she was? Arline asked. Forty-eight. We laughed later: to a seventeen-year-old, even forty-eight must seem ancient.
Ancient or not, she’s the most beautiful, funny, smart, and generous person I’ve ever known. Happy birthday, Arline. And if you see her this week, make a fuss about her. She deserves it.