Every year on or around my birthday, I force myself to write something about where I am in life and what I think of it. It’s a stupid, vain thing to do, but I started this tradition when I was stupid and vain. I’ve kept it up longer than I ever thought I would. So, here we go.
I hate birthdays. Some people who love birthdays think that everyone loves their birthday, even those people who say they hate them. Some people think that when you say you want to do nothing for your birthday, that it’s actually a passive aggressive plea for attention. I assure you, in my case, it is not.
I hate all birthdays, not just my own. Actually, I especially hate my own, but I hate yours, too. I hate yours because, most likely, you don’t hate birthdays. If you don’t have a deep loathing for birthdays, that probably means you’ll want to have a party. If I attend, I will have to a) awkwardly stand in a circle pretending to sing Happy Birthday to you while not knowing quite where to rest my eyes b) be in a celebratory mood, which is quite opposite of my usual party behavior consisting of standing in a corner with some friends, making fun of people and drinking myself into a stupor (not necessarily in that order) and c) I might have to actually buy you something. In most cases, I will bring you the gift of alcohol; the gift that keeps on giving. If you don’t drink it, I will. Happy birthday!
My own birthday is even less fun than yours though. When my birthday rolls around, I prefer to ignore it altogether, but there’s always someone who lets the cat out of the bag and starts the cavalcade of happy birthday wishes, offers and interrogations about how I’m going to spend the joyous anniversary of my birth. My grumbly response is usually answered with something akin to “You can’t spend your birthday alone!” Oh, really? Well, why can’t I? It’s my birthday after all. I should be able to do what I want. Besides, I never spend my birthday entirely alone. I spend it with the Ghost of Birthdays Past.
Your birthday doesn’t have associations for me like mine does. When I think about your birthday, I don’t think of never having a birthday party when I was a kid. I don’t think of the constant promises and IOU’s for birthday gifts that I never received. Horseback riding lessons, a new stereo, the latest, greatest toy, etc.; all promised and never delivered. For my birthday present, I usually got a card with an IOU that would never be cashed in. Learning to keep my expectations low, all I asked for one year was to see the movie, Herbie Goes Bananas. I’ve still never seen it.
“Waaaah,” you say, “get over it, you big, blubbery crybaby.” And I say, shut it, I have for the most part. It’s just that I still hate birthdays. They trigger in me some subconscious, little girl part of my brain that says, “You will never, ever get what you want. Boo hoo.”
Most of the time, the little girl lives quietly in my brain not making a fuss and entertaining herself like she always did. Once a year, she makes an appearance. Recently, that little girl has come out of her shell a lot more, telling me things I don’t really want to hear or remember. She rages and cries and wallows in the unfairness of it all. She mourns for the loss of trust in her parents through all those empty promises (and other things). But most of all, she’s afraid that life will always be that way. She thinks that life is just broken promises, disappointments and people she can’t trust.
I try to convince her that she is wrong; that there is more to life than that. I tell her that there are people in the world who love her and want to see her happy; that they will do anything to see her happy, and that I’m one of them. I tell her there are people she can trust. I try to get her to trust me. I try to comfort that little girl by saying she will learn to ride a horse eventually, we have pocket devices that store a lot of music now so stereos are obsolete, she would have grown tired of those cheap, plastic toys anyway, and Herbie Goes Bananas probably sucks ass. I tell her that birthday parties aren’t as great as she thinks they are. When someone finally does throw her a party, she will hate it because she will be the center of attention; they will sing Happy Birthday to her and she won’t know quite where to rest her eyes.
It doesn’t make any difference to her though. She wants a party, but more than anything, she wants, for once, to get something promised to her or nothing at all. She would rather have nothing than another empty promise. She is a bitter little girl and I am a bitter adult incapable of consoling her. I give her a hug and send her on her way, not knowing if I managed to help her at all.
Her world just isn’t all that fun, so I try to do what she wants. Every stupid little dream she had, everything she ever wanted to do, I try to fulfill it. I still haven’t seen that Herbie movie because I think we’d both hate it now. She’d hate it because she didn’t get to see it when she wanted to and I’d hate it because, well, it’s a damn Herbie movie. I’ve tried to do everything else she wanted though. When our birthday rolls around, I give the day to her. Whatever she wants to do that day, I will do. I try to hide my hatred of the whole spectacle from her. Our birthday is all about her, not me.
The best that I can do for her is not make any promises that I can’t keep. If I say I will do something, I do it. If there’s even a doubt that I can’t do something, I don’t promise that I will. We take promises very seriously.