Stefanie’s Greatest Gift
Stefanie and I have been friends for a little over ten years.
We met in 2010, after I returned from a ten-and-a-half month tour of the US, performing in Curious George Live!
My husband, Judah, had met Stefanie and a few other people at church while I was away. These people had heard about Judah’s wife for months, but none had ever met me.
Was I even real?
They scheduled a dinner meeting at a restaurant in Queens once I was back from tour.
Overall, this group of people was much more like Judah than me. There were several very creative people, but they were introverts like Judah, not extroverts like me.
I had just spent the better part of a year surrounded by theatre people. We are outgoing and loud.
The group of people who greeted me around the dinner table were quiet and reserved.
Stefanie, in particular, had recently moved to NYC from studying abroad in London, where people are even more quiet and more reserved.
I have come to describe her demeanor in this first encounter as, “She looks cute. I can’t hear a word she says, but she looks cute.”
It was as if she was afraid of her own voice. Maybe my ears lost some sensitivity from being around such loudmouths. Regardless, I hit a point where I felt rude asking her to repeat herself again, so I resorted to smiling and nodding as seemed appropriate.
A little over a year after meeting Stefanie, Judah and I bought a house in Queens. We spent the week before closing in London for a business trip. While we were there, Hurricane Irene attacked the east coast of the United States.
US airports were closed, and we were stuck in the UK.
We missed our closing date.
By the time we returned to the states, Labor Day was upon us, further delaying when we could schedule the closing.
We had to move out of our apartment, so the new tenant could move in. But, we couldn’t move into our house, because it wasn’t ours yet.
Thankfully, the moving company was able to put our stuff in a storage facility. But, where would we live?
Without us even considering it as an option, Stefanie talked to her two roommates and offered for us to stay at her place until we could move into our house.
The offer included our two cats. Stefanie and one of her roommates are allergic to cats.
The four of us stayed in Stefanie’s living room for a total of five days before closing on, and moving into, our house.
As amazing as that was, it was not the greatest gift she has given me.
Over the next several years, Stefanie broke out of her shell and blossomed. She found her voice, both figuratively and literally. And, she and I have become better friends and gotten to know one another on a deeper level.
In late 2020, Stefanie made a bold move to buy an apartment in Queens.
There is a saying that “everything takes longer in New York” and her home-buying process did not disappoint.
She was a vagabond for several months, staying with one friend for a month, her mother for a month, another set of friends for two months. In an amazing twist of fate, she ended up staying with us in the final weeks leading up to closing on her apartment.
While she was staying with us, I celebrated a birthday.
“Celebrated” might be an overstatement.
While she was here, I got older.
I’m not great at celebrating my birthday. For my fifteenth birthday, an ex-boyfriend decided my birthday was the best day to call and tell me how much he both loved and hated me and why. The next year, the Oklahoma City Bombing occurred on my sixteenth birthday. The Columbine shooting happened the day after my twentieth birthday. A couple of years later, a different boyfriend forgot my birthday on the day after having mentioned it for several days leading up to it.
I have a lot of tender feelings surrounding my birthday. In order to protect my heart, I decided not to care if or how it gets remembered or celebrated.
While Stefanie was staying with us, she noted how it felt weird to be at our house and not even have a special meal to celebrate my birthday.
I off-handedly said if she wanted to do something for my birthday, she could write me a haiku. I love haikus. And, we could have a poetry reading.
The night plunged forward. I got distracted by a birthday phone call. She got a phone call and went to her room for privacy.
The next thing we knew, we were all getting ready for bed.
“Your birthday is almost over, and we didn’t get to do a poetry reading.”
Judah was already snuggled under the covers, but I was still up and about.
“We can still have one,” I said.
I situated myself in the comfy corner of the couch while Stefanie took her place in the center of the living room.
She pulled out her phone, cleared her throat, and began.
She looked around the room, taking in “the crowd”.
“Thank you all for coming here tonight for this poetry reading to celebrate our friend, Jill.”
My heart swelled.
She read a birthday haiku.
Happy birthday Jill.
This is your happy birthday
Song. It’s a haiku.
And then another.
Happy birthday Jill.
I want to celebrate—but
No alpacas please.
A reference to my birthday card.
And then another haiku.
On this special day
You get three haikus, not one.
Happy birthday Jill!
She had written three haikus for me!
She took her time, read with feeling, and included “everyone” in the room in her presentation.
When she was done, she was met with thunderous applause.
My heart was so full.
Quality time is my love language.
So is “playing along”.
Stefanie, like Judah, is a much more head-based person than I am. She values ideas and information. She’s an introvert who often resides behind the scenes.
But, here she was. Standing in my living room, pretending it was full of people, reading me birthday haikus.
She met me in “my world”.
My world of play and fantasy.
Her actions communicated a deep knowing of who I am and how I’m wired. She stepped out of her comfort zone to meet me on my terms. Which spoke more love to me than any meal or physical gift could have.