Went to a friend's birthday party last night. It was outside on the back deck of his house, the air fragrant with barbeque and cool breeze on a gorgeous night. I sat in the corner and watched all the strangers milling about, grinning with the joy of being with Randall, bouncy in their early-twenties exuberance. There were slaps on the back, randy comments, manly dares during beer pong, and a general air of gladness. I knew no one except Randall for the first half hour, and shyness kept me back. I also love simply watching people; their interactions, the silent glances that tell a story altogether different than the words coming out of their mouths. Then mutual friends arrived, gathering around me like a warm blanket, disallowing my hiding in the shadows and dragging me into the light.
I stayed a few hours then left, walking home under the stars (Randall lives three blocks from my house), enjoying the ability to stand in the middle of the road and stare straight up at Orion, my favorite constellation. That's the fun thing about the after midnight hours: abandoned roads and hushed expectancy, as if something magical might dart across your path in this shadowy world. It's also a great time to think. The world's asleep and their busy brains and mouths and fingers are at rest under the covers. My thoughts turned to Randall and his birthday, to the birthday of a cherished friend only a month ago. Tic toc, my brain touched on all the birthday parties and celebrations and bemoaned age progression of everybody I know, every conversation about birthdays I'd ever overheard, weaving together a jumbled mass of contradictions in my crazy brain. When do birthdays change in the minds of people? As they get older, they often grow to dread them, hide the fact of them, lie about the true number of years they've been alive, as if that weren't the miraculous achievement it truly is. When you're little, birthdays are a time of celebration: cake and ice cream, a year older, presents and well wishes and family get togethers. Even when I had to bake and decorate my own cake when I was a teenager, I was determined to have a celebratory dessert, come hell or high water. It was my birthday. A very important time. I was going to eat cake and nobody was going to stop me. I bought the mix, the eggs, even the sprinkles, then proceeded to create the ugliest birthday cake known to humanity. Didn't matter. It was Devil's Food with buttercream frosting. Who cares what it looked like? I wrote "Happy Birthday Beautiful Child" and had a few friends show up to gnaw it to pieces with me. Glorious.
My roommate calls me "the anomaly." I don't quite fit in with any one set age group, finding toddlers and ninety-year-olds, not to mention everybody in between, equally fascinating and fun. Their bodies may be one age but who knows how old their souls are? That's what's fun to me. Maybe that's why I've never changed my view about birthdays. I always adore them. I don't care that I'm long in the tooth, that my body and face look like a wax statue that's been out in the sun a little too long, that each new birthday marks one year closer to death. They also mark one more year I've been alive. A thing to celebrate. One of the perks of being boot-stomped by Life for so long is, once you worm your way out from under those steel-toed cleets, everything is such a gift. It reminds me of the war veterans who say, every time they feel like they want to bitch about something, "At least I ain't in a stinking foxhole." That's very true. I was beaten and raped as a kid, brutalized and sodomized as a young adult, and spent the next decade and a half horrifically sick and married to a control freak emotional sadist. I contemplated suicide for the majority of that time and even got to the planning stage twice. But I'm still here. Somehow, I didn't die, even when I really, really wanted to. I lived long enough to be where I am now, surrounded by loved ones who love me back, blink-eyed with astonishment that I'm actually...happy. I've written my book FREAK, which I hope will help other perennial fuckups like myself to try a new view on life, like I did, and find their own path out of hell. That makes my existence a wonderful thing that can potentially help thousands, but even if I only helped one person throughout my whole life, it would be worth it, and everybody's done that in some way. Birthdays aren't something to moan or grieve about. They're joyous, magnificent, wondrous things of magic, darting across a dappled path only once a year, precious and fleeting. We're all pebbles dropped in a pond: little pearls or diamonds, sentimental emeralds and sassy rubies. Our ripples spread far and wide, touching everything else in ways we can't begin to comprehend. Your birthday isn't just for you. It's a sacred day to everybody, whether they know it or not, whether they comprehend it or not. It's the day the world was given the gift of you. It will always be precious.