I have failed to get my arms around it but I had my head pointed in the right direction. There is that at least. Last year I got it right. This year it mattered more, as it turned out, but it snuck up on me. However, some very important facts were solidified and this is good and right I suppose. I can at least look back on the last decade and see what's happened and at least enough of an awakening to notice that I'm conscious and for the most part no longer in pain; only that I fucked up and failed to do anything about it until it was too damn late. On the other hand this is a giant mirror clear as day about the way I make my choices, the ways in which I set myself up to win or not to win, my ability to acknowledge myself in terms of where and who I am today and my willingness to communicate that.
So here's the deal and I know perfectly well that some of you know this but most of you won't. My birthday, my actual birthday, April 12 at 4:36 AM (OK, please don't wake me up but from the moment I first open my eyes to the moment I shut them finally at the end of the night...) this day is mine and mine alone. That doesn't mean stop the world and pay attention to me that just means that this day is mine.
Last weekend my birthday was celebrated brilliantly, in a way I'm not sure it was ever celebrated and I'm wanting to be ever so careful about the way I speak, or write about this. What occurred on April 5 and into April 6 is in no way diminished. People celebrated my birthday and said some very profound things to me. This could have happened before, during or after and it would have changed nothing in terms of it's value. I hope I've made myself perfectly clear. If not, that's about the best I can do and I need to get back on track.
Growing up my mother did a fabulous job acknowledging the fact that I'd been born and that I mattered in the world. My father picked this up on my 18th birthday and and grabbed the big ones. He took 21 and maybe 25 and 30 and 40 and might have had something to say about 45 but then finally this one. He has not missed a single turning point or right of passage and has not failed once to have something remarkably profound to say to me, something that 1. let me know in no uncertain terms how much I mattered in the world even if it was only that he sat down and wrote these things on exactly the date I was born but that 2. he had something to say that simply cut to the quick, or the heart of the matter and rattled me in a way that no one has ever managed to do. So there is the precedent.
The day you are born. Stop and take stock. The people around you, closest to you, will also stop and take stock. It is interesting that my brother and I say that birthdays are ignored in my family. This is an interesting dichotomy given my experience and expectation. When I got married the responsibility of telling me how much I mattered on that one single day was passed on to my husband.
He did ok with it. Well enough that I didn't so much notice the hand off, and there was a hand off, short those milestones. When I was married a second time there was not a hand off, it was gradual. There's a lot can be read into that but both men took a great deal of care with me. I didn't think much of it. I was cared for in a very specific way. By the time I married my third husband, my first had moved on to his second wife and the hand off to my second husband was complete. My second husband did not fully turn me over to my third. Not quite.
And here I fell through the sidewalk the day I turned 40. This was problematic.
Here is what happened. The day we flew to Rome I was given an emerald bracelet. I have no idea how I'd gotten it into my head already that I loved and wanted emeralds but somehow I had. I was given my birthday present early. Warning bells went off in my head. This would have been April 8 or 9. I asked him why and he said it was so I'd have it to wear for the trip. I said thank you and then closed my mouth. I didn't know what to do and at 40 I lacked the vocabulary to explain the significance of the 12th. If you're going to give me something, don't do it early, you mustn't do it early unless you absolutely aren't going to see me on the 12th and then I'm not going to open it unless you really need me to open it. And this is extravagant, there won't be anything else. I need a book, a piece of music, anything... how to explain this? I was still dependent on something outside myself. Well, there hadn't ever been anything else, now had there? I closed my mouth in a panic. How can I be so horribly ungrateful?
The 12th came about on a Monday, the day after Easter Sunday in Rome when the whole city had emptied out and I woke up and laid very still on my side. I was very frightened. What was I going to do? What was going to happen? Why were small gifts so important? What was I meant to do with something so extravagant received too early? I laid quietly on my side and whispered to myself, please say happy birthday, please say happy birthday, please oh please oh please... nothing.
It was already over and done on the 8th or 9th. The war in my head began and let me tell you, it was horrific. I beat myself senseless. I guess that's the best I can do to explain. Meanwhile we'd planned to go to Pompeii for the day which involved a rental car and a long drive with crazy people down the coast, past Amalfi and finally into the crazy city of Pompeii where you pay dearly to keep your car safe and the streets are kept safe by men in full body armour with semi-automatics.
We went into the old city. So much more had been excavated than I last remembered. All I knew about Pompeii was what we knew from 1971 and the pictures from the beginnings in our school books. I was astonished. I made it through the first 3 hours and then I sat down on an excavated curb, put my head on my knees, wrapped in my arms and started to cry and that's the way I stayed for the next whole hour and the war in my head continued.
I would like to tell you that what finally came out was responsible. I would like to tell you that what came out of my mouth was gentle. I would like to say that I didn't attack my completely clueless husband but that would not be the truth. The truth is that I finally blew. With snot running down my face and onto the front of my shirt I explained to the best of my ability exactly what had been going on in my head all day and then I did something truly atrocious; I told him exactly what he'd done wrong and by the time I'd worked myself up into this full head of steam there was no soothing me, no reaching me, there was only sitting beside me and letting me cry it out which is exactly what I did for the next several hours. Periodically I'd get up and walk around and look at more relics. I never stopped crying though. It settled down to silent tears. I did stop telling him he was awful. I did eventually apologize but I couldn't stop crying. Eventually I whipped around at him and said, the words are 'Happy. Birthday.' You have forgotten to say them.
I was getting to that.
Oh good, because it's 6:30 and I've had a really awful day.
I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry.
In the end we had dinner at the restaurant in the hotel which was really lovely and he had the waiters come out and sing happy birthday which I truly detest but that wasn't the point and I went to bed more or less OK and later there was another present when we got home because he scrambled to make up for it and we weren't married yet so nothing truly awful had started to happen but isn't that enough?
My guilt and shame were epic.
That never happened again. On the other hand, something was irrevocably broken and I had no idea how to fix it. My second husband continued to hand over small offerings of books and music, quietly, every year.
On my 45th birthday when I was truly alone for the first time I put a sunburst on my belly and I was OK. On my 46th, 47th and 48th I suffered horribly. On one of those years I reached out and was taken care of by my friends and my mother. I got through it.
On my 49th birthday I finally figured it out. This is on me. Totally, 100% on me. This day, unlike any other day, is the most important day of the year. This is the day that is 100% mine. This is the day that I must protect above all other days. The day that I need to be more gentle with myself than any other day. The day I need to be able to care for myself, give to myself and take the time to reflect on any reflecting that needs to be done. This is the day that mustn't have conflict or undue stress.
Last year I remember being in a brand new relationship that may or may not have been going somewhere and thinking, shit, Woman, you need to keep yourself safe. You do not know this man and if you give yourself over to maybe he'll be here or maybe he'll not be here or maybe he'll get it about birthdays or maybe he won't then you're setting yourself up for one totally effed up day. Therefore, think of the best possible day or weekend you can possibly come up with, plan it and make it happen. And so I did. As it turned out, that relationship continued to grow and he managed to get himself to my house on April 11 and be there the morning of April 12 before I left and I thought; maybe he gets it. Huh. And off I went.
Last year I finally got it right, from dancing at Glen Echo on the 12th to the drive to Floyd and the dance at Floyd on the 13th, to the hanging out and just being in the beautiful warm sun on the 14th with Cielo to the long drive home on the Blue Ridge Parkway in cloud cover so thick you couldn't see more than 5 feet and a climb halfway up Peaks of Otter and the halfway was because I'd finally gotten smart about tired and a very long drive home and taking care of myself and my knees and everything.
I'd had a conversation on the phone with NM that morning that really didn't go all that well and it was one of the first that just didn't make sense to me and in the end I just let it go and went off on the last leg of my weekend. I took very good care of myself.
When it came to NM's birthday this year it was difficult because he didn't seem to want to be given to or maybe it was something else. He wanted to make his own cake. At first he seemed to like the idea because like me, nobody was making him any cakes, he was the maker but then that seemed to make an abrupt change and me being vulnerable and risk averse nearly backed away and stayed away but in the end I did it anyway. What the hell? How bad can it be? It was so important that I finish knitting his sweater on his birthday that I think I actually finished it in his spare room, locked up there with an iron to shape it in the very last minutes. This is, of course, my stuff. My guess is he probably wouldn't have given a rat's ass. It's like Christmas, as he put's it, his wife doesn't put much stock in Christmas and neither does he but I sure do so there you have it. Maybe birthdays are completely irrelevant except he likes to make cakes so there's a good reason and I have no business putting my stuff on him.
So I don't.
What I did was put it on me, which is where it belongs and then eff it up mightily.
I'm not saying I should have gone away but by the end of the day I was starting to think if I'd have been smart that's exactly what I would have done except I'd have found a way to take him with me, or maybe not or I'd have made it right or I'd have found a way to do something. I don't know.
I scheduled a pedicure because he was very anxious and needed to work. I did too but the problem was I was too sick to focus still and I was still trying to work my way toward being coherent. I tried to schedule a massage because I thought, OK, you like this, so give yourself something. It was too late on Friday when I tried to do that. There was just nothing. I felt awful when I left but the sun was out and I walked as slowly as possible to give him as much time to work as possible.
In the walking slowly things started to happen. I walked along King Street slowly and I walked past the Northampton Inn which I think it's called and he always tells me the same story just about when we pass it and one time we went in there too look at the brunch menu which made me smile because he still doesn't strike me as a brunch guy but maybe we'll do that some Sunday. I think he's afraid I'll actually drink that bloody mary (and I will) and then go home and go to sleep on him (which I will).
I started to notice very small details. I noticed cracks in the sidewalk, small pebbles and patches of grass. I noticed that no one passing by would make eye contact except on man on the curb lighting a cigarette (possibly going to become a capital crime punishable by death in the Happy Valley within the next five years) who looked at me sideways and when I initiated a smile he said good morning and I said it back and then he smiled big. The nearly crunchy granola-ish yuppy type things wouldn't look at me and I thought, I miss New York City, I can get people to look at me there with a smile and they smile back. Just not the tourists. Tourists are terrified. Or contemptuous or both. I looked back at my feet and started to cry. Something has happened today and I need to look at it.
I stopped at the butcher. He said stop at the butcher, maybe you'll be inspired. Talk to them. I often wonder if he really knows what introvert means. I went inside. I do not browse. I go inside if I need something. I guess I'm going to buy dinner or I've been assigned a stretch and I do accept this stretch. I'm going in. They were very cheerful in there. I wonder if, in the Happy Valley, the people who work in shops are expected to be very cheerful but the people on the sidewalks are shut down and closed off. I wonder about that. I can almost always get someone to look at me and smile.
In the end I bought some Pacific Rim sausages because they sounded interesting and then the ham hock caught my eye and I thought, while I nearly peed myself - do these people have a clue what to do with these? Do they know what they're for? Nope. Not a clue. I'll be making red beans and she looked at me blankly. OK, never mind. Just give me that thank you so much.
I passed the Catholic church but I'm not sure exactly when. I just know that I must have. This won't be around much longer because no one is tolerant of Catholics. That makes me very sad. I hope it makes it.
I turned right onto North Street because there is a donut shop or something on the left that tells me this is where I cross over or under or something like that. I passed more people who don't make eye contact. Two mothers with their baby. I must have serial killer tattooed on my forehead or something. Or I'm Not From Here. Whatever.
I was supposed to stop at the first tag sale of the season. I hate this. Truly. Introvert. I'm not sure that word means what you think it means. You must hate me. OK, I know you don't hate me but sometimes I wonder. I think I'm feeling bad about myself today. I was feeling the need to please (DANGER, WILL ROBINSON) and so I turned right into the driveway sort of across the street from the pink Victorian (please don't ask, at least it wasn't the purple victorian) and there was just NO WAY
I was going to sort through that pile of clothes looking for something I'd take home (please don't ask me to explain why I won't do this by myself, it's an exposure sort of thing) but I wandered around for awhile until I found two boxes of old Ball jars, the sort with the hinged lids and the rubber seals and I thought, holy shit! Pay dirt! No way I'm going to can with these but I love these things and I'd gladly take them all if I could find fresh seals because you need fresh seals to keep anything in them and I ended up having to talk to the man in the grey hat and he didn't see why you wouldn't still can with them and I tried to explain and then just wanted to stop and I asked him how much for one and he said one dollar and I just looked at him like somebody was going to pay $12 for the box but I gave him a dollar anyway and walked away as he took a call on his cell phone. I put my jar in my bag of meat.
As I continued to walk up North Street I came finally to the Cemetery and I dragged my feet. This is where I should have found the gate and gone in. This is where I realized I needed a journal and by the time I got my hands on one late Sunday afternoon it was just about too late.
This is where the cracks in the pavement started to have significan't meaning. This is where I needed to come to an abrupt halt and look into my own abyss.
He is not a happy birthday kind of guy. He said it last night at midnight and that will be the end of it. You will hear happy birthday at the Greenfield dance tonight but he will not be with you. He will be wherever he is because he will not know that this is important to you because you have not told him. I thought about how Elizabeth and I searched him out in the crowd at his birthday and tried to get near him but could not because he jumped up on the stage and realized how different we are.
Let it go.
I went on home. I should have given myself more time.
In the end I failed myself. In the end I went right back to Pompeii except without the expectation. In the end I sat on my own curb and cried it out without the slightest bit of a clue how to put myself where I needed to be. For awhile there I was afraid we weren't going to go dancing and I thought I might be sick. I had no idea how I would handle that. But we went. I was lost. I love dancing and I danced but I was lost. There was one waltz at the break which was wonderful and then he agreed to go home which was good because I just needed to be with him in a quiet place. Everything was raw and feeling broken and I'd just made a mess of things. I just needed to press myself up against him and be silent.
It didn't quite turn out that way, at least not right away. Something happened and it truly doesn't matter what but I made the mistake of saying that it was hard for me. I met absolute resistance. I tried to say, but is there room for negotiation. Nope. None. And it was going to go downhill very, very fast. Something very harsh was said and I'd wanted to say, but it's my birthday, please. Please, just for today but that's not fair. And I'm so glad I did not say that, I even managed to stop thinking it. In the end I managed to find my breath again.
Let it be.
On Sunday morning I woke up and the first thing I thought was, oh shit, I've let it pass. Ah, damn. We took the bikes out eventually and I had more trouble communicating and in the end we turned the bikes around because he said he needed to and that solved that. I can't seem to get the words out the way I need to and this is on me.
Let it go.
So there. That is what it's all about. Next year I will handle it differently. Next year is Sunday. Next year I will find a way to make it right.