Ah, birthdays. Another year older, another day to celebrate the fact that my father porked my mother without a condom, another occasion in which to celebrate my glorious departure from the original bat cave. Sometimes I wonder why we commemorate such days. Surely, it’s just like any other. But human beings love goals and celebrations, enjoy measuring things in the expanse of time. Well here I come, a quarter of a century in. Twenty-five years of wandering this Earth, never quite understanding the concept of me or why I’m even here, where I fit, what I should do, how I can justify my existence. Well…that went the way of a late night Tumblr session fast. Next thing I’ll be posting pictures of my breasts and calling out male chauvinists. Oh…wait…been there, done that.
Friday marks my twenty-fifth birthday. I both loath and enjoy these days. I don’t fear growing old. To be honest, I’m not sure I was ever truly young. Naïve yes, innocent definitely, but never truly a new soul. My soul is old, wearied and this body will probably be one of the last to carry it. And there I go, sounding like my mother and aunt. If it’s not the oncoming of wrinkles, breaking down of my body and eventual death that leads to morbidity towards my own day of birth than what is it? It’s the roller-coaster of emotions I traverse through, the building of anxiety and expectation that is routinely doused with cold hard truths and disappointments.
I love my birthdays because it’s all about me. Nothing is ever about me. I work for others, I volunteer to bring joy to others, I am the mediator, the organiser, the air traffic controller directing all those around me to fruitful lives and enjoyments and yet I’m never the center of attention. Honestly though, my birthdays are no different. There is that brief glimmer of time when it is, when I am handed my presents and stared at expectantly. Presents…there’s another point, but to remain on this one. My sister and I are less than two weeks apart, and so, for convenience sake, we usually combine our birthday get togethers. This suits me. I know. I just said that I wanted a little me in the spotlight time. And I do. And yet that terrifies me as well. I suppose I dislike how forced it all is. The work birthday song with cake, the polite Facebook wall posts; these obligatory actions of polite society do not feel genuine to me, and that saps the enjoyment of the day. On my birthday, I only want those who care, those who honestly care about me, to be around me. I love the little things, those random acts of love and kindness, and I feel that birthdays force people. I dislike the birthday song. Just give me cake and a candle, wish me a happy birthday and let me eat.
Then there are the presents. I like presents. Who doesn’t? But every year I open mine with a waitress smile plastered on my face and sweet things prepared on my tongue so I don’t say what I am really thinking. God that sounds so entitled. I should be grateful anyone should even wish to purchase me something, that someone has taken the time to pick something out, to wrap it and present it to me. I should and that’s why end up feeling terrible every birthday…because I am reminded again that nobody really knows me. An unwanted present is an annoyance, but the presents I often receive…well…put it this way, as a twelve-year-old tomboy obsessed with video games, AFL and never seen in anything but pants…I was given a makeup kit. The amount of times I have received perfume is ridiculous. Surely my friends and family know that I am allergic. These are the kinds of things I often unwrap and, because someone has taken the time and effort and sought to do something nice, I am left with my waitress smile, thanking them so as not to hurt their feelings, calculating in my head how long it will take before they forget so that I can either re-gift it or sell it on. And that pisses me off. I feel I have to be polite, be thankful, when really, this person has given me the ‘gift’ of a literal chemical burn. And every year my requests go unheard. “What would you like for your birthday Ashayla?” Every year I ask the same; for whatever they would have spent in cold hard cash. Normally I have a big goal in mind; a car, a holiday, a new piece of furniture. That is what I want, but so many feel money is an insensitive and non-genuine present, but it’s not. Not to me. To me is one step closer to what I really want. I’m not excessive, I’m not fancy and I’m not high-maintenance. I’m practical, down to earth and goal orientated…and yet my friends and family seem incapable of seeing that.
A number of years ago my partner gave me a kettle for my birthday. Whenever I tell this story people react immediately. They screw their faces. They exclaim that it’s a terrible present. But it wasn’t. It was one of the best gifts I have ever received. As a full time student at the time, my kettle was routinely abused. It was beaten and used and it didn’t take long for my cheap K-mart thing to die. I knew I needed something higher quality, something that could take the beating, but I couldn’t afford it. My partner saved. He searched and he found me a high quality kettle and presented it to me on my birthday. It was beautiful, styled in a retro look I adored. It was stainless steel and finished in a vibrant emerald green, my favourite colour. It was what I wanted, what I needed, more than I would have spent on myself willingly and styled to suit my taste. It was the perfect present.
Every year there is this build up, this hope of a great birthday, of a day just for me, about me, for me, the way I would like it, not the way people expect it to be. Every year there are those presents, those conflicting emotions. Every year I end up hiding away, holding back tears as it yet again dawns on me how little anyone apparently close to me knows me. Every year I scold myself for thinking it may be different. This is birthdays with anxiety, with PTSD, with depression and self-isolation. How entitled. How elitist. How ungrateful. How self-centered and selfish and rude. How unlike me. This is celebrating me…even though it’s not. It’s not about me. It’s about everyone else. It’s about going through the motions of polite society, of following the rules and social trends. It’s my birthday, but it’s not for me. Happy birthday.