I had a birthday.
I am sooooo middle aged. Like, there’s very little chance of me living to be twice the age I am now and there’s a GREAT chance I’m close enough to fifty to spit on it from here. So I’m middle aged. Don’t really give a fuck. Have too many other things to deal with. But I’ve had quite a few birthdays.
My most recent birthday was a few weeks ago. I dunno how many. That would require math. But I turned this age on June 7th. It was my birthday. Didn’t really give a fuck. Had too many other things to deal with.
My birthday has never been a big deal. When I was a child, my mom did her best. I got to pick the day’s menu (coffeecake for breakfast, still have the recipe, BLT for lunch, now I don’t eat piggies, and mom’s special baked chicken and strawberry pie for dinner – still have the recipes), maybe see the grandparents in the evening, get one usually longed-for gift or, as I aged, an envelope with some money and ta-daaa we love you. But my mother’s best intentions were an uphill battle in our household. (My sister’s birthdays fared even worse in the early years. Once we came home to find the dog in a sugar coma, unable to even get off of the table where he’d climbed to eat Jen’s cake. Another time, a nearby volcano erupted the day before her birthday, royally fucking her party with the down-pouring of ash.) Mom SO wanted us to feel loved and special at least once a year, but the fates conspired against her.
For my Sweet Sixteen, mom went all out. She bought tickets for me and my two friends to my first big concert (Frankie Goes to Hollywood fuck you I loved them, fuck you), and we were gonna go BY OURSELVES and then have a slumber party. When one of my friends called and tearfully told me she couldn’t be there because she’d been caught taking something that technically she hadn’t paid for, my mom’s heart broke too. She just gave up. We really didn’t do birthdays after that.
In high school and college, My Day always fell during finals. Nobody wants to come party when death is on the line. Like arguing with a Sicilian. And never fight a land war in Asia. Sorry. I’m sorry. My brain drifts to “Princess Bride” at the least opportune times. Where was I? Oh yes. The long, drawn-out version of meh, birthdays. Meh.
William Salyers got everyone in the rehearsal hall of Idaho Shakespeare Festival to sing me “Happy Birthday” when I turned nineteen. He got me a flower. I cried. My husband (yes, that’s a big, goddam flash forward, because all the parties I remember until my husband were things I arranged), always does something sweet and wonderful, and often as ill-fated as those from my childhood. Like the Cajun restaurant where we learned some people think “blackened” just means “burned as fuck”. Also, we have a kid who is a lot and sometimes anything extra, even extra that is something we really really really really want to do, is just too much. It’s lovely, I love him, but we let my birthday pass with a nod and a smile and beautiful flowers for the most part.
So this year I was in Germany for my birthday. I was working at a convention. True, conventions don’t FEEL like work in the conventional sense (HA HA HA HA OH I SLAY ME! Punny. Sorry. No more rhyming now. I mean it.) but they demand one hundred and twenty billion per cent of my focus and energy. I kinda figured this year I would nod and smile at my birthday from the rear-view mirror.
Except…. people remembered.
They started reminding me the day before. “Your birthday is tomorrow,” they would say.
“Yes. Yes, it is,” I would answer.
“What kind of cake is your favorite?” I was asked.
“My favorite kind of cake is cake,” I answered. And I honestly wondered why they were bringing it up. And asking me these questions. I really did.
I dare ANYONE to not cry like a sleepy baby when a room full of “strangers” sings you “Happy Birthday”. It’s not just the song. It’s hundreds of hearts aiming at YOU with love. I did. I cried. I cried when they brought me the best fucking brownies I’ve ever had in my life. I cried when beautiful girl after beautiful girl gave me cards signed by people who wanted to celebrate the fact that I am on this planet. I lost track of the hugs and well-wishes and the people who regretted forgetting to give me either and making up for it later. I estimate the rough number to be around a gazillion.
My fellow cast mates, boys I adore but would I never, for an INSTANT, think thoughts of me should impose on their daily goings-on, hugged me and laughed and arranged more moments for me to be the recipient of silly, unique and perfect birthday attention.
It felt like a lifetime of love. Like forty-six years of what my mom wanted to give me so much and couldn’t because we just didn’t live in that kind of home came tumbling out of her long-passed heart and into the bodies of person after person after person. She was everywhere. It was the most exquisite, explosive, breathtaking and beautiful feeling. She defined love for me as a child. She still does. I just never thought I’d get to feel it again once she died. At least, not like that.
It is an amazing thing to find family where you least expect it. I love you. I will cherish Purgatory Con, 2015, for the rest of my life. Which will probably be a few more years at least.