It is the year 2017. As of this writing, all of the school-aged children in my county and those surrounding me have loaded up their pencil boxes and embarked on a new school year.
That means a young child with a birthday of August 8th is (potentially) right now, being sung “Happy Birthday” by teachers and classmates, possibly over cupcakes. This is an event I never once experienced in all of my academic days, but I did dream of it.
If you have a summer birthday you already know the pros and the cons. At age 13 it was bragging rights, you never have to go to class or do homework on your birthday while at age 7 you can remember the echoes of your desolate birthday parties, your friends on last minute vacations with their families instead of being dropped off at your house with the My Little Pony you carefully hinted you wanted during your last phone conversation.
Summer birthdays, like many things, aren’t definitively good or bad. They are undeclared, just waiting for you to project your experiences on them.
Not being sung to by my classmates when I was younger didn’t make my birthdays any less real, in the same way that writing about my birthdays now doesn’t legitimize them. It’s just a habit I developed a while back. A ritual that, I admit, I am now addicted to. You see, it is a quarter to midnight. I’m tired, but I don’t want to turn 37, not yet. Not until I can begin to digest how I feel about it, or more, how I feel about saying goodbye to 36.
I can’t actually write about being 37. I’m not qualified. This didn’t stop me last year when I wrote about turning 36. The buoyancy and hope, that was genuine. And reading my own words back, it’s easy for me to forget that I spent weeks prior to my birthday crying, feeling hopeless, desperate, and alone. If I read this back next year will it smack of the same truth? Now, with the curtain pulled back, it’s not hard to imagine that I’ve spent the last few weeks tangled and tortured, afraid of my own shadow, weeping and wailing and seeking a comfort that felt infinitely out of reach.
I remember the tears of my 26th birthday. I was wholly incapable of articulating them then. I thumbed through all of my Scrubs DVDs, curating an afternoon of my favorite distraction. Rising with laughter and sinking into despondency at the whims of the writer’s room. I could justify my manic expressions under the pretext of entertainment. This too has become another birthday ritual.
This may sound counterintuitive, after all, I want to be alive. Another year of sentient, corporeal existence, that’s kind of the beauty of birthdays. And I celebrate that. But I have to admit how fragile our existence is, and how taking the time to own that has actually made me stronger.
I’ve conquered a lot of fears in my decades. I’ve also got an imagination powerful enough to dream up new ones whenever the mood strikes. We build, we destroy. We overestimate how much control we have in the tangible world and we underestimate how much control we have in our thinking and feeling self. This is the cause of much rebuilding.
What was 36? Should I catalog it? Was it the best year ever? Was I changed? Did I learn anything? Am I the same, am I different? Am I Theseus’s ship? I don’t know.
What was 36?
36 was a summer birthday. When it suits me I will be able to remember how great it was and when I need to, I’ll be honest about how difficult it was too. Today I’m 37, another summer birthday. I’m ready.
Originally published at Valerie Jane.