The younger man helps Lisa discover that the unexpected can sometimes be a very good thing indeed
N‘No surprises’ has always been a rule of mine, that and ‘Please do not introduce facts into the conversation’. Long have I loathed Candid Camera-style pranking (my pelvic floor can’t take a fright); ‘popins’ (when people come to your house without calling first and catch you being human); finding out your dad is a former Morris-dancing champion (I wondered what those bells were for); and worst of all, surprise parties. “Never throw me a surprise party,” I said to every boyfriend ever, except I must have forgotten to tell the younger man. Too busy deflecting his constant advances, or something.
I hate being the centre of attention. No really. I’m a writer, we prefer to lurk, listening to your conversations and jotting the best bits down on a serviette.
There were savouries and tomato sauce,
and I loved it all so much I cried
Being taken unawares does not suit me and I have the photos to prove it (looking like I just pooped a Lego Deathstar). I need to compose myself, know the angles, the exits. But something happened recently that turned my preconceptions on their head, leaving me surprised and delighted instead of tipped over on the grass stiff-legged like one of those goats that faint when you clap your hands. More on that later.
Before you think me a negative Nelly, may I point out that surprise parties can be perilous, and sometimes have unintended consequences. A friend of mine threw a lavish surprise party for her husband, who absolutely loved it but for months afterwards was very suspicious, constantly asking her where she was going and who she was calling – totally unnerved by the fact his wife had pulled off something so massive without him even knowing.
A girlfriend of mine had a panic attack at her own surprise party when people leaped out from behind the furniture, going into full ‘burglars with knives’ mode. It took 15 minutes of breathing into a paper bag for her to stop freaking out. Call me old-fashioned, but crying hysterically isn’t my idea of a good time.
Surprises suck because they take the consent out of things. You can’t say no, or back out of the room; people will notice. And some of us automatically assume a surprise will be bad, like the surprise you get when you’re being evicted, or when your parents call a family meeting to tell you Barkly McBark has died. Dogs hate surprises too, by the way. And dogs hate hardly anything.
So, back to fainting happened was, I was a finalist for a big award but because I’m a writer (lurking doesn’t pay, unless you’re a private detective), I couldn’t afford the plane ticket. Knowing I was bummed, the younger man – in-between sharpening his ice axes and eating potato chip sandwiches while watching mountaineering movies with porn-y names: Deeper, Higher, Longer – secretly organised my very own awards night party as a surprise. Telling me to dress up, he took me out for wedges at the Galley in Oamaru. Drinking champagne by the fire in what is also the pokies room, it was certainly a bit of a treat and I felt quite flash, especially because the younger man wears shorts every day and for once he wasn’t.
“You make me want to be a better person,” he said. “You make me want to wear pants.”
Arriving back at his house I opened the front door to find the hallway festooned with streamers and balloons. Small children belonging to new friends burst out from behind the furniture yelling “Surprise!!!” Poppers popped and so did balloons (briefly scaring one of the smaller kidlets), there were savouries and tomato sauce, and I loved it all so much I cried.
Long story short, I didn’t win. The younger man presented me with a bouquet, a glass of bubbles and a homemade certificate which read: ‘You was fecking robbed.’ But I wasn’t. I felt, in that moment, the luckiest, most-blessed woman alive. Who knew not-winning could be almost better than winning? It is though, if you’re happy and loved and surrounded by kindness. And after a year of ‘interesting times’ in the fullest sense of the Chinese curse, that was the best surprise of all.