Dearest Rachel –
You of all people know I never liked birthdays as an adult.
When you’re a kid, the day revolves around you. The day is supposed to go perfectly, and you’re supposed to get everything you want for your birthday. All your friends show up, and together you celebrate with them the taking of another step into that world of possibilities that is adulthood – or at least, the point where this, that or another thing becomes accessible to you. Every passing year tells you that the world is just that much more your oyster – or whatever you prefer if you don’t like oysters (upon reflection, I literally don’t know any kid that ever did. But who ever told us “The world is your pizza, kid”?).
Emphasis upon “supposed to.” And that emphasis gets louder and louder with each passing year as an adult. It’s your birthday? Whatever, fine, congratulations. Now let’s get back to work, it’s the end of the fiscal year, and the books aren’t going to close themselves. And no mistakes this time, you worthless piece of _______.
(Sorry about the blank line there, honey. I just can’t think right now of the proper invective to insert between “Happy” and “Birthday,” so I just put them there as a placeholder. Let whoever comes by and reads this some time in the future decide what fits here best. And they can do the same as they imagine the sound of their boss right here.)
I blame Dr. Seuss for this.
Not because suddenly he’s being labelled (libeled?) as the most racist filth to ever walk the earth (are you kidding? Based on my own gender and skin color, I’m by default every bit as bad, and with far less artistic talent). No, no… just from his own conception of what a ideal birthday celebration should be like:
Let’s just say, his book describes an absolutely epic birthday celebration, although in retrospect, it seemed like the kid was pretty much alone with the Birthday Bird the whole time. And actually, considering how few friends I had as a kid, I think I could live with that. I still remember one time when, being the only middle schooler in Sunday School who had achieved the memorization goal or some such set by our leaders, the couple took me out alone with them to Showbiz Pizza (This was before all those sorts of places were tainted by the likes of FNAF and all that – I was just enjoying playing the video games, like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man and Warlords and the like). The fact that it just so happened to be my birthday when they did this was just – you’ll pardon the expression – the icing on the cake. I didn’t mind being the only kid in the company of the adults, in any event. Heck, I think I related to them better than I did to my peers.
But I’m getting away from the topic. My point is that, every page of this book is a ridiculously over-the-top celebration, and I wished – just once – that I could enjoy something like this for myself:
And yet, even then, the rational side of me knew that this was so absurdly impractical. Particularly the part where the kid selects – with the help of the Birthday Bird – the tallest pet available in the nation. I’ve already mentioned that I was never a pet person – it’s part of why I can’t give Chompers his best life, now that you’re gone – and this seemed, even at my young age, to be a woefully bad idea for a present selection.
If nothing else, you might come to the realization that whoever had a birthday the day before had already picked out an animal that was taller than whatever was still available today. What are you going to do, go to that kid’s house, and demand he turn it over to you, so that you get the tallest one?
Anyway, you get the idea. The old doc set the bar so absurdly high that nothing could measure up. And then, as we all get to adulthood, reality sets in, and you realize the world really doesn’t revolve around you at all (although, each of us should have figured that out the first time it rained on a birthday – I suppose those born in the winter are much more keenly attuned to this, and adjust to this reality that much sooner).
So yeah, I never enjoyed my birthday all that much once we were married. Oh, we did special things together – when we could, and when we could afford to. One day, I’d like to go on about what we did last year, just as one rule opened things up for us and another rule closed things down.
And of course, if it was a Saturday – like it is this year – you never failed to make it an extra special morning together. Oh, I so miss those times, darling. You were beautiful, you were caring, you were… you were everything I could wish for.
So, why am I rabbitting on like this about birthdays, anyway. Well, aside from the obvious answer, there’s the fact that, even just last week, while watching the waiter bring over a candle-laden brownie for our nephew Will, reminded him to make a wish before blowing the candle out. We all know the drill, and now that I think about it, I can’t recall the last time someone actually issued such a reminder.
But I realized I don’t have anything I can wish for. Not realistically, anyway.
And whether or not the world will take the effort to do its level best by me – spoiler alert, it won’t – there’s nothing it can do to give me what I might want.
It wasn’t that long ago, when you would ask, and I could only shrug. “We have too much stuff, honey. All I want is my freedom,” by which I meant from that job that made me feel so small. And you even managed that (thanks your parents’ penurious ways), allowing us to spend the last two years together without the gloom of a nightmare workplace hanging over our lives. We got to travel (for a brief moment), I got to set myself up at folks’ place to watch over them and work on my dreams, and we could spend all our time together if and when we saw fit (and during the lockdown, we did just that for quite some time). It was almost perfect.
What could I wish for except to have it all back?
Or, really, just to have you back, so we could continue to enjoy the future. Everything else is still in our hands, darling (both mine and Daniel’s, at any rate). It just needs you here to share it with.
Until then – or until someone can take your place (and how is that going to be possible?) – can any birthday henceforth truly be happy?
I don’t know. I’m left having to find out, though. Wish me luck.