You Say It's Your Birthday
Friday, January 23, 2004
I find myself driving in the rain through Whatcom County, Washington. Not by accident of course, but by design. I am visiting friends for my birthday.
We are headed into Bellingham, to the gym. "The wind shield wipers are slapping' time" and I turn to my friend, Aryn, who's driving, and say, "So, how old should I be for this birthday?"
She is only just a bit surprised. "How old do you want to be? 40 was one of my better years."
Not one of mine, though. I think about this. In general, things have been pretty sucky so far in this decade of the 40s for me. Two years ago, I wasn't happy about turning 45. My sister reminded me, that, damn it, it was my birthday, I could be as old as I wanted to be. At that point she had been 29 for 18 years. I decided to just stay the age I was - 44.
But I ponder how old I want to be now, on this birthday. My favorite decade really was my 30s. - at least the first half of my 30s. But that's a lifetime ago - when I was happily married, when my husband and I were still goo-goo eyed over each other despite the busyness of family life. My children were little, yet growing up, exploring, pulling the family along into the community. As great as it was, I don't want to be there again. It's over, gone. I can't go back.
There's no year thus far in my forties that I'd care to repeat. Nothing so far really but heartache, loss, struggle. Last year especially. Last year's birthday is the reason I'm up in the great Pacific Northwest, driving through the rain to work out in a strange gym. Last year, I spent my birthday driving back from G------, Nevada (fresh from celebrating the opening of my sister's new business), only to arrive home late in the afternoon to take another trip - this one to the hospital, where I spent the next several hours hanging out in the emergency room with my husband, waiting to admit him to the psych ward. I arrived home again at 1:00 AM. The next night, I had to explain to my 16 year-old daughter, far away in Atlanta, Georgia on a Civil Rights Living History trip, where her father was. I had to listen to her tears through the phone, as the reality of life hit her (another breakdown), and then listen again as she sucked it up, shifted to a neutral tone, and told me she had to go now, she had to shower and then do homework. There was nothing I could do except let her hang up and then deal with the reality: My girl was crying in the shower in a hotel room 100s of miles away. And I was stuck, alone in the house, unable to help her, to help my husband, and even myself at the time. Yeah, Happy Birthday to Me, yeah.
Not this year. I determined not to repeat last year's festivities. So here I am. And how old do I want to be?
My walking partner, Carol, informed me last week that this is "the year of Bird." Carol is not one to be denied; you simply don't talk back. So who am I to argue? It is my year. I don't want to go back in time. I think I want to be Bird at 47. Because this Bird is losing weight. This Bird is finishing up her Master's degree. This is the year I become the vibrant, life-filled, exciting, independent, free Bird, who makes her own decisions based on what's good for her, who pursues her dreams and then dreams new dreams. So I tell Aryn, "It's my birthday. I'm 47." She smiles. So do I.