Personally, I don't like surprises,
but Dani doesn't like planning things. By default of both those corollaries,
she's the one of us who's going to get surprised and it will be by something
I've planned. Usually she's surprised that her ADD partner can plan
anything. Odds are you've already heard several stories about the
wedding surprises I pulled on her (starting with the proposal right on
through the reception), but now everything was coming together all at once
See, I always have to work pretty hard
around this time of year. Dani's birthday is 12/1, then there was
our old (i.e., before the wedding) anniversary on 12/22, and then Santa
needs to show up on 12/25. That's a lot of gifts to gather together
in a short period of time. I never ask Dani what she wants either.
It's a game I play with myself that presents are always a surprise.
Of course, it means I have to listen for ideas all year long, but that's
part of what makes this fun for both of us.
One thing I knew was this: Dani loves horses,
and a horseback trail ride has been among the things I've wanted to surprise
her with for the last couple of years; it's just always been so cold (and
rainy sometimes) that outdoor activities are not an option by the time
her birthday arrives. I thought that was a great opportunity for
a birthday party, just one that would happen a couple weeks early this
year... precisely when she wouldn't be expecting it.
I emailed a group of friends and asked
if anyone was interested in going on a trail ride. I got Mark and
Brindle and Kristen to meet us out there. I didn't tell Dani; I just
told her to put tennis shoes on.
"But I'm on call for work," she said.
"No you aren't," I replied.
By now she knows not to argue because I'm
going to make her happy. The proposal, the wedding surprises, Halloween
after Halloween, I'm all about making memories. That's my job, and
it's the one thing I'm good at. She didn't know it, but I had one
of her co-workers cover for her for a few hours. I just steered her
to the car and pointed the way from there.
The ranch is only about five miles from
our place on the southern edge of FW. I had scouted it earlier to
see exactly where it was, how long it would take to get there, etc.
We scheduled the trail ride for 1pm and got there about 15 minutes early
with the liability forms filled out and everything; they were under the
As we got right up close to the place,
it finally dawned on Dani where we were heading. I told her where
to park and she was like, "You've been here before?!" As we got out
of the car and walked up to the place, Mark and Brindle were standing in
front of the main office waiting for us. Dani was still reeling from
the fact we were going riding, and then a couple friends were there as
well. A few minutes later Kristen showed up. Not long after
that, we were riding on the trail. It was a group of about ten or
so of us counting a couple of the guides. I'm not into horses, but
I'm always up for new things.
The ride itself was fun, and easy enough
for a first-timer (like most of us were) to handle. It was just an
hour heading out into a well-trodden path through the woods that the horses
have done about a thousand times. These guys are more or less retired
from anything but this monotonous job, so they were pretty easy-going.
Dani loved it just the same. She's never been into anything more
adventurous than that.
After the trail ride, Kristen took off
to go visit her mom, but the rest of us headed over to a park down the
street. Once we got there, I popped the trunk and pulled out a carrot
cake and drinks for everyone. (Actually I had a separate vegan cake
for Mark and Brindle, no eggs or something; I don't know what was special
about it.) Dani was shocked that so much planning went on without
her knowing about it. Superheroes are good at things like this.
For example, how many of you know my real name? See. There
What Dani didn't realize was that
the trail ride was smokescreen. Every time she would bring up something
about her birthday coming up (which was surprisingly often for her), I
would say, "Hey, you already had your birthday. Don't be greedy!"
This was especially funny in light of the fact she forgot my birthday when
it came around a few months earlier. The whole morning of mine I
kept saying things like "Could you make me breakfast in bed like it was
my birthday?" and "Could you give me a massage like it was my birthday."
Her response was to tell me to go fuck myself; I didn't deserve anything
special. The guilt set in around 2pm when it finally dawned on her
what the date was.
Like I said, the ostensible reason why
I did the trail ride two weeks before her birthday was because I didn't
know what the weather would be like on the actual date. In fact,
within a couple days of the trail ride, winter had arrived and it just
as cold and rainy as I expected it to be. I got the timing exactly
right this year and finally crossed something off my "to do" list.
Of course, if you're one of Dani's friends,
you know that the next Monday I started sending out Evites to the surprise
party I was planning. This involved a lot of digging around and calling
because Dani does the worst job of almost anyone when it comes to keeping
her address book up to date. The evite itself linked to this
page which prospective guests were alternately frightened by or found
absolutely hilarious, but yes, I would have ruined the lives of anyone
who spoiled the surprise.
Once I had a decent enough idea how many
people were coming, I had to sneak around shopping. A few days before
the night of the party I was able to buy anything that didn't need to be
refrigerated (e.g., chips, party plates, etc.) and just leave that all
hidden in my trunk. However, I couldn't sneak anything into the fridge
like, say, a veggie tray without Dani knowing something was up. I
talked to my neighbor Linda and asked if I could use some space in her
fridge. She was cool with that (no pun intended). Since she
was going out the day of the party, so she let me borrow her keys.
I spent the morning finishing straightening
up the place. For the three days or so leading up to this point,
I had Dani helping me clean around the house on account of the supposed
fact that my OCD was flaring up and only she could help keep me out of
the ICU. We decorated for xmas, got piles of junk that needed putting
away finally put away, and washed all the accumulated laundry and dishes.
While she was out, I gave the place a clean sweep both literally and figuratively
and cleared lots of space to put out food, etc. for later that night.
Dani loves carrot cake, so I knew she would
welcome a second helping in as many weeks, but of course that was the one
thing Target didn't have when I went out that afternoon for everything
else I still needed. I'm driving around with a trunk full of groceries
looking for this one last thing. I end up at the grocery store down
the street from us, but no luck there either. I'm on my way to the
third store hoping to end this scavenger hunt when the cell phone rings...
from my house. Worst possible news: Dani is home. She tells
me there isn't much going on at work so she decided to take the rest of
the afternoon off. I'm like, "Oh, shit."
I lie and say I'm out hitting pawn shops
in search of still more guitars, that I'll be back in a little while.
It turns into the French Connection as I give Linda a call and we
end up doing a hand-off of the groceries in a shopping center between where
the two of us happened to be at the time. She loads it all in her
fridge when she gets home. In the meantime, I go home and hang out
with Dani for a bit, but around 5:30, as planned, her friend Jessica swings
by and picks her up to go out to eat and to do some early xmas shopping.
From the time Dani leaves, I'm in a mad
dash to get all the crap out the car, out of Linda's fridge, and all set
up. Fortunately and at my request, Tracy came over ahead of the rest
of the guests and handled the cooking (okay, microwaving) and we put up
most of the decorations before people started showing up (plus lots of
folks blew up balloons once they got there).
When Dani finally arrived, she was just
about floored when we all yelled "Surprise!" as she came through the front
door. She stood there for several minutes speechless trying to get
her head around what was happening. Honestly, I was a bit worried
until just then because I really didn't know if she had found out and was
just playing along, but it worked. The secret was safe until the
proper moment. Moral: When in doubt, Dani won't notice most things
hidden in plain sight, but it's best to play it safe anyway.