Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me

People who know me know that I hate my birthday. Not that I'm-another-year-older-look-at-those-wrinkles kind of hate; but rather a deep and abiding hatred for the physical date. I could change my name, I could lie about my age...but I can't change the fact that I was born on November 12th.

Born, in fact, on the day my grandfather died. Growing up, I was frequently reminded that I was "the only good thing" to come of that terrible time. And I know the family meant that as an affirmation...but occasionally my eight-year-old self or my ten-year-old self felt, well, marked. And, perhaps, a little guilty.

As I got older, my family began to share my dread of the day. If the dog was past her expiration date, you could pretty much mark her demise ahead of time on the calendar. A family member would need emergency gallbladder surgery, IV antibiotics for pneumonia, or a colon resection the first week of the eleventh month...and we would "celebrate" my birthday in a hospital room. Or the unhospitalized family members would gather at the Fancy Sushi Restaurant after our hospital visit, to choke down some California roll and pretend it was a party.

People who didn't know me well would hear my tales and brand me a Cry Baby Drama Queen. I didn't blame them.

One year I decided to hide from the dark date, and fled to the other side of the world. I was sitting on the balcony of my hotel room in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia - trying not to exert any negative influence over anyone in my immediate vicinity - when the desk clerk came to find me.

"Miss Nancy, Miss Nancy! Telephone for you!" Clearly not good news...in fact, my cousin had passed away. There was no hiding.

As I approached the Big Five-O, I decided to change my mindset. Rather than dreading the day, I would embrace it. Yes! I would greet it with joy!! I rallied the troops around me, made reservations for a fabulous family getaway in New York City; and, for the first time in a very long time, truly anticipated the date.

Until my uncle's passing, just three days before my birthday. Trip canceled, I was sad for our whole family, sad for me...then I learned that a friend's father had also just passed away. More sad.

And then, horror of absolute horrors, on the eve of my fiftieth birthday...my beloved friend Tina committed suicide. Tina, who could talk me off of any ledge; who could make me laugh until I cried.

I spent my fiftieth at my uncle's funeral, talking to the folks at my friend's dad's funeral via cellphone; and writing a eulogy for Tina's memorial service.

That was five years ago.

Four November 12ths passed. I begged friends and family to ignore them. Mercifully, they weren't devastating; nor were they remarkable. I tried to stifle it, but the remnants of my optimistic nature peeked through; and I promised myself that if I got through those four unscathed, I would plan a do-over for my 55th...a REAL celebration of November 12th. A trip? A party?

Couldn't decide, couldn't commit...

And then it was upon me. I spent November 12th by myself, Christmas shopping and making jewelry. Quiet; until Son Two called...

To wish me "Happy Birthday". And to share this story. When my daughter-in-law and precious, precious granddaughter returned home the night before, they found the house full of gas...and the pilot light still lit on the heater. They got the pets out and fled...the gas company emergency tech pronounced it "a miracle" that there had not been an explosion. The plumber who replaced all the pipe work the morning of my birthday said the same thing.

And the moral of the story is:

Sometimes it is not what happens on your birthday that matters. It is what doesn't happen. My 55th birthday was my best birthday, ever.