I have this vision of myself. My hair is still long, like it was before I shaved it all off, and I’m wearing a pink dress with miles of tulle, and those fake eyelashes with rhinestones glued onto them. I’m laying in a bathtub, holding a bottle of champagne and I’m sobbing.
It’s my birthday. And no one came to my party.
Okay, this hasn’t actually happened. But I do live in perpetual fear and terror that it will, which is why I haven’t actually had a birthday party since I was… oh, I don’t know, twelve? In my teens, I felt like I was “too cool” to have a birthday party. I didn’t want my parents ruining my vibe by throwing some lame party where I couldn’t invite boys and supervising the entire thing. So, much like I did with sex and emotional intimacy for many years, I simply abstained.
By the time I got to college, it became cool to celebrate your birthday again. One of the more memorable nights of my freshmen year of college was going out for my friend Liz’s birthday with all of my hot new gal pals and (since we could not legally drink), roaming around downtown Asheville and covertly guzzling vodka from flasks in our bag. It was so much fun. I liked Liz. We hadn’t known each other long, but she was one the best friends I’d made at school so far, and helping her feel special on her birthday made me feel really warm and fuzzy inside. But I refused to celebrate my own birthday.
Not like my friends didn’t try. Over the years, they’re always like, What are we doing for your birthday?!, to which I respond, Nothing, and they get disappointed. I mean, I get it. If I was my friend, I’d want to celebrate me, too. My friends have tried to take me out to dinner, convince me to have a party, just something small like a cookout, if there’s anything I want to do, is there anything I want, and my answer is always the same: No. No. Hell no. I’d rather be waterboarded.
Why? Because people who are obsessed with their birthdays are completely intolerable. There. I said it. We all have friends that are like, “It’s my birthday MONTH!!!!” and every time you see them, they just screech in your ear about how many days there are until their birthday. (Side note: if you do that, please stop doing that. It’s very stressful.)
Second, in my lifetime, I have seen many, many, MANY girls wailing outside of clubs and bars because their birthday didn’t go as planned. And it has, quite frankly, scarred me. I don’t want it. I don’t want to ever be seen or photographed crying in a flower crown, spilling a vodka soda on a Birthday Dress™ I spent way too much money on because a guy didn’t text me back. I’m going to spend enough time crying about guys not texting me back as it is; I don’t need one extra day of the year to make that experience even more soul-crushing than it already is.
But mostly, I don’t like celebrating my birthday because I’ve never fully been able to come to grips with the fact that I’m here on earth at all. No one consulted me about it. I have a huge bone to pick with the fact that I was born, and my birthday usually just throws me into a deeply contemplative state which usually culminates in me vomiting up some moody essay on whatever blog or website is most convenient.
The first one dropped back in 2016. It was short, only about 900 words, but I still managed to cover an absolutely horrifying amount of ground including: how I spent my 10th birthday, how I spent my 22nd birthday, how I spent my 23rd birthday (my boyfriend at the time got so wasted he couldn’t stand up while I was sober), lots of existential venting about my career, and, in a move that was totally not weird at all, intimate details about someone I had JUST started sleeping with. (It obviously didn’t work out.)
The week after that essay went live, my ex-boyfriend’s mother called me to let me know that her son was very hurt by how I publicly discussed a) my sex life and b) her son’s drinking problem. (I was like, sorry????)
She told me that I didn’t sound happy, and that she thought it was an insightful essay.
She told she didn’t know I was smart.
I said thanks I guess, and hung up the phone.
And then I thought about it every day for the next year. Was I really smart? Why are people always telling me I seem dumb? One of my managers told me that if he didn’t know I was so smart, he would think I was incredibly stupid. Is it bad that I’d rather listen to Ke$ha than Beethoven? What does it mean to talk like a valley girl? Should I tattoo my SAT score on my forehead? How do valley girls talk, anyways?
I tried to write about why it bothered so much, but the essays never made sense. I continued to not celebrate my birthday, and I continued to write in my diary, and I continued to grill every friend, boyfriend, and coworker I had about whether or not they thought I was dumb. I never got a conclusive answer.
I’ve read that one of the hallmarks of most writers is the capacity for sustained obsession. As Natalie Goldberg explains in her excellent artist self-help book Writing Down the Bones:
Writers end up writing about their obsessions. Things that haunt them; things they can’t forget; stories they carry in their bodies waiting to be released.
For me, age is one of those obsessions, and birthdays are the easiest way by which to measure it. Everything I write specifically deals with age in some way: identifying more with your childhood self than your current self, what it means to watch your parents grow old, a fear of the future, a fear of leaving or being left behind. I’m not sure why the act of moving through time is one of my obsessions. It’s not vanity, or a fear of watching my body age, and it’s not that I think things necessarily used to be better than they are now. I think it’s as simple as wherever I go, there I am, and whether or not things feel different or the same, there is still that strange, poignant ache that I carry with me always.
Today I turn 26, an age for which there are 3 exciting milestones:
- My brain is fully developed. Finally. Now I can stop holding out hope that I will completely transform myself and just accept all my weird issues.
- 26 is the age that you start doing lasting damage to your lungs with cigarettes.
- Baby fever is supposed to MAJORLY kick in. (I have noticed that recently, when I get my period, I’m starting to feel like I’m “losing” something.)
The beauty of moving into your mid-twenties is this: cuts and scabs take longer to heal, but destroying yourself recreationally stops being so fun. Hangovers are worse – much worse – but the simple actions of taking care of yourself, like buying paper towels, medicine and shoes that won’t fall apart doesnt feel so heavy. It’s moving closer towards yourself. It’s the ability to say no. It’s not caring if you don’t go to the party. It’s not caring if you don’t even get invited to the party.
Or, it’s finally HAVING a party. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s Maybelline, maybe it’s the fact that I’m on a mild dose of an SSRI and feel like a real person for the first time ever, but I’ve decided to really start 26 with a bang and just throw a goddamn party. One friend is making a cake, another one is making Jello shots, and another one is DJing. I’m really excited, and that might be dumb, but you know what? That’s another thing I don’t care about anymore. And I’m really excited to be 26.