Days from now, I have a birthday. Two days from now. I’ll be thirty-seven. I don’t mind people knowing that very much; it’s just one of the things that happens. But here’s what gets me: the trite “oh, geez, that went so fast!” and the other only slightly less common “But I thought I would know so much more by now…” Fairly straight-forward. Neither of these, however, is why I hate my birthday, and the days around it, with venom. (You know how Akito in “Fruits Basket” hates to be left alone? THAT kind of venom.) I hate it because it was always used as a form of competition to prove that my parents could throw a better party than anyone else’s (and they could; they had the credit cards and they had no sense of self-restraint) or – better yet – I was left and ignored.
I’ve never been able to figure out which was worse. I mean, it does kick ass to get a special table at the LA Hard Rock Cafe and then have fifth row center ice Kings seats. That’s pretty cool. I used to get armloads of roses each year, usually yellow but sometimes pink, one for each year plus one extra. Those were pretty. Stuff like that. Whatever. But my parents managed to be traveling each year, starting from when I was about eleven, during the week or ten days around my birthday. I’d get a five minute phone call and jewelry when they returned. Yeah, thanks.
I’m their only child.
But, I am the only child they didn’t want. I am the product of failed birth control and a pro-life Southern Baptist political standpoint. I’m what happens when an unwanted kid’s parents hearts do not change when they hold their child. You know what I think? I think we should all give my parents major props for turning a day of tragedy for them into a day they could ignore. For two people whose creativity was limited by the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog and Yachts R Us, I think that was pretty savvy. Let’s go, Ron and Debbie! The rest of the world will think you’re spoiling her rotten while you make sure she knows how you really feel.
It was different when I turned seventeen. Different in a marvelous dream-like way. I was at boarding school at this point. My parents sent the usual roses blah blah blah and I asked my friends if they wouldn’t mind attending a Mozart concert with me in town. They looked surprised and uncomfortable, but went along with it. I assumed that if I wanted to do anything, I would have to make plans. I mean, it wasn’t like anyone at PA would even know it was my birthday. But I was wrong. I was so wonderfully wrong. My best friends and a confederacy of others had planned a rather large surprise party (which now had to be rescheduled). My dear friends, not having the access to a kitchen or the baking expertise to pull it off anyway, couldn’t make a cake — so they took two gallons of ice cream, smashed up two bags of double stuffed Oreos and spread the crumbs on top of the ice cream mess, and somehow managed to get candles to stick up in this mess. Out of tune, off key, and in different tempos, the ladies of my dorm sang “Happy Birthday,” and unlike so many previous years, the singers actually meant it. The Mastermind even had everyone write down something unique and special about me…
It was one of the most beautiful days of my life. The day I realized that I could make a family, I could assemble one, a patchwork quilt stretching the boundaries of every nation and creed.
So, birthdays have always been tough, so full of so many awful memories. I’m thinking though that on this, the Year of the Dragon, it is time to be done with the old. It is time to be finished with so much heavy luggage full of nothing but crap I never wanted. If I look up, above the bitten nails and the through the tears, I see that my world is entirely different now. The places are different. The people are different, and better than I thought real people ever could be. The challenges are honest and I am not alone anymore.
This is my New Year’s Wish: that we all realize, with gratitude, that we are not alone.