This is how I feel every year when my birthday rolls around.
Faded. A disappearing shadow. It’s the day I first existed and yet it feels a little more like the day I began to vanish, fade, matter less… with each passing year. What’s become of me? Where did I go? Is this what aging is all about?
What do you want to do for your birthday this year?
I cringe, when this question pops up. Usually in days immediately before. The final week when we’ve all given up hope of doing something great. The guilt over failing to plan, sneaks ashore to lick at the feet of my loved ones. A selfish sadness I can’t seen to squelch laps at my heart. Another little piece of me fades away. My answer is silence. Blue sky like the space where my head once was. It’s fine. We’re adults. We don’t make a fuss.
What do you want to do? I used to know the answer to that question. Now I know how to settle. To make believe it’s ok that birthdays don’t matter much anymore. But if I’m being honest, I’m not even all that good at pretending, am I? It’s in the faded blue of my eyes. Yes. I am so sad. Birthdays make me crazy.
I’ve forgotten how to wish for myself. Baking my own cake would be easy. Blowing out the candles would be hard.
About a month ago, I noticed that Catalina Island Express, the boat company that runs the ferry between here and the island, offers free round trip fares on your birthday.
I didn’t think about it. It was a gut instinct. It felt something like what I’d like to do on my birthday. Take a journey. Sail away. Perhaps the sunshine and fresh air would restore me somehow. I mentioned it once, maybe twice.
But what are we going to do on the Island?
My whole family commenced arguing. My husband offered to book the bus tour that made me so sick and miserable the last time I did it. My teens complained about cell service on the island and wound up to deliver their standard “why can’t I bring a friend?” pitch. My 7 year old announced he hates the beach and the 4 year old didn’t want to have to walk anywhere. Or go on the boat again. I pictured hot and sticky, hungry and dripping with ice cream, needing to pee, seasick, lovesick, demanding a souveneir and declaring dinner gross as they piped up. I’d hand over my cell phone till the battery died to appease my son. I’d give my daughter my dinner. I’d fight with my husband over who forgot to pack the towels and sunscreen. I’d come home bitter and burned.
The day began to assume a different meaning as everyone demanded to know from me, where we would eat, what we would do and how I would make them happy all day long.
Just like that, I vanished completely. Gone.
I’m thinking of going to Catalina on my birthday. Alone. Please don’t blame me. I love my family dearly. But I’d like to matter more, if only for one day, to myself.
Plus I can’t think of anything better to do.