Happy Birthday unto you
by Gary Huerta
My girlfriend’s birthday is next week, so you’d think I might be wondering what to get her or where to take her to celebrate her special day. Of course, you’d be wrong. At the moment, the only thing I’m thinking about involves the phrases, “Do unto others,” and “An eye for an eye”.
Before I divulge why my mind is consumed with such dark thoughts on what should ordinarily be a celebratory event, understand that I do not consider myself the type of person who looks to exact revenge as these rather Old Testament philosophies might imply. Except when it comes to my brother and sister. If I believed in hell, I’d risk eternity in a river of flaming pooh to get even with them — but that’s another sordid affair.
What you need to know about this particular scenario is that my girlfriend is not the most punctual person when it comes to giving gifts. Truth be told, I am waiting for my birthday gift from March 2011 to be delivered. I’ve also been anticipating the delivery of a Christmas gift from 2011.
Since my girlfriend is a painter — and a quite accomplished one at that — these two gifts were supposed to be paintings. No doubt, if the pieces were to be priced, they’d be worth a decent amount of money. I have no beef about the value of the gift and I’d be an ass if I did. Of course, for the pieces to be priced or have value, they’d have to exist, which I am not sure they do at this time. One of the paintings was finished in early April, so she claimed. All it needs is a frame. Evidently, the tree that is to produce the wood is still growing. The other has yet to be started.
“Paintings are a very personal thing,” she has told me on several occasions.
“At this point, I’d be happy with stick figures,” has often been my response.
Since I am a writer, I can easily understand her sentiment up to a certain point. I once wrote my ex-wife a story for her birthday recounting how we met and it was received with utter disdain. Then again, I can’t think of one thing I did in the last seven years of my marriage that wasn’t greeted with disgust and loathing — but that is also another story.
Bottom line, if I ever gave a piece of art again, I’d make damned sure I had sufficient time to produce the work so it could arrive as promised. Which is why I’ve had trouble reconciling in my mind the amount of time it’s taken my girlfriend to produce the two paintings. I think I have a legitimate gripe.
Aside from being very talented, my girlfriend is also quite prolific and during this span of approximately 14 months, it’s fair to estimate that she has produced 50 or more paintings. Some of them have been gifts for other people. Some have been used as barter for work. In short, lots of things are getting produced for a variety of reasons. However, none of them happen to involve my birthday.
With this kind of creative output, the thing that irks me most is the non-verbal message that is being communicated through the painfully s-l-o-w delivery of my gifts. If this many paintings can be produced, but my two gifts can’t seem to get finished, there seems to be a fairly clear message being communicated and it is this: your gifts are not a priority to me.
To advance the communication further, I could interpret her non-action as saying: You don’t matter all that much either.
As someone whose job it is to deliver information both as a columnist and a marketing communications professional, I realize that may not be the intention of what she is putting out there. Nevertheless, part of successful communication is being conscious of how you are being interpreted by the recipient of the message. From where this recipient stands, it is becoming increasingly difficult to interpret her actions any other way.
So now you can see why her birthday might have me considering doing the same unto her. And wondering how she’d react.
“Oh yeah. Happy Birthday! You know, I was thinking about what to get you and then I realized that I just couldn’t get around to picking something up. But I promise I will be in a mall sometime before 2013 so it’ll happen.”
Maybe we should celebrate her birthday by going out to dinner sometime in November. Even if I did that, I’d still be commemorating her life in a much more timely fashion. Of course, I might be sleeping in my car for a while.
There is another, more nihilistic upside to blowing the whole thing off. Not getting a gift and not going to dinner would certainly be easier on my wallet and my schedule. This is kind of a bad week for me with a lot of work deadlines and personal obligations on the calendar. I could just rationalize it that way, I suppose.
Alas, I know myself and I don’t think I have the nerve for that kind of payback. I also know firsthand how much it hurts to have someone put your gift on the back burner. I can be a dick, as many of my friends will attest. But even I can’t be that dickish.
Come Friday I’ll find myself standing inside of Tiffany or Coach looking for something that says, “Your birthday is important to me and I didn’t forget it. I thought about it. But I didn’t have the guts.”
I guess I’m just a hopeless romantic that way.