I had a lovely childhood friend, E., whose father was a florist. For my thirteenth birthday, he sent me flowers. At that time (perhaps even still?) the delivery of flowers seemed magical. An unexpected delight appearing at your doorstep – fragrant, beautiful, lush. I received many gifts that year, I am certain, but those flowers appearing as if summoned from a dream garden somewhere, were the best gift of all on that day.
We found each other, after decades, online of course, our social networks possessing their own seemingly magical qualities. I feel such pure moments of happiness when I see the tiny digital images of him and his partner on some beach somewhere, looking tan and happy. Seeming joyful, at peace. For all its myriad complexities, this – getting to see someone you care for, happy – is one pure gift of the internet. And at least for today, I will not interrogate that particular joy any further.
So I am a crier. I cry all the time. I cry at mayonnaise commercials. At greeting cards. In movies. At the theatre. In the line at the grocery store. Over drinks. Over breakfast. I have wept in every coffee shop in a 5-mile radius, I sometimes joke. But this is not untrue. It has gotten worse as I have gotten older. My friend P. says she is the same.
I blame it on forty, and I wish sometimes that it were not the case, for example, driving into work this morning, stopped at a traffic light, fishing around in my glove box for a clean tissue. It is inconvenient, I think, to be so – emotional. Surely, there was a time before this year, these recent years, where I could get through a day without touching up my eyeliner furtively at my desk?
I know women who don’t cry – they get angry, P. says. She tells the story of a woman who smashed beer bottles against a stone. I would like to be like that, once in a while, I say. I would like to feel the thrill of that kind of physical exertion.
At home one afternoon, I assemble some empty jam jars and salad dressing bottles and prepare to bring them out to the backyard, out on the brick patio. But then I think about all the broken glass and how tedious it would be to clean. How we would find shards of glass out there in the spring when we run out barefoot. I can’t muster the energy. I put the jars back in the recycling bin. With crying, at least, there is little to clean up except oneself.
So, there is E., childhood-internet-flower-sending E., and there are others, too. My grade-school friends I loved so dearly. Even a couple – but only a couple – lovely ones from high school that I do genuinely wish I had been able to keep up with better over the years. We are all scattered though, all across the country, with our lives and our lovers and our children. Our careers. Our passions.
It has only been recently that I have embraced the idea of celebrating my birthday beyond a few close friends, family. As an adoptee, there has always been something unsettling about the annual reminder that what is known for others, is unknown for me. That the date itself has been estimated – assigned. I tell the stories sometimes, of the births of each of my children – mostly because I was so fortunate, the labors short and deliveries easy, relatively speaking. I cannot help but be curious about my own birth. Did I enter the world quickly, eagerly, impatiently, as my son did? Or was I tentative, holding back?
Two years ago, though, when I turned 38, I decided to celebrate. I rented out a movie theatre and projected video games on the big screen. I invited everyone I knew – people I had been friends with for years and some I had just recently met. I made it a family event, so we could all be together, and made – crazily, compulsively – 400 cupcakes in the week before. It was lovely, but exhausting. By the time the day came, I was – truth be told – a little tightly-wound.
After that party, and the scale of it, I started to imagine what I might do for forty. I envisioned something grand – a ballroom, perhaps. Dancing. I stopped short of releasing doves from the rooftop, but really, I was embarrassingly close to that. Even then, the idea of forty had started to take hold in my imagination – looming and growing the proportions of myth.
The thing with having all these people – the ones you are glad to have re-connected to as well as the ones for whom the reemergence is perhaps more complicated – is that you reveal yourself to be something of a hoarder. As if to say to an uncaring universe: Look at all the people who love me. I will keep them close to me, enumerate them, line them up, holding hands. See now: Let us count how many times they can encircle the earth.
I have already had more celebrations this year than one person should be allowed, by law I think, to enjoy. And there are still more ahead.
In my vision of the ballroom party, what I imagined is that it would be that evening, that one magical evening, which would reveal all the love and all the good wishes of the people around me. That it would make me feel something. That it would make me feel loved, celebrated. Whole.
Of course, what I am learning, what I am trying so hard to learn, is that it is rarely the big, showy moments, the large dramatic events, that reveal much. It is instead, those small quiet moments that I tend to overlook, that I take for granted: when, after a meeting, P. says, want to get some lunch? And when J. stops by the office, just to drop off a gift. And when W. sends a postcard written in her own beautiful hand. And when I run into M. on the street and we stand there, talking on the corner while the light turns from red to green and back again. The hundreds of moments, the thousands of beautiful, perfect fleeting moments that shout out love! - if only I would listen.
So, the party: No disco ball, no doves. No cupcakes. No ballroom. Just a little place to gather, for friends to come by. To share a drink and maybe a little dancing. A quick chat if the music is not too loud. And yes, I’ll probably cry. I’ll blame it on my age.
I am holding on to the tiara, though. The one I bought at the party store with the flashing lights and “40” in glitter. That I’m keeping, so don’t even try to take it away from me.