I Don’t Like My Birthday
Birthdays are tough: Fact. As a kid, they were tough because it was like, EXCITEMENT! BIGGEST DAY OF MY LIFE! A YEAR IS AN ETERNITY! And then it always ended up as sort of like, over, and not as great as you wanted it to be. As an adult, they’re tough because A) you’re getting old, if you’re me; B), there’s all this anxiety about what to DO about the birthday, like go out or stay in or subtly remind people and feel guilty or not tell anyone and then feel mad at them for forgetting; and C), as in childhood, they end and are just over and not as great as you wanted them to be. There’s also the added benefit, as an adult, of using the day as a measure of where you are in life, and if where you are in life is waking up and crying for three straight hours before buying new sunglasses specifically to wear while in a bar so you can feel like you’re alone, well — that’s a tough birthday.
That was my 25th.
And of course, there is the 21st — the big, stupid, 21st. My 21st was especially a bummer because, as I am the oldest in my group of friends, there were very few people to “hit the bars” with me; or, the ones who were old enough to take me were not my close friends. It was a Tuesday, also. And I had a crush on a slightly-older guy who liked to flirt with me a lot (was this in my head? I mean maybe), but who definitely didn’t want to date me, which is never great. Long story short, he showed up and challenged me to a drinking contest, I blacked out for the very first time, and I woke up not knowing how badly I had embarrassed myself but KNOWING that I had to get to my 10 AM voice lesson. I somehow made it, and the girl waiting in the lobby with me (a very cool lesbian music major whom I greatly admired) eyed me with a look of thinly veiled disgust and said, “Dude, you smell like alcohol.”
On my 19th birthday, I was new at college and just missed my boyfriend SO MUCH that I HAD to come home for the three-day weekend (my birthday has one redeeming quality, which is that it always falls near Columbus Day weekend — fitting, also, given the brutal and unforgiving history associated with that holiday). Anyway, I came home! I took the bus and listened to the “Garden State” soundtrack on my Discman the entire way. It felt like it was about ME and what I was GOING THROUGH, and I considered, as the leaves whizzed by the window, “If I lived to be one hundred and two…” would I ever get over my boyfriend? Probably not, I thought wistfully, a picture of us as old people appearing in my mind. Probably not.
When I arrived, my boyfriend told me that he had a present for me but that it wasn’t anything crazy so not to get too excited. So, I got pretty excited. And then, he handed me a gift bag. Cool! Totally fine with gift bags. I looked inside. And here is what I found:
A three-pack of orbit gum. And a homemade cassette tape, which, upon reading the scrawled, stick-on label, I could see was a recording of his band having a rehearsal in someone’s garage.
To be fair to him, I did love gum. To be fair to me, he gave me gum for my birthday.
And, on my 18th birthday, I wrote this in my journal:
in the end, its all over anyway.
in the end, i still love you.
in the end, what i think will help wont.
in the end, everything reminds me of you.
i dont want to be pathetic but i dont know how not to be.
so i dont tell anyone but here is where its allowed to be shown.
so… what can i do?
be glad i have good friends.
YIKES. I think I thought that was a poem, maybe — perhaps a poem that I didn’t even consciously KNOW was a poem, but which I thought someone else would definitely consider Poetry. (“What, this?” I’d say in the inevitable interview; “it’s just my Writing.”) I can only assume that I left out apostrophes and capital letters as an expression of my art.
So, there you have a smattering of my fairly recent birthdays. I really feel, at this point, that birthdays should be avoided. Birthdays are a good day during which to hide out. Drink a chai and read a book under a blanket, or something. And also to remember that although this day seems like a big deal to you because it’s the anniversary of YOUR birth, to the rest of the world it’s just like, Tuesday. And that doesn’t mean they don’t love you. Necessarily. (Although it might — take that one on a case-by-case basis. As I’m sure you will. I’m sure it will be upsetting. And I’m sorry).
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If you’ve been looking for a chance to say something then this very well could be it.
I wish to God I’d had a list like this when I was 23.
Answer phones better than anyone else has answered phones before. Relay messages so brilliant, they bring people to tears. Turn the coffee run into the choreography of Swan Lake. Become best friends with every intern and every underling and every taxi driver you encounter.
I remember taking the pen and notebook from that woman outside the courtroom, flipping to a clean page in the book, and writing, JESSICA IS SAD in big, bold, uncoordinated letters. “My sister is going to be a good writer someday! Look at how nice her lines are!”