Ghosts of Birthdays Past:
Birth – My parents’ collie died, and my mom couldn’t stop crying. My grandma told her she’d better calm down or the baby would come. I was born at 6:43 the next morning. My dad sang me “The Streets of Laredo” the first time he held me, which is a song about a dead cowboy. He sang it to me every night before I went to bed while growing up.
1st – As far as I can tell from the pictures, I tried to eat my grandmother’s nose, my hair stood straight up, my mom wore some denim bellbottoms, and someone thought it would be a good idea to put the entire cake on my highchair tray.
2nd – From the pictures, I see that I got a little red wagon and a chalkboard, and my boy cousin showed up wearing a sailor suit that matched his bowl haircut, knee socks, and MARY JANES. He looks like Christopher fucking Robin.
3rd – There was a Sesame Street cake with M&Ms on it. No pictures of my cousin, so apparently he was unable to make it because he was getting an Ogilvy home perm or having his period or something. There are pictures of me crying because my heart-shaped sunglasses broke, and our old man next door neighbor consoling me.
4th – I vividly remember sitting on the piano bench with my grandmother, waiting for the party guests to arrive, and saying, “You don’t really turn four until the party starts, right, Grandmother?” I wore a pink and green sundress with a bunny on the front, and his tail was a fluffy piece of cotton. I got a red Strawberry Shortcake watch and a tricycle and we played pin the tail on the donkey in the backyard.
5th – I had a party at the park, and there’s a picture of all of my little friends and cousins sitting on a bridge, feet dangling. You can practically hear the Wonder Years theme song in the background. I had Smurf figurines on my cake that became bath toys for years afterwards. One was mermaid Smurfette.
6th – I had a party at Showbiz Pizza Place. Billy Bob the redneck bear spanked me. I feel dirty just typing that. However, I still think “Rockafire Explosion” is the best name for a band ever.
7th – My first slumber party. E.S. gave me a Herself the Elf doll and then turned all of my guests against me over the course of the evening.
8th – All I remember about this slumber party is trying in vain to put on a play for my parents while wearing these red silk Japanese pajamas that I wish I had now in adult size.
9th – I have absolutely no recollection of my 9th birthday. This was also the pivotal year when I stopped being cute, so I prefer to think that I was bodysnatched and the cute real me is still out there somewhere. I bet she’s really rich and has a king-size bed that she sleeps on with her British husband and beagle puppy.
10th – I got a 10 speed bike, and was allowed to have TEN GIRLS spend the night. This was a monumental victory, talking my mom into that many girls, but one hour into the party, I got a horrible headache that I now know was a migraine and spent the rest of the night on the couch with a wet washcloth over my face while my best friend Stephanie read Salem’s Lot in her sleeping bag on the floor next to me. I remember my mom walking by and saying, Wow, Stephanie, does your mom know you’re reading that? and then my mom told her how she had to quit reading Stephen King when she read Pet Semetary right after her father died and I was lying there, washcloth over my face, wondering why my mother was talking to my best friend like she was an adult. I also remember my friend Jennifer was in the kitchen trying to quiet rest of my guests so they wouldn’t bother me, but she was making more noise than they were by doing that stage whisper/yell thing people do at slumber parties, so I never got to sleep.
11th – I had to invite this girl who lived down the street, and we hated each other, but our mothers were friends, so they forced us on each other without realizing that at my parties, all of my friends ganged up on her and at her parties, all of her friends ganged up on me. I think we put salt and pepper in her sleeping bag. It was scandalous.
12th – My grandmother died during my party.
13th – I went to the funeral for the mother of a girl in my 8th grade class.
14th – I went to the funeral for the boy across the street who died of cancer at 24. That’s three years younger than I am now.
15th – My friends threw me a surprise party that I totally knew about beforehand at Showbiz Pizza Place. I was not spanked by Billy Bob the redneck bear. For my presents, my mom took me to the mall and I got to pick out Birkenstocks and my first set of bra and underwear from Victoria’s Secret. Fifteen was a big year for me.
16th – My dog died the day before my birthday. I had gotten him the day before my 4th birthday. Also, I flunked my driver’s test because the lady who gave it to me started SHRIEKING for no reason before I’d even gotten out of the parking lot, and I slammed on the brakes and she told me to just pull back around and refused to talk anymore. I was like, what the fuck just happened? Seriously, I think she had a mini-breakdown or a stroke or something. She had huge hair and long fake nails and was about 4 feet tall and I wanted to punch her in the neck for ruining my birthday. I didn’t even get the chance to nail parallel parking. I got her again when I retook the rest a few weeks later, and she didn’t remember me.
17th – I think I went to the Olive Garden or something. My dad got me front row tickets to see Les Miserables, and I was really excited about this, which strikes me as really weird now, because I was never one of those girls who was into musicals.
18th – The first boy I ever loved broke up with me. Ironically, my parents’ present to me was taking me to a furniture store to pick out a hope chest. I cried all the way through the store. Our relatives from Texas spent the weekend with us and slept in my room, and I kept sneaking off to my closet to cry and write really bad poems. My parents still clench their jaws when speaking of this day.
19th – My friend Alex organized a surprise party for me at Spaghetti Warehouse, and then we dropped by my brother’s Little League game to say hello to my family before going out, and I remember my mom stopping mid-sentence and saying, “Would you look at those beautiful brown eyes!”, like she’d never seen me before, and like she was really proud of me. I have no idea why I remember this. Alex and I spent the whole night driving around in her silver Cougar, smoking cigarettes and singing along to “Me and Bobby McGee.”
20th – My college boyfriend threw me a party out at his parents’ house in the country, and his band played and we barbecued, and my friend Phil gave me a lamp he made out of a wine bottle, and there was a piñata, and I wore a cowboy hat for most of the night for some reason. All of my friends came, and it was really nice.
21st – It was like a Tuesday night, and I was working full time at an advertising agency that summer, so I went out for steak with my family and my boyfriend, had two glasses of wine with dinner, and then was too tired to go out for my first legal drink at a bar afterwards. This is so lame.
22nd – All I remember is that I got a haircut that day and it was free, and I wore a lavender shirt, because there’s a picture of me from that day framed at my parents’ house. My college boyfriend is in the picture too, and my mom never took the picture out of the frame after we broke up.
23rd – There was some sort of outdoor music and drinking festival downtown, and I got drunk enough to write all over the bathroom walls at Caz’s. It took them a year to paint over it all, and I always cringed when I went in there. I wore red velvet embroidered slides and Joey bought me a diamond ring.
24th – I was at the lake for my friend Courtney’s bachelorette party, and I snuck into the bedroom to check my phone at midnight because I secretly hoped the boy I liked had called and left a message. He had, at exactly 12:00. Also, my parents bought me some really nice towels, and I was so excited when I opened them, and I remember the look on my brother’s face, like I had crossed over to the dark side.
25th – I wore some light blue pants to work that day. Emily and Tony threw a party for me a week later, but that’s about all I remember of the actual birthday: light blue pants. Yeah.
26th – I took the day off work to play Laser Tag with Brian Byrne and Steve and my brother, and then went out to dinner with my family, and then shut down the karaoke bar at Lenny’s. Steve managed to get the Flaming Lips to call and sing me happy birthday, thus rendering every future birthday pale and lackluster. I got a ticket to visit New York.
27th – So far I’ve received a care package from my parents that included uninflated balloons and a coloring book and 96 pack of crayons, which was uncanny because on the train ride home today I was thinking how cool it would be if they made coloring books for grown ups, like of your favorite movies or bands, and how I would totally lie in front of the TV and color in my Eternal Sunshine or Pavement activity book. My brother sent me Labyrinth on DVD and a Clash CD, and my roommate is in the kitchen this very minute baking me a cake, which warms my heart. I’m going to eat pizza at Grimaldi’s and see Bishop Allen. My mom was this age when she had me. I just sent an email to myself in the future, to receive a year from today. Writing it made me cry a little.