Almost 40 o’clock

When Alvaro turned 40 last year, I needled him relentlessly about it. He is incredibly sensitive about aging, which causes him to insist that he looks “much younger” than he is, if only to reassure himself. He is convinced he can forever pass for 26; meanwhile, I watch the silver and gray winding its way through his hair and smile. One night last year, we drove past the building where we first lived together, talking about all of the memories we left behind. “You know what else we left there?” I asked. He shook his head. I grinned smugly and said, “Our youth.” Instead of laughing, Alvaro’s face fell, and he went into a funk that lasted for days after.

Soon it will be my turn to enter the decade we’re taught to dread.

I should have passed the 40-year mark yesterday. I was due on August 11th, a birthday three of my cousins share. It was very kind of me, I think, to hold off so that their celebrations could have their moment before mine began. Well, kind for everyone except my mother, who could not have been pleased about an extra two weeks of pregnancy in the August heat of Texas.

Just like at Christmas, my birthday sends Alvaro into a panic. “What do you want?” he asks, hoping I’ll point him to a very specific thing he can buy to check gifting off of his list of things to do. I refuse because what I really want is to be surprised. Surprises from Alvaro haven’t always worked in my favor (see the binoculars story), but he has gotten better in recent years. Last year, for example, he gave me cooking-related gifts: a filet knife in the brand I prefer, a heatproof spatula decorated with dogs, and cute little rubber dogs that turned out to be pot-lid holders, something I didn’t know I needed but use all the time now. Flowers, chocolate and tiramisu topped off a thoughtful altar of offerings. The goddesses were pleased.

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We joke about daily expenses being each other’s birthday presents. Near Alvaro’s birthday this year, there was a car window to replace. “Happy Birthday!” I declared as he rolled his eyes. We need a new furnace before the fall, which Alvaro has decided would be the perfect gift for me. If it were, then a new car for him will be my birthday present next year. No, thank you.

So usually for our birthdays, we splurge individually on something we’d like to have, something we’d normally think of as unnecessary or too expensive. For Alvaro, it was a remote-controlled car, which he insists vehemently is absolutely, positively not a toy. “A toy?” he scoffs when I make fun of him. “Um, I didn’t see too many children at the hobby store. It’s a hobby.” More like a weird mid-life crisis, but it could certainly be worse. This year, I don’t have my eye on anything special for myself, no necklaces or baubles calling my name. Turns out, as I approach 40, I want for nothing. Isn’t that better than any gift?

Of course it is, but don’t tell Alvaro. He’s still very much on the hook.

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