Except when I'm in hand to hand combat with a manuscript, I'm not often at a loss for words, a good thing for a writer. But my husband threw me for a real loop this weekend, and here's why.
It was my birthday. I don't advertise; really, after a certain age, the day's like any other, and since I'm always working anyway . . . no big deal. The husband normally gets me something nice, but I've noticed this trend in recent years where he'll take me along and have me pick out my own present. Honestly, that feels both kind of mercenary (oh, goody, what can I make him cough up now?) and lazy. You mean, you're telling me that after almost 30-odd years of marriage, you STILL haven't caught a clue?
So I was kind of pissed when, a week ago, he and I were having this conversation--he was away at a meeting--and all of a sudden, he has this Bart Simpson moment: <DOH!> Your birthday's next week! Because, of course, he'd been too busy to think about a gift and so would I please go with him to this nice art gallery from which we've gotten stuff in the past and maybe pick out something I like?
Oh, I was so burned. First off, I really wasn't in the mood for this crap. I'm in the middle of a book; I'm working; can't you see I'm working? Second . . . look, bub, I've figured out what you like, so give it two seconds' thought and see what you come up with.
But he just wouldn't let it go. In fact, when I hadn't complained for a day, he'd bring it up again, just to annoy me. I even bitched to my kids, and I never do that. I was steamed. Like, GAWD, you need me to connect the dots?
Anyway . . . so Saturday rolls around. I get up extra early--we're talking 5:30 a.m.--just so I'll have a couple hours to work before we have to schlep south to Milwaukee. Of course, he'd made this big production of having called the gallery owner, who's pulled some stuff we might like . . . I can't convince this guy that I don't want a damn piece of art; I want to stay home and work on my book!
We get there. I happen to like this particular gallery, the Tory Folliard. Tory's a lovely woman; her assistant, Christine, actually turned me on to a great collection in London. The gallery's introduced me to some wonderful artists: Tom Uttech (a really nice, down-to-earth guy who doesn't live all that far away, so I've been out to his place; love hearing him talk about his art. I mention him in The Sin-Eater's Confession and blogged about him here);
and many others.
So we hug. We schmooze. I mean, I don't hate these people; I just want to go home and work. Christine wants to know if I want some tea. We browse the new landscapes show (it really is a stunner), but I have to tell you: I am so outta there in five minutes.
But I'm sort of relaxing. We're looking at a Gregor. who's famous for his flatscapes--Obama has one--but broke his arm years back and so taught himself to paint left-handed. His art really changed, and I honestly didn't care for it. But after years of practice, his form's tightened up, and I'm starting to enjoy what I see.
But I am still so outta there. I have no time for this bullshit.
So then Tory's taking us into this other room, and there are some nice pastorals by Kathy Hofman,
some photographs . . . "And then we have this really wonderful piece here," Tory says, pointing to the wall immediately behind me which, of course, I didn't see when I came in.
So, being a nice, essentially polite person (and still so outta there in five minutes), I turned--and saw this:
I am not often speechless.
I don't normally burst into tears.
I certainly don't cry for ten minutes straight--long enough that Christine came in with tissues and tea, and then Tory and Christine disappeared so I could hug my husband and weep on his shoulder.
I find out that my husband cooked up this idea a year ago, right around the time I was finishing up MONSTERS. He knows what this series meant to me; he understands what it's been like for me to live and breathe just about every waking moment with these characters for the last four years. So he set out to make a piece of art that was uniquely mine; that no one else had and yet would have meaning for me; and he enlisted Tory to help him make this all happen.
That painting: there's my work. There are the editions in the many countries where my story's found readers who've, in turn, found me (not all; I apologize in advance to my Turkish fans, but I had no say in what books were chosen, guys; this was all on the down-low). The husband tells me that I actually did notice something was up because, months ago, I was looking for the Spanish edition and couldn't find it. He made some excuse: the dog ate it . . . or maybe that was a cat . . . or a kid took it to school. I finally broke down and bought another copy for myself before my original mysteriously turned up. Come to find that he was sneaking books from my shelves this whole year and taking them down to Milwaukee, to the artist he'd chosen, Jeffrey Ripple.
The original painting was supposed to be of my website, and then Jeff--whom I've not met but my husband says he's the nicest, most talented guy--tried sketches and prelims based on the first book. And then, somehow, the painting morphed into what it is.
And there is one in-joke, something that only I and the husband would know. Look closely at the left side of the painting, that edition, Les Cendres.
Guys, that's French. But there is no French edition. (Why? Qui sait?) Yet there it is, with back jacket copy, in French (done by Jeff's girlfriend) and a picture of me from waaay back when the husband and I were still in our dating days. Yeah, me, on a hike (natch) and in the Shenandoahs, with autumn leaves tucked in my hair and that blue flannel shirt.
And on the back is this:
Not written. Painted. You can't see them, but even the lines on the fake label are painted. (And the sentiment--that, perhaps in some other multiverse, there is a French edition--is just so perfect, given what I'm writing now.)
So. This is a birthday I will not forget, and a wonderfully romantic gesture from a man who understands and supports me, and whom I have loved and will love forever.
Even if he won't let me have four cats.