I’ve always done things a little differently, a little more “me”. And the day of my birth (my origins if you will) is no exception. Growing up, I lived for my birthday parties. As someone who lives for attention, I loved the idea of entire celebrations devoted to me and how much people like me (and that’s before the presents.).
When I was eleven, my family had a lake lot. My brother’s birthday is in July, and that year I wanted to have a camping birthday just like he could. I asked Mom if we could postpone my party until July or August, and she didn’t mind. She believes it doesn’t matter when you celebrate. It will be just as special any time. As far as she was concerned, it’s just a date.
However, regardless of my party’s date, on my birthday itself, my family and I always ate dinner at the dining room table. Mom made whatever dinner you want (pork steak was an early favorite). Sometimes I brought out the china and silver. Honestly, looking back, I think I prefer the dinners to the parties.
After a few years, my birthday dinner attracted an uninvited guest. My house wasn’t exactly an American Idol House, but Dad and I were American Idol People. However, when it was time for my birthday dinner, I wanted the family dinner I had been promised every year. Which I received sometimes during commercial breaks. I learned the pattern: Start pulling at Dad’s sleeve the last few seconds before the break and drag him to the dining room ASAP. You have ninety seconds.
After a couple of years, I told myself I shouldn’t have to fight over a television for attention on my birthday. I remember being eleven and feeling the Birthday Magic melt away with the candles. If I could pin a point where the Birthday Jinx started, I’d choose then.
Since then, a series of mishaps and abusive relationships brought along some crisis or trauma each year since as a fucked up cosmic birthday gift. It started to grow into a game of “How can I make the good outweigh the bad?” My birthday brought me anxiety, not excitement. I felt cheated. Anniversaries of Bad Days always put me in a funk. Maybe I shouldn’t let the past control my emotions as much, but that’s not how trauma works. That’s not how my brain works anyway.
When I first started to feel like maybe I wasn’t the “birthday type”, my friends would try to save my mood. Whether I was convinced they could help or I just gave up the annual fight is still up for debate (and depends on the case). They all valiantly wanted to fix my birthday jinx. And I hadn’t given up hope quite yet, so I joined the party. Which usually didn’t end well. And when they didn’t, a part of me felt like I’d failed their cause. After I turned twenty, I decided I was done celebrating my birthday. And if people still wanted to squeeze a party out of me, I’ll just hide the information from them.
Right before I turned 21, I took my birthday off Facebook and promised not to tell anyone unless I knew I could trust them. If no one knows about my birthday, no one can convince me to celebrate it. And if no one convinces me to celebrate my birthday, nothing can ruin it. My birth date demanded a Top-Level security clearance, and a promise they wouldn’t lure Party Anne out of her cave. I wanted my birthday to belong to me, just me. My 21st birthday was peaceful and quiet and nothing bad happened. I loved secret birthdays. I think I just needed a reset.
My therapist recently asked me if I’ve tried communicating with my friends how I want to celebrate my birthday. For someone as bossy as I am, verbalizing my needs (especially when risking vulnerability) doesn’t come easy for me. I used to let other people tell me what I needed for my birthday. Clearly, I didn’t know since I couldn’t get it right anymore. And it’s easier to say “No birthday” than “I don’t know how to celebrate a day with so much good and bad tied to it, and I’m trying to figure out the balance still, so I don’t know what to do for my day about me.”
I’m not the same person I was during any of these birthdays. I’ve changed over and over, growing into myself and out of what didn’t fit. Does it makes sense to celebrate the birth of a Me who no longer exists? How do I celebrate the current Me? I thought writing this would give me some kind of clue. All I know is if I do want to celebrate and honor this current Me, I want to do it on own terms. Maybe I’ll have a new kind of family dinner among my chosen family (sans televisions). Maybe I won’t celebrate it on the actual anniversary of my birth. It’s just a date anyway. So yes, today is my birthday. We’ll talk about it later.
Update: After writing this, I did ring in my birthday with my chosen family back home in Illinois. It was on my terms, and it was lovely.