I don’t remember my birthdays. This is only to be expected, for I never had a birthday party, save for the time when the ratio of adults to children was eight to ten. But I realize it was just a ploy for my parents to announce my sister’s conception, amidst balloons, strawberry ice cream, cake, and my telling the camera, “I already have this!” as I held an Asian Barbie doll that slightly looked like me. The last party, and the last helium menagerie of short-necked giraffes bobbing along the sidewalk, sighing for air.
Exactly two months from my birthday, two years ago, I sat with a friend to catch up. She rolled her eyes, scolding lazy construction workers she almost ran over on her way to see me. The line across her lips was just as deliberate, her brows pigmented diagonally as I talked about ending my relationship. The only thing she had to say was “Think of your future.” I ran through the list as I always did, treating each item as if it was happening for the first time. Of course, only to me. His parents inquired about my finances more so than my own, the mother suggested I didn’t take care of him as we divided our cooking duties, and the father predicted I’d dance with Congressmen, share their suites, deny my clothes. This is what happens when girls with boyfriends continue their schooling out of state.
I showed her the text messages. And him too. Not the boy who gave me grief a good sixteen months after the breakup. Just a person with whom I developed a silly fascination with, someone who made me believe movies like A Beautiful Mind are historically accurate, that I could do anything in the wake of my twenties, that love motivates us to do what we never thought ourselves capable of. The lady whom friends jokingly referred to as my “big sister” could only shake her head as I insisted, “But it’s love!”
“You’re giving this unnecessary attention.”
Eyebrows rose as conversations stretched. Twenty minutes, sixty minutes. Three hours and fifteen minutes. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” a staff member barked, dropping a pile of copies on his desk with a scolding thud. She’d interject again to hiss, “Stop harassing her!”
“She’s not my student, so I suppose she’s fair game.”
His wordings and mannerisms were muddied enough for me to unearth, given my already existing difficulties in discerning attitudes and reactions in general. When he stamped his foot on the ground with a shudder, biting his tongue, blinking hard, I had a good idea. No one receives a pull on the trigger with a smile, and once that trigger’s pulled, no one lingers to provide a monologue with all the facts and details you need to write your review by the deadline.
I couldn’t comprehend the granola bars, coffee, the cute bacon sandwich. Offering rides as I walked to a bus stop five minutes away. You wonder, “Why would he waste his time?”
Additionally, the insistence on keeping in touch. “Let me know what you decide to do.” “Thank you for telling me how things are on your end.” “Hopefully we’ll catch up one day.”
When I came to visit many months back, my phone shook in my purse. One of my former instructors giggled. “And what does _____ say?” “_____ doesn’t text. In fact, he doesn’t really care for phones.”
“And you know this how?” The embers which singed my ears without a thought for private discipline revealed as much.
The last time we saw each other, it was over trays of sushi. He professed a fear of shallots as my tongue rested on slabs of avocado. A sliver of seaweed settled between my teeth and he only stared, hands clasped to mouth. I thought to bring up my friend, who wasn’t dancing with a Congressman, but someone kind of comparable.
He tapped the pinewood with a black chopstick. “We shouldn’t talk about this. But did I ever tell you our conversations remind me of the ones I have with my sister?”
I crunched on a sharpened ice cube, my forehead meeting his glance more so than my kohl-glazed eyes.
“No, no. I mean, it’s not like they’re the same. But they’re similar. And that’s a good thing. You remind me of her!” The clasp remained tight against a budding grin.
“I text people at 2 a.m., only for them to text me to go to sleep. I’m rather inconsiderate.” Similarly, my tone grew brusque, my back no longer cushioned against my chair in what was a state of calm.
“And she calls me at 3 a.m., which means it’s really 5 a.m. where she’s at, and it’s always about something work-related.”
“I always say it’s a good story.”
“Yes! She does that too!”
“But at this point in life, we can do that. Do whatever we need to do the next day, forget about the party three hours before, you know?”
“Yes, I remember that time. Maybe you two should exchange emails. You’re really a lot alike.”
My forehead glistened, while the cherry blossomed lamp swung back and forth, threatening to fall and oust the mango ice cream in its porcelain bowl.
“No. Well, you’re different, but you do remind me of her. She turns twenty-seven ten days before New Year’s but we never did anything because, you know, Christmas and the stuff that comes with it. I’m buying her something today.”
Thankfully, he didn’t have to drive me this time. Home was a ten minutes’ walk, headphones blaring annoyances only Fiona Apple could sing about.
Two weeks later, as the office packed their bags to embark on winter’s vacation, my colleague handed me a yellow envelope.
Hurriedly, I tore the paper, and opened a high gloss card with a koala’s head concealed in a bucket.
“Your birthday is never a secret!” He scrawled niceties below.
I remembered my birthday that year, and the sear of misunderstanding.