The idea of celebrating my birthday has always felt more awkward than joyous to me. A subject to be avoided rather than a tale to be regaled. A date to hide rather than a date to be circled on the calendar. The reason for my complicated relationship with birthdays has nothing to do with complex feelings toward aging, or any pointedly bad experiences. It is due to a simple and singular reason: I never celebrated my birthday growing up.
When people hear that I’ve never celebrated my birthday, I am often met with looks of pity and comments of sympathy. Oh, you poor thing. That’s so sad! Why would your parents do that to you? I usually responded defensively. My parents were not doing anything to me; I wasn’t being punished. I did not lack for shelter or clothing or food. I knew I was loved. We just never dedicated a day to celebrate my birth.
Having a birth date during Christmas vacation helped me to avoid the delicate school conversations about birthday plans. I didn’t have to field questions about what I was planning or who I was going to invite. And when returning to school after the week-long break, classmates were too focused on talking about their non-school activities, and ensuring their friends that they really did miss them over break, that no one noticed my lack of birthday stories.
I never envied people that celebrated their birthdays. I did enjoy my friends’ excitement in retelling their own birthday celebrations, and sure, there were times I wish I had my own tales to brag about. But then I winced as my friends described the jealousy and slights that came with birthday celebrations–one friend outdoing another, or another friend being uninvited to a party. It seemed like an unnecessary source of stress and disappointment: the pressure of planning, the insult of people not coming, or the fear of people forgetting. My birthdate would simply pass and I would age another year. An unremarkable marker for another year lived.
Recently, I came out to my family. There was no hate or vitriol spewed at me. There was no big fight or ugly words yelled. Just a lot of tears. And when the dust finally settled, I was no longer accepted by those that birthed me and promised to love me. I was no longer accepted into the household I was raised. I currently am still estranged from my family. I am still processing the deep-seeded pain of their absence.
Last year was my first full year without them. With a hole in my heart, I honestly managed the best I could, focusing more on my relationships and friendships with those that accepted me, and still cared for me. When my first “birthday” without my family approached, I was planning to let the day passed unnoticed, like I always have. It wasn’t as if I was eager to celebrate the occasion. I didn’t see the need to celebrate the day in the past, and I didn’t see a reason to start now.
My girlfriend did. She wanted me to mark the occasion. She wanted me to circle the day on my calendar. She wanted me to associate the day with positivity and love. And to do that, she planned me a fuckin’ surprise party.
Unbeknownst to me, she filled my apartment with friends. Friends that had other obligations during Christmas week. Friends that had families that they would need to get back to. Friends that waited out in the cold outside of my apartment until I was ready to be surprised. Friends that also, knowing the significance of the day, chipped in with food, gifts and laughter.
As we ate, shared stories, and played games, I became overwhelmed. Do I sing along when everyone else is singing to me? Or do I smile and nod along to the tune? How do I blow out twenty-something candles in one breath? How do people normally do this? And I have to think of a wish? Do I deserve all this attention? I didn’t realize how much this day had became imbued with meaning. A once-nonsignificant date in December now became a gentle reminder that I am still cared for.
This year, I planned my own birthday celebration. Yes, I was stressed with the logistics of planning a birthday. I am still uncomfortable when I ask people to set aside time to celebrate my day. I am still awkward with the spotlight and attention I receive. I am still learning all the etiquette that comes with birthday celebrations. The boredom and stress that some people feel towards their birthday has not yet appeared. Yet, I know I’ll always appreciate the reminder the day brings: that people are willing to come together and celebrate me. They put in the effort to remind me that I am loved. And with a family that currently isn’t willing to do that, I am grateful for the people that are. 🎈
edited by laneia.