I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I hate my birthdays. Not in the cute Hollywood I-Will-Not-Be-Defined-By-My-Birthdate-I-Am-At-One-With-Nature-In-My-Flowing-White-Dress-And-Flowers-In-My-Hair-Along-The-Beach kind of way.
No, I’m talking the heaving, hyperventilating, curling into fetus position while mentally dictating my obituary under the bed covers type of hate.
Drama queen? A little, I suppose; yet for as long as I can remember I have always been a nervous wreck around the time of my birthday. Why? Perhaps we could trace it all the way back to when I was three and I had a fit about the pink dress my poor mother was trying to make me wear -yes, even then I had a sense of style and didn’t listen to my mother’s advice.
Mother: Put it on.
3-year-old Me: No.
Mother: Go on, it will look pretty on you.
3-year-old Me: No.
Mother: Your friends are all outside waiting for you and this pretty pink dress will look nice. Don’t you want to go out and play?
Me: (stubbornly) No.
Mother: There’s pink cake too. With sugar icing.
Me: (less confident) No.
Mother: Look, just try the thing on.
Me: It’s ITCHY.
Mother: (exasperatedly) How would you know? you haven’t tried it on!
Me: It LOOKS itchy.
Mother: (Losing it) Look, you either try on the dress now or I’ll put you to bed and your friends can have your cake without you.
Me: (sniffling). Ookay. (Put Dress on) Oooh, it’s prittee!
Mother: (rolling eyes) Oh, don’t you look pretty in that!
But no, that couldn’t be it; I cannot blame a lifelong neurosis on a pink dress and a toddler’s attitude problem.
It’s not that I hate birthday parties; on the contrary, I’ve had many wonderful celebrations full of food, music, games and the people I love.
It’s never been about the gifts either: as much as I love the shiny, superficial things in life; the experiences are even more valuable, which is why one of my all-time favourite birthdays was when I travelled alone to the Red Sea coast for a long weekend. With just three CDs (Pink Floyd, Dave Mathews and a mixed CD) and the third part of Lord Of The Rings, I spent my days sunbathing and reading, and my nights writing and sleeping. It was simple and relaxed. It was awesome.
But back to my annoying dilemma (I say annoying only because I’ve noticed how my friends get increasingly wary of me as my birthday approaches, and my parents gently inform me that they will call me in a few days once my wave of pre-birthday neurosis has ended and I’ve stopped yelling at the phone that has imbedded itself into the concrete wall after I threw it)-
Perhaps all this fear, panic and self-indulgent whining have something to do with that time when I was twelve and a strange man came up to me at a Christmas bazaar. Without a word, he took my palm, proceeded to readthe lines on my hand, and then told me that I was going to die at the age of twenty four.
I tried to shake his words off, after all; how would he know? But what if he was right and I only had life till I was 24? That gloomy prospect stayed in my mind until that dreaded birthday finally arrived twelve years later.
Surprisingly enough, I didn’t die; but I did lose my best friend, a death that was quite difficult to bear and unfortunately not the last one to endure. I didn’t die at 23, nor did I die at 25 or even at 27, but that’s how old my friends were when I lost them. It’s always around my birthday when their deaths strike close to home again, when I remember their faces and wonder at the fact that I will never see them grow past those ages; and only they will remain forever young.
I also look back at my own life and question what exactly I’ve made of myself in all these years. I have yet to climb a mountain, yet to write a bestselling novel, yet to make a name of myself that will be remembered long after I’m gone. And when will I be gone? All these are tough questions to face on a day that should involve cake, balloons and glitter; which is probably why I retreat into my three-year-old skin every year and demand a loud party. Bring on the joy, laughter, and the pink icing cake. And my favourite meal of grilled chicken liver, peas and carrots and mashed potatoes; the same I’ve had every birthday since I was five.
This results in an argument with the same mother every year along the same lines:
Mother: I really don’t want to cook chicken liver this year. Can’t we just have a nice dinner at a civilized restaurant instead?
27-Year-Old Me: (Stubbornly) No.
Mother: (Sighing) Look, you’re too old to be this stubborn. Can’t I just take you to Abu El Sid and you order the liver there?
27-Year-Old Me: (Stubbornly) No. It’s my birthday. I want chicken liver. And pink icing cake.
Mother: Does it have to be pink? There’s no pink icing colour available at the supermarket. Can’t I just buy you a cake from Pumpkin?
Me: (lip trembling) Make some. Use rose petals. Or hibiscus flower. Be creative.
Mother: You know you don’t HAVE to have a pink birthday cake every single birthday.
Me: (stubbornly) Yes I do.
Mother: (sighs) I wish I’d had a boy.
Perhaps my fraught nerves stem from a fear of aging, which could probably explain the borderline fanatical obsession with my childhood traditions of pink birthday cakes, chicken liver meals and a big birthday party.
Lately, the aspect of aging has become a lot easier. I’ve begrudgingly come to accept that I will never look twelve again (though I occasionally act it), that cellulite and laugh lines are inevitable (in fact, i’m secretly rather pleased about the laugh lines appearing before the frown lines) and that turning thirty doesn’t necessarily mean the end of life: I have several friends who have survived the big 3-0 and are still cool; so it can’t be that bad.
I’ve also managed to cut back on the fetus-position/howling-at-the-moon-if-I-don’t-get-a-birthday-cake drama.
So, if you catch me scowling on my birthday or failing to smile when you burst into song or wish me a Happy Birthday; please don’t take it personally. I’m probably just fretting over the years of it raining on my birthday and resisting the urge to stamp my foot, have a tantrum and be sent to my room for acting all camp and drama queen-like. But then again, when the lip begins to tremble and the clouds threaten to cover the skies, I am comforted by the memory of that itchy pink dress that turned out to be a lot of fun, just like all of my birthdays and the years that I’ve lived through so far. So far, so good. No?