How I got the "Bera" or Happy Tulip Day
“Seventeen” still sounds cool to me, though at nearly twice that age I see the true appeal lies in its youth. I felt like an adult, but memories of my naivete leave me shaking my head; “Thank God I wasn’t hurt!” Pain and sorrow would do their work to age to me soon enough, but at seventeen I was in a very good mood all the time.
That year, on Salt Spring Island in Springtime, I got pushed into a cold lake by a boy who, I later learned, had a big crush on me. I never once realized he might like me, and I was really angry about the push. I hate getting my clothes wet, and I had never been in a lake before. Another boy watched from the shore, I didn’t know then, but now it is common knowledge that he doesn’t swim well. Later that night, around a fire, I took a good, long look at the non-swimmer.
We had spent a while discussing music, and he impressed me. Part of the appeal of Seattle for a girl from Amarillo was the prevalence of great musical taste; “great” meaning “played on the college music station I worshipped back home.” I wasn’t interested in him yet. I was pretty sure he was a pothead what with his Nirvana t-shirts and bleach-blond grow-out hair, and that held no appeal for me. That night at the campfire, though, he showed his seriousness, his thoughtfulness, and I started to pay attention.
On the ferry on the way home, a group of girls asked if I liked him. I answered the only right answer: “I don’t know,” even though I did know. “He says he likes you,” they giggled. At some point during that long ferry ride in unseasonably warm sunshine, he and I nonchalantly found each other and used the wooden beads I had purchased at the terminal to make matching necklaces. I don’t think either one of us took them off for months.
The first time he called me, he framed it as a courtesy call to let me know that Coldplay would be playing at Benaroya Hall in June. I considered this a great flag-waving of his interest because it was only April, and he must want to keep in touch at least until this concert. We planned to go. By that point I was pretty googly-eyed over him, but I was still wondering if I would ever be able to get over the fact that I was taller than he.
On April 25th, 2001, a Wednesday, I swung by the coffee shop where I worked to kill some time and consult with my college-aged fellow employees, sage in their old age. I was getting tired of the lack of definition in my relationship with this new boy. They dutifully teased me, but Brian said that I should definitely keep trying to hang out with him and see what happened. I knew that the boy worked at an Arby’s near his house, so I decided to casually pop in that night. It was a thirty minute drive way out of my way. I remember how excited and jittery I felt as I picked my way there using the map in my glove box.
Two things changed forever for me the moment I walked into the Arby’s: the smell of curly fries and the potential for forest green polo shirts to be attractive attire. As I came through the double glass doors, Brendan was exiting the swinging door that led behind the counter. We nearly walked into each other, and his jaw dropped open. I can still see him standing there in black Dockers, the Arby’s polo, a nametag, and his yellow-blond shaggy hair. His long-lashed eyes sparkled at my sudden appearance, and I knew for sure that it was just a matter of time. We sat together while he ate.
I drove him up the hill to his house. I can’t believe it, but I’ve forgotten how the rest of the night went. It probably has something to do with the four children we now have together. The last moment of the night I hope I never forget, and it is with the goal of remembering that I have always marked the day and am writing about it now.
It was a school night, so I had to go. Brendan was a junior in highschool. His parents suggested he walk me to my car, the red, Saturn station wagon yet to be crashed. The giant bubble of LIKE was pushing from inside me to the point of bursting, but I wanted him to tell me first. Instead, he reached down to the tulips growing alongside the driveway. He pulled his house key from his pocket and messily tore through the stem of a red one. Holding it out to me, he said, “My mom said I could give this to you.” “Aw, that’s so sweet,” I answered and took the flower. Having never thought much of tulips before, they immediately became my favorite. No more words really came out of either of us, but we said goodbye, and I drove away. My car smelled like curly fries, and I sang Coldplay at the top of my lungs. One tulip petal is still left in my box of memorabilia.
Over the years, we have laughed, and Brendan defends himself for delivering the line about his mother’s permission. He just wanted me to know he wasn’t being inconsiderate. Two nights after the tulip delivery, he did finally tell me he liked me, and he began with “Remember the other night when I gave you the flower…” I have loved remembering the night he gave me the flower ever since. We dated for four and a half years before we were married. Each new experience broadens my view of him and of romantic relationship. Sometimes, when we fight or when we are still different and confusing to each other, I wonder what I was thinking sticking with the first one to come along. Then I look at him long like I did that night at the campfire or with the eyes I had in the Arby’s or through a hundred other lenses I have collected since, and I know exactly what I was thinking. He still likes me, and he has loved me through even my worst behaviors.
The world longs for epic love stories, flashy romances full of drama and display. Honestly, I sometimes long for that too. We have had our moments, Brendan and I, but mostly we have had a pleasant series of quiet agreements to keep making plans for the future. Those moments are the backbone. Happy Tulip Day, as I dubbed it 15 years ago now, is my holiday dedicated to the celebration of all the small gestures of affection, the hope-laden moments, and my desire to keep hearing more from Brendan Ribera. To him, it’s simple: he said he loves me, and he doesn’t plan on ever doing otherwise. If there are things you like about me, that means there are a lot of things you like about Brendan. He makes it possible for me to be who I am, and that is romance.
HAPPY TULIP DAY!