Monday, July 7, 2008

Reviving The Birthday Spirit (Pt. 2)

"I don't remember asking you not to celebrate it," I said. "I just remember not being used to celebrating it, at least, not for a long time, and asking you not to overdo it."

She smiled up at me and released the hug, taking back the chocolate and nibbling a piece as she leaned against the counter and nodded. "Do you remember telling me about your grandma?"

I did at that. Grandma Pruett had prepared me many a cake after my mother left the house. Mostly chocolate and occasionally a marbled fudge cake, it was something she did and derived much joy from.

"She did that for us because my dad couldn't bake," I said. "Yeah, I remember your eyes lighting up."

"Then you just shot me down," she said. "You told me not to bake you a cake, you didn't want to celebrate because you weren't twelve years old anymore."

I nodded. It had been a canard

"Well, honey, I was ashamed at my delay, if you remember," I explained. "I was turning 24 and had just begun college. Most of my friends from high school would have graduated. I felt like I had to catch up."

"You told me that later," she reminded me. "But in the mean time, you just told me no, you did not want a cake, and you did not want to talk about your birthday."

She took another nibble and licked her lips, turning her attention to the cake. "But you changed your mind, didn't you?" she asked.

Or she did, but though it all took me back, I simply hugged her in a snuzzle and murmured an "mmhmm."

It had been a good year. I would start my first term as an Associated Students Senator in the fall, had scored all A's and was hired to tutor over the summer and as an instructional aide in the Chicano Studies Department. But I was not happy.

I had chopped my income, having severed ties with my business partner and slowly backed away from club and rave promotions to keep peace with Marcie. My writing was being published, but the pay was low.

I kept returning to the sense that I had fallen behind. It permeated my consciousness. No achievement was untinged by it. No failing escaped magnification by it. I kept it to myself, but it was slowly eating me.

Marcie had been very happy one May morning. She served me some fried eggs (hard yolks, no run and lots of pepper, just how I liked them). She sat across and watched me eat, her hands and forearms on the table as she grinned.

I looked up and stopped chewing. I swallowed. "What? You look very mischievous..."

Her eyes went even wider and she bit her lower lip before it all came out at once. "Guesswhatscomingupsoon!" she demanded, her hand sliding over and grabbing my fork forearm.

"Is it a concert?" I asked. The guessing game had begun, a favorite of ours.

"Noooo," she said, smiling. "It's more personal."

"Is it... a vacation?" I asked.

"Nooo," she said, shaking her head. "Not until I have been at the job for a year, at least."

Is iiiit your parents' anniversay?" I asked, knowing our own was well off into September.

She began to look exasperated and shook her head. "Nooo, honey," she admonished. "It's about you!" She shook my forearm and bit her lips, sitting straighter in her chair, sure I would guess it this time.

My heart sank and the egg swelled in my throat to ten times its size as I did guess what she meant. I whispered, "My birthday?"

Her eyes popped wide open and she bit her lip before she excitedly squeaked, "Yes! Oh, I can't wait to bake you a cake! We are going to have a great time and celebrate the end of the 24th complete year of Frank."

I nodded and scraped at my plate. "I don't want to celebrate my birthday this year, honey," I said. "I would just rather let it go by like it has for the last few, okay?"

She was silent. I looked up in her eyes and she was pouting and frowning. She was mad that I had spoiled her fun, but she was also concerned. "Frank, why not?" she asked. "Is there something wrong?"

"Well, I just don't want to make a big deal out of it," I said. "I am not a twelve-year-old. I don't have to have the world revolve around me for a day, really."

She withdrew her hand. "What if I want to celebrate your birthday?" she asked. "What if it's important to me?"

I was suddenly very tired of the conversation. I looked up and simply said, "Marcie, please don't make an issue out of this, I just don't really celebrate my birthday and I haven't for a long, long time."

She looked utterly hurt and bit her upper lip, sucking it in a bit. She stood abruptly and grabbed her purse. "Fine, Frank," she said. "You know, you need to get over whatever it is that makes you such a grump. It's not attractive, you know."

She slammed the door after snatching the grocery list. I was bewildered at her insistence, but momentarily glad she had dropped it, no matter how riled she was.

But I was wrong, and not only about the argument, or for not being open with her, but in that she had not even begun to argue... not by a long shot.

It is a fight I am still grateful she picked.