So yesterday, I had a birthday. I turned
for thirty-fourteen. (Side note: Would you believe that someone actually called me “childish” for stating my age as thirty-something? HELLO – THAT’S KIND OF THE POINT.)
Normally, I don’t make a big fuss over birthdays. Not because I have some underlying fear of growing older (although, since I’ve been frantically searching info on Botox and fillers, maybe I do.)
I don’t “do” birthdays – or much with other holidays, really – simply because I don’t want to be disappointed when they don’t meet my expectations. Special occasions aren’t magically special to the rest of the world. For the most part, it’s just another day.
Sure, when I was a kid, we did up birthdays a little – there was a home-baked cake, and there were presents – nothing extravagant; my folks were of VERY modest* means. But when I was ten or so, I spilled some milk on the carpet in the living room, and was promptly scolded – as my tears fell, I remember the distinct realization that birthdays didn’t give you an enchanted force field around the otherwise painful things in life. To a frazzled parent trying to run a business and make ends meet, it’s just another day.
*OK, let’s be clear here: we were poor. As in “made $50 too much this year for us to get free lunches from school” poor. Also as in “Dad’s boss gave us his kids’ hand-me-downs so between that and the dresses Mom sewed, we girls wouldn’t be naked.” They did a decent job keeping that from us, though. I didn’t figure out how tight money really was until high school, when my folks were really grumpy for awhile, and the mood in the house got really dark; I was feeling abandoned, and it all came to a head when Mom found a list I had left in my room outlining ways to kill myself, and she and Dad came to talk to me and shared that they had lost $3000 (a fortune in the mid-80s) to a customer who defaulted on an order. They were super stressed but they loved me very much, blah blah blah. There were tears and hugs and then things went back to normal, meaning I started a new diet and got much better at keeping my disquietude on the DL . But that’s a story for another day.
Fast forward to high school prom. Special time, right? You’ve been looking forward to this for MONTHS; you’re all dolled up in a glitzy dress; your date has a tux – an actual TUXEDO, like he might wear to your WEDDING someday! – and you’re at a spendy, trendy, restaurant, actually EATING. (I quit eating two days ahead of time so that I could allow myself to have a decent meal with my boyfriend. I weighed about 102 at the time and he LOVED to see me actually eating – probably because I never really DID that, ya know – so I guess this was a special occasion for him, too.)
As I was looking around, taking it all in, a couple not with our group came into the restaurant…in JEANS. HELLO PEOPLE – this is PROM here; shouldn’t the world be dressed up, too? Don’t you think they’d, like, close the restaurant or AT LEAST up the dress code for a day so we don’t have to see non-prom unfancy people in here? YOU’RE TOTALLY BRINGING DOWN THE VIBE HERE. But no, to those folks…it was just another day.
I had the same feeling at my first wedding. You come out of the church chucking rice or quinoa or biodegradable soy-free non-toxic glitter confetti or whatever it’s PC to throw nowadays, and the same homeless dude is sitting on the corner holding the same “WILL WORK FOR
FOOD BEER” sign he was holding yesterday. Where is the bewitching sprite with the magic wand turning the world into fairy tales with happy endings and unicorns? Well, dummy, she doesn’t exist. It’s just another day, after all.
And then there was Mother’s Day. If I were holding out hope for having a day to feel special…Mother’s Day took care of that. You know how some spouses will buy you a card, or flowers, on Mother’s Day, because he really appreciates all you do to help raise your beautiful children? Yeah, I didn’t marry that guy. He got a card for HIS mother, of course – he made it clear that she was his top priority*, after all.
*Later in that marriage, when things were really falling apart, I asked him point-blank about this. I told him that, as his WIFE, I should be a higher priority than his mother – and that if things were going to work out, he needed to put my needs ahead of hers.
His answer? “Well, she won’t be around forever.”
Me: So…I need to wait for her to die for me to be a priority for you?”
He didn’t answer.
I left him in 2005 and she’s still alive, so I’d still be waiting.
Fast forward to my second Mother’s Day. I had a toddler and a newborn; I was nursing the latter and the former still wasn’t sleeping through the night, and I was (obviously) BEAT. My baby was asleep, and my daughter wanted to play outside. But, sadly, there was a gruesome scene in our backyard – one of the neighborhood cats had completely decimated a bunny. I couldn’t let her see that, so I asked my husband if he could please take care of it so I could take our daughter outside.
He told me that he couldn’t do it right now, because he really needed a nap.
I think that was the beginning of the end.
I left my little girl inside while I found a coal shovel. I hauled the broken little bunny over the side of the embankment, tears streaming down my face from exhaustion, frustration, sadness, and disappointment. That poor little bunny. My poor, sad, pathetic crappy marriage. My broken heart and broken dreams.
It was just another day.
So, I learned to keep my expectations pretty low. It was the only way I could protect my heart from the fissures that cracked and spread when expectations failed to bloom into reality.
Despite all this – despite the fact that I know better than to expect anything different – it still really, really hurt that my husband completely, totally, and utterly forgot my birthday.
We don’t do much for birthdays. His is three days after mine; we usually hit up Benihana for a free meal a time or two in June, and we usually buy something for the house (this year, it was chairs for the yard.)
But he always gets me a card. Sometimes two – one funny and one sappy. But at least one. And he always says “Happy Birthday”….
Not this year.
No card. Nothing.
I know, I know – you canNOT rely on others for happiness; you have to create your own. And I did my best to do that – I may write more on that later – but still, is it too much to ask to have your HUSBAND just say “Happy birthday, hon!” ?
Apparently, it is.
Sadly, my reaction to this is to quit eating. Why talk about it? It just hurts, and the best way to get out of the painful, neglected feeling is to jump right back on the back of the crocodile. Why? Because it’s super effective. Screw recovery – all it’s done for me is turn me beige in a world of color. It shoved me into the background, unnoticed. At a normal weight, I’m no longer special. I’m no longer worth worrying about. No need to be fussed over. No need to make me feel special, unique, appreciated, or loved.
I’m just another person, and it’s just another day.
So today, I start over, renewed. I’ll weigh out my food, including yellow mustard (because at five calories a teaspoon, it DOES add up.) I’ll run four days a week. I’ll carve out my path with my clavicle and my hipbones.
I’ll obsess over every bite. I’ll plan and measure every calorie I eat. I’ll chart every half pound lost, every quarter mile run, and every step taken. I’ll fret over falling asleep without a rumbling, empty stomach. I’ll grab handfuls of flesh and scrutinize every lump, bump, and jiggle when I look in the mirror. And I’ll drink water and coffee and I’ll smile and say I’m fine, just fine.
In other words…it’ll be just another day.