My birthday has come and gone, and now I won't have to worry about it for another 363 days. Actually, this year I didn't worry too much about it. In fact, I worried about it less than I did last year, which was also less stressful than the year before that.
It is not really the age thing that gets me, although to be honest, it's not one of my favourite aspects of birthdays. It's the mortality thing. One year older of course means that I have been drawn one year closer to my eventual physical demise, but it also reminds me how dead I could totally be in five seconds.
I know, this doesn't exactly showcase the sunnier side of my disposition. In fact, it kind of highlights how mundane and commonplace my concerns are. At any rate, since I was a little kid the birthday thing has caused me annual bouts of stress that usually last for two weeks to a month.
Don't stop me if I've told you this one before.
On my fifth birthday, my parents and my maternal grandparents had a little family party for me with cake and the Birthday Song and presents. I was sitting at one end of the kitchen table in the far corner of the kitchen. My mother brought my cake with five pastel candles burning in its center and placed it on the table. There was a doorway into the kitchen in the corner of the room opposite from me where my grandparents stood, one behind the other. I remember looking up from the cake to my mother, and in a line behind her was my father and then my grandmother and then my grandfather. Each person in the line, beginning with me, was older than the one before.
My ears flooded with the noise of my own rushing blood, nearly drowning out the Birthday Song being sung to me through several sets of shining teeth. I was going to die. This thought turned over in my head as time stretched itself out like hot toffee. Turning five meant that I would never be a really little kid again. It meant that I was now a regular kid. It meant that things ended. It meant that things changed, circumstances reconfigured themselves, beyond my control.
Turning five meant that I had no choice in the most important matter of all: the fact of my own continuing existence. Until recently, I had been considered a really little kid, and now I was joining the ranks of the regular kids. Soon, I would be as old as my brother, Ward. Next, I would be my mother's and then my father's age. And when I looked down the line of my family members, my grandparents were last of all. I would be their age one day. One day very soon. The shortness of time for the human animal hit me like a medicine ball in my tiny little gut. At barely five years of age I was despairing over the futility of my own existence.
For years, I doubted the veracity of my own memory. I mean, I was only just five at the time. Was it even possible for me to have processed my birthday experience in such a manner? It turns out that, as usual, I should trust myself more and overthink things less. A few years ago, my aunt was preparing for my cousin's fifth birthday, and when she asked what we had done for mine many moons before, my father related the story to her. Exactly as I had remembered it, he told her how I had run to my bedroom and spent the rest of the day crying about mortality and the inevitableness of my own death.
I promise that this story lightens up shortly, so bear with me.
Each year since that birthday, I have struggled with this inner demon prior to and until shortly after the anniversary of my birth. Some years I have been driven to such distraction that I worried for my own sanity, but the last few years have seen a progressive easing up of this annual discomfort. Since I turned about twenty-nine, although the issue is no less panic-inducing than before, I seem to be able to control the amount of time I spend obsessing over it emotionally and instead try to take a more practical view of the situation.
Don't get me wrong. I did lie awake one night unable to turn off the frightful chatter of my brain that nattered things like remember photocopying the cassette tape insert for that INXS album in the highschool library? People born on that day are freaking seventeen years old now! And I did wake up in the middle of some fitful dreams covered in sweat with the thought that I may be closer to menopause than my first period (I am probably half way between the two, but 3:00 am is not a good time for contemplating the unflagging march of time).
But really, I am much less bothered by all that business on an emotional level than I used to be. I'm not sure why that is. I certainly haven't solved my major fears / trauma / despair on a psychological, emotional, or spiritual level. I'm not sure that there will ever be a way for me to solve that. I think that I've simply learned not to allow it to rule my life for one-twelfth of every year (not including all the other times throughout the years that I have given in to existential panic).
It just occurred to me, this very second, what else it might be that is letting me off more and more easily over the last few years. I married an amazing guy who continues to warm the cockles of my heart day after day. I have finally found a job in Cityville that I can live with. I have been writing more and more, especially over the last six months, and have even regained the courage to write poetry again. Having things that propel my life forward in a positive manner helps me beat the heavy dread I feel when life takes on the macabre appearance of a death march.
So, about my actual birthday. My parents, the parents-in-law, the Fiery One, and I went to a restaurant that serves one of my favourite vindaloo dishes ever, which I ate way too much of and will do again until death do I part forever and ever amen. Things get a little fuzzy after that, because there was some heavy beer swilling that we indulged in later. I think we lazed around a bit. My mother-in-law gave me a puppet and a gift certificate for books. The puppet rocks. It's purple and fuschia with huge buggy eyes and two arms that are moved individually with sticks. I've worked up some pretty good stuff with it already like fear, love, looking off into the horizon, and boredom. Then, the Fiery One and I went out with a couple of friends and drank until we were silly, stumbled home, has sex which I hope was quiet enough for the parental units next door, and fell asleep.
And, the Fiery One gave me the best present I have received all season. He and I took a walk to the bank machine a couple of blocks away from the pub, and while we were alone he told me that he knew what trust was. (I am going to misquote and screw up his words, but here's the gist of it). He said that trust isn't what we were all taught in sex education classes, the classes that taught us that trust is knowing someone won't cheat on you or betray your secrets. He told me that he had just realized that trust was much more than that. It is being able to trust someone else with yourself, what you say and do,with your heart, your mind. It goes far beyond the body and its social interactions. Any individual is incredibly lucky if they can find one such person as they move through life, and the Fiery One and I, remarkably, have found each other. Who could obsess over their existential angst with someone like him to look forward to every day?
In short, my birthday actually really rocked. I got to eat the best vindaloo, I now own a cool puppet, the Fiery One said the perfect thing, and we hung out with old friends. Oh yeah, and getting laid doesn't dampen the situation, either. Superior, really.
An interview with the author