I don’t know why I dislike the idea of people celebrating my birthday. Maybe I didn’t get the memo from my family that the big giant deal made on birthdays ends at 18 and it crushed me. Maybe I actually like it a little, but a deep sense of guilt permeates me for liking that kind of attention? Lord knows I like to be listened to and watched as if on stage sometimes. What I mean is, I want people to view me as knowledgeable and charming, dependable and as someone to look up to. But I’m a wall flower by nature (and occasionally by hormones). So I want people to only pay attention to me when I’m seeking it, when I’m ready for it, when I know my lines. Otherwise, I like to be able to melt into the cracks of everyday casual and relax as I disappear into usual.
So when people make a big deal about my birthday, it affects me several different ways. It annoys me, because although its my “special day” I have to get ready for it and have some lines prepared. It bugs my sense of anonymity on a day when, I’d really rather be noticed only along with the great cup of coffee or the beautiful sunshine outside. And I have a memory about as reliable as a generic, dollar store electronic device. I can’t remember everyone’s birthdays and I don’t like so much as wasting trees for greeting cards, much less taking up my day coordinating in any way a cake or something else. So I don’t need that kind of guilt when others make a big deal of my birthday.
A couple years ago, my friend and mentor Sheri was somewhat new at work. She didn’t realize my protests about people doing something for my birthday was more than the usual “oh, you guys, now you shouldn’t…” kind of deal. And because she wanted to prank me back (I love office pranks) as well as fulfill the birthday celebration, she came up with a brilliant idea. She had everyone at work write down nice things, or things they appreciated about me, on little pieces of colored paper. Then they rolled them each up and put them each into a balloon. After inflating all the balloons (she had conspired with M) they opened my truck and entirely filled the cab with them. Then she figured out some way to get me to go to my truck. Oh right, I was so stressed out that day because I sensed people were up to something that I had developed a migraine. So she encouraged me to go home and get well.
I must pause here and explain that I have issues with balloons. As a 40 year old woman I know how ridiculous it sounds. But somewhere in my past, someone I trusted popped several balloons near my head and freaked me out. Ever since, I physically can’t stand to be around a balloon getting popped.
So when she walked me to my truck and with a big smile, handed me a needle, I felt so terrible. I wanted to be appreciative for the great prank she’d played, and the thought and effort that had gone into this, but I was afraid, as everyone on staff began showing up and crowding around, that I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I explained this to her and she had several staff members pop them all while I cowered at a distance with my eyes clenched shut and my hands to my ears.
I collected the little pieces of love that had been in each balloon, read my card, hugged a few people (even though I am not a hugger) and made a hasty retreat. I felt so bad. Later, as I sat in my room with an ice pack on my head, I read the little pieces of paper, and was touched. I still have all of them to this day in my little keepsake box. Sheri apologized the next day and I cried and told her it was a great prank and gift. It didn’t change the awkwardness and discomfort of the day for me, but I did appreciate and cherish how much she must have thought of me to go to those lengths.
But now she’s gone, and this new team doesn’t know the deal. And today I go to work and hope that they won’t go overboard or expect much from me. I had to find a quiet room and cry this week when one of them, well-meaning, sprung their knowledge that today was my birthday. I begged and pleaded that they forget about it and not make a big to-do. It’s like deja vu, only Sheri’s not here.
I think my dislike for my birthday, all my emotion over missing M and my friends and old familiar over in Washington, on top of the bittersweet memory of that last “big deal” birthday, all conspired that day to break my face open with tears. If it’s true what Sheri’s church folk said at the funeral, I hope she is hanging around to help with things like this. I don’t believe it truly. But it would be nice if she were poking me to be appropriate, and feeding me lines of script so I don’t fumble the warm thoughts that may come my way today … so that I don’t end up feeling like a total fool another year older.