Happy Birthday to Me

I really want to be one of those people who’s cool with aging.

“It doesn’t matter!” It totally matters. My sister got into the Whitney at age 23. Younger, more brilliant people are being younger and more brilliant all around me, every day, each minute. I feel perpetually unaccomplished.

I want to make it clear that I don’t judge anyone else by this lame standard. I save this nonsense for myself. I also want to make it clear that this posts ends on a less whiny note – one where you don’t want to punch me in the face. Hopefully. If you want to, I get it.

But yeah. I’m totally not cool with it. I didn’t even want to let on how old I am and as of a couple of days ago I am 29 years old. So lame. Such bullshit.

Shut up. You might be older than me, and rolling your eyes hardcore right now. You might be younger and doing the same thing. I’m still not into this.

And this? This is all pretty good. This is all really solid. This is better than it’s been in a really long time. The best it’s ever been. I’ve screwed up a lot, or more often done nothing because I was scared.

But still. Aging sucks. I want everything I have now, but five years ago. I never think I’m good enough. I look at 23-year-olds doing better than me and wince because fuck, I’ve wasted so much time.

But enough of the flailing that was the last few paragraphs. Let’s talk about my first birthday in Chicago. Because I’m not super into getting older, but the stories that come along with it are pretty much everything.

There were five of us at the Thai restaurant that opened late and stayed open late. It was called River Kwai (later, unimaginatively named Late Night Thai – I know) and it wasn’t that great, but it opened late and stayed open late. I had turned 18 that day, and we were there for my birthday. We had vague plans to see The Breakfast Club later that night at The Music Box. I didn’t know what either of those things were because I had grown up up in a cave as far as classic movies were concerned, but I was excited to be in a new place with new people. It was nice to have something to do after 9pm that didn’t involve updating LiveJournal in my childhood bedroom.

We were three girls and one boy. The boy was effeminate in a way that made me think he was gay, but he wasn’t. We drifted apart quickly after not living in the same dorm building and never spoke again. Years later I saw him on the Damen bus brushing his teeth and pretended not to see him.

Two of the girls had red hair, one a natural light-brown copper and the other artificial flaming auburn. We had a weird falling out involving involving alcohol, boys, and bad decisions, and did that girl thing where you just stop talking to each other, drifting apart passive-aggressively until it’s faintly cordial but very finished. Copper hair went on to marriage and life in the suburbs, which still surprises me: I remember the girl who would play Pedro the Lion and Bright Eyes while we got messed up before shows. Then I remember the few times she talked politics and I’m not surprised at all. In college, I was really good at assuming everyone wanted to live here in Chicago forever, because I did. It was hard sometimes, because she thought people on public aid were leeches, but then invited me to her grandparents’ house in the south suburbs, where her grandfather handed me an Easter basket and five dollars.

The girl with the flaming auburn hair was at the center of the night that broke us up. She was tall and thin and seemed a lot cooler than me. At the time I thought she was super dark and messed up and was impressed by it, but in retrospect she wasn’t that messed up, just subtly manipulative. But she was fun and nice sometimes, and I felt shitty when I found out she wasn’t talking to me.

The last girl was my roommate. We lived together for a school year in a small dorm overlooking Sheridan Road, about halfway between the Loyola and Granville Red Line stops. It was a rough year for both of us, but in some ways we were lucky. There weren’t a lot of girls like us in our dorm. There weren’t a lot of guys like us either. We had written “comics” and “music” as interests on our housing preferences form. We had written “nerds” in invisible ink, and the great wheel of roommate matching was ever in our favor.

We didn’t speak for about a year after we stopped living together then started again, realizing there were still things we had in common. We’re still friends today. We persist.

That night of my birthday, we sat down to mediocre pad thai and waters. I wanted a drink but was too chicken to say something, and this wasn’t much of a drinking crowd. My roommate was annoyingly straightedge, and no one else seemed interested. I felt anxious, wanting the cold, dewy weight of a beer in my hand.

And then I saw the cake. They had made me a cake.

It had white frosting and was two short layers high. They’d crumbled a cake donut on top.

“We know how much you love that old-fashioned cake donut from Dunkin Donuts,” copper hair drawled, all Southern Illinois and snark. But she was right. I did.

They sang and I blew out the candles. Someone gave me a piece but I went for the top instead, grabbing a chunk of donut. It wasn’t the best donut. It was already slightly stale. But it was plain and sweet – exactly what I wanted.



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