So last week, my friend Becky turned 21 and said she drank so much the night sucked. In a few days, Sarah has her birthday, and she’s already bitching and moaning that it’s going to suck. 1st off, your birthday can only suck regularly if it falls on a holiday, like Christmas for instance. So, though it’s an old piece, here it is:
Cake for Everyone
I hate my birthday. I’ve only had two good ones. Only my 17th and my 7th birthday were good birthdays. Otherwise my birthday has been stressful and traumatic. Tonight everyone was here to celebrate and party because of only one birthday. And it wasn’t mine.
The sky was filled with colorful hues that ranged from deep mahogany to light and playful auburn. From the aquarium that stood a league above the crashing waves to the dark corners of the arcades that housed the Daytona USA addicts, the beach was packed so thickly that you could smell the fried dough on each persons breath and know if they had butter, powdered sugar, and cinnamon. There was a playfulness that careened off each and every person out there; there was a tension that held everyone waiting for the fireworks display to begin. If there were ever a question why the four of us were there, it never came up. It was my request, to which they all agreed on and which they were enjoying. It was my birthday, but I seemed to be the only one not having fun.
The first rocket flew into the air in a flurry of smoke and fire. It hit its peak and exploded showering the bay with golds and reds and colors so vivid that the imagination couldn’t recreate such a scene. As the show began anew again with each rocket that hissed into the steamy night sky, the crowd was hushed and enthralled by the blues, and greens, and reds, and yellows, and silvers, and golds of the fireworks. I stared into each explosion with a renewed vigor and then, I closed my eyes. The bright hues waved and twisted, distorted by the images that were burned into my eyelids. I knew this display would make a lasting impression on each and every person’s retina. The vivid colors were transposed anew with each deafening explosion in the clear starless night.
With a sudden calm in the sky, a murmur rushed through all ears as rumor and instinct told all that the finale was beginning. I opened my eyes and looked across the bay to the next town. The lights shimmered and reflected off the dark blue water. Every eye was suddenly focused unblinking on the sky waiting for the tremendous explosion that would rock our world. The vendors stepped out of the shops and out from behind their carts. The hyperactive children spinning and twirling on the beach fell onto their backs and stared at the spinning sky above. While the small children’s heads lolled against their parents’ shoulders in somnolent bliss, their parents twisted and craned their necks toward the night sky in anticipation. In the flurry of a final last ditch suicide charge, the rockets flew up into the sky exploding into glorious divine light. Lemming-like, each rocket followed its predecessor to the honorable death in battle that every warrior has strove for.
As the last lights faded from the sky, an awestruck silence swept over the crowd, the bay, and the sleepy town of Old Orchard Beach with its woodlands, its marshes, and its night. As we turned with crowd and filed our way toward home, I knew that while my birthday may not have been good, those sure were some fireworks.
The highway was pitch black as we drove, the only light coming from passing cars and our own vehicle. The dark, dense night flowed passed the windows while the rolling landscape lulled me toward dream. I stared out into the calm of the afterglow, watching each firefly and light zip past.
My birthday has always been like this. Some have been good, but most have been depressing. I suppose it’s because every year no one stays around for my birthday. The only friends I ever get to see on my birthday are the ones that don’t have other plans to celebrate the 4th of July. It isn’t easy knowing that your birthday is a second choice to most. Everybody has their own special day that happens every year uninterrupted; that is everyone except for us, the few who have holiday birthdays. You always feel forgotten, and if you accept that you’re forgotten, then you’ll only ruin the day for those who remembered you and your somewhat less special birthday.
People assume its great to have a holiday birthday. “Hey, that makes you a Yankee-doodle-dandy, doesn’t it!” I hear, or “You’re so lucky! You’re born on our nations birthday,” they say. It’s always that I was born on the nation’s birthday, not that I was born on my birthday. It’s like I’m playing second fiddle, but I have no hands. How can I compete with patriotism and a nearly 250 year-old nation?
The car rumbled on. The night continued to pass. The wind whistled over the contours of the laden Buick. Dream pulled me back towards the corners of my memories as my mind slowly drifted into the memories of better times.
When I was six, I went to a school that taught both French and English. About halfway through the year, a new kid arrived, but he didn’t need to learn French, because he was already fluent. He was fairly tall for our age, standing just 4 inches shorter than I, at a respectable 4’3″ to my towering 4’7″.
During the second week he was there, a number of my friends and I formed a posse, and, while standing under the dull, worn-out colors of a 3 story high mural of children playing and smiling, we reduced the new boy to a state of blinding anger with our cruel jokes and jeers. It was our initiation to the school. His blue eyes fumed under his dirty blond bangs. Raging mad he charged the largest of us, me, even though I had stopped about half way into it. We fought, until separated by a teacher. That day each of us earned the others’ grudging respect.
That respect blossomed into a friendship. Not best friends, because I already had one of those, but friends none the less. I went to his birthday party, and he came with me on my birthday. It was the last good birthday I had, and the first birthday I can still remember.
It was sunrise, or maybe before. The fresh dew was still on the grass at Golden Gate Park when I rushed around to wake my parents and get them out the door for my best birthday ever. I suspect it was around five in the morning when we picked up my friend. We drove north, away from the city and into the hills.
At around seven we stopped at a travelling carnival. We rode the rides, and we saw the sights, and we ate breakfast. My dad pulled us grudgingly back into the car, and it was off to the show. We drove quickly to beat the mob, but to no avail. We waited in line for almost 15 minutes, an unbearable amount of time for a more mature ‘now seven-year-old’. It was worth it when we got in. We raced up and down the aisles looking at each case until I found my favorite one. “Willow” stood out in bold letters as I looked over the costumes and armor and models that made the movie what it was. What wonders were at this LucasArts show. I saw Star Wars and Lucas’ other movies. We had our picture taken with Chewbacca and C-3PO and R2D2. Where the pictures have gone, I don’t know. I’ll find them someday.
We finally left. We stopped for lunch at a diner along the way and the continued on. When we reached our final destination, my parents has to jog to keep up with us so we didn’t get run over in the smoggy parking lot to Great America. We rode the rides and saw the sites and left around 7 o’clock. We drove 10 miles to the Water and Animal Park named Sea World. We watched the 8 o’clock fireworks and we drove home. And I was happy.
In 6th grade, my favorite camp began a week earlier than usual. It started on July second that year. It was the first time I was away from my parents for my birthday.
On my birthday, 3 big cakes stood at the front of the cafeteria for dinner. Two partners owned the camp and it was run by one of them and his father. His father made the announcements. Mr. Dunlop stood about 6′ tall, and was gray-haired and balding. He had incredible poise and was kind to an extent I have never known since. He smiled laughingly and said, “Do you know what today is?” Cries from the other kids flew out. “IT’S THE 4th OF JULY!” they screamed. “It’s my birthday,” I muttered under my breath. My whole table knew that that’s what it was, but they didn’t speak up either.
“Today isn’t just the 4th of July,” Mr. Dunlop said. “It’s a very important birthday. Someone very special was born today.” My heart leapt with elation as I began to think to myself ‘they remembered.’ I was wrong. He continued, “Today America was born. It’s Independence Day. Because of this, Today we have three cakes instead of just one.” Cheers rose from the other kids, but at my table, my chest felt like it was caving in. I was downtrodden. My tablemates consoled me and they weren’t as happy as they should have been, but they still knew that when cake was offered for free, you take it.
On the last night of camp, they gave a cake to each of the 3 kids whose birthdays they had forgotten. It was a nice gesture, but I would’ve preferred no one knowing that my birthday was forgotten.
The list had just been posted. Everyone but Zoë and myself crowded around to look. It was 1st grade. Our teacher gave each of us a date to have an in class birthday party. We baked a cake and spent snack partying. Why Zoë didn’t run over, I don’t know. Slowly all of my friends started making their way back to their desks, counting on their fingers the number of days until it was their party.
I got up and walked nonchalantly over to the list. I ran my finger down the list of dates, finding my birthday almost instantaneously. Next to it, one name was written. “July 4th,” it read, “Zoë.” My eyes bugged out like in the movies.
“Ms. Perkins! My birthday’s wrong. It’s not the 14th,” I called to the teacher. She turned her head and looked at me.
“Are you sure? I was almost definite it was the 14th of July,” she said to me. I grumbled and frowned back at her.
“It’s the 4th. I think I would know my own birthday.” I gave her my best skeptical look.
“That can’t be right. Zoë’s birthday is the 4th. How can there be two people born on the 4th.”
“The US was born on the 4th,” I said. “I was born on the 4th. Zoë was born on the 4th. That’s three people,” I proclaimed. My brow furrowed in confusion as she penned my name up under Zoë’s. Why was my birthday always forgotten?
I don’t think I ever saw Zoë more unhappy than the day we had our party. She baked her own cake, but she didn’t smile or laugh all day. This was reassuring to me. At least I’m not the only one with IDBDS (Independence Day Birthday Depression Syndrome). That year I wrote, in very bad spelling, that once I was old enough, I’d move to Hawaii or some other foreign country because no one celebrated the 4th of July there.
This summer I visited Israel. I was there for my birthday, as you may have guessed. I had spent the evening before at a party that was truly amazing. When I got back to my hotel I started to watch some TV. There were six of us in two adjoining rooms. Greg, Joey and I had the small room. The two beds and ugly coffin-like dressers took up the tiny space. There was only about ten feet along each wall. There were large black x-like marks on the walls that sat like targets for a wrecking ball. There were rings of dust that outlined the spots where pictures, likely taken by the last tenants, had hung and where a TV had once sat. A broken phone sat in one corner while a broken phone-line sat in the opposite. A broken cable cord hung limply from a hole in the wall, sparking every few moments in faded glory.
Our bathroom was flooded and broken fixtures were obvious, so I went to use the one from the adjoining room. It was just past midnight, so my birthday was just beginning. The toilet was in a separate room from the shower, and the door was jammed open. Borrowing a Swiss Army knife from a roommate, I tried to fix the door. I was able to get it most of the way fixed, and managed to close it. When I tried to open it I found it locked shut. I called for help, waking up all six of my roommates. They tried to help, giggling uncontrollably throughout at my plight. After an hour, they passed me a pillow and called the coach to get a locksmith. The locksmith came and opened the door after only giving me an hour of shut-eye in the cramped stall. After all that, I didn’t even use the toilet.
Bushed, I crawled into the bed I was forced to share, seeing how there were only two beds. I lay there silently laughing at myself while the beat of Will Smith’s “Getting Jiggy With It” rose over-loudly from the nightclub below the hotel.
I awoke early for breakfast. We were allowed to sleep in on Saturdays. I was wished happy birthday by my roommates and I showered and changed. Eight of us from the trip took a very boring walking tour of three synagogues in Jerusalem. We returned for the lunch at the hotel and followed with a trip to a local park where I cut my foot on a rock while playing Ultimate Frisbee barefoot. I cleaned my wound and lay down reading in the shade until it was time to return for dinner.
We ate and I returned to my room. The others were preparing a cake for me. I knew it was coming and played along as Jeremy, a guitar-playing roommate of mine, plucked out the notes to happy birthday. He took the stairs as I waited for the elevator and rode it solo. Of course, with my luck the elevator and I got stuck halfway. It only stayed there for 5 minutes, but it was still a hassle. Perhaps it was that I took each incident lightly and without consequence, or perhaps it was just that way, but even with all the problems I had on my birthday, it was a good day.
I hate my birthday. I’ve only had two good ones. Only my 17th and my 7th birthday were good birthdays. Otherwise my birthday has been stressful and traumatic. It’s always been this way and probably always will, but every once in a while I have a good birthday. And that’s what makes it all worth it.
As a side note: My 21st birthday I got to spend as the designated driver. My 18th was spent trying to scrounge up money in Geneva since my parents wouldn’t give me any. My 22nd was spent bored at home, although I did go to dinner with some friends, though it wasn’t much and we skipped out right after.