“Happy birthday,” she said. “And next time? Eat the stupid cupcake.”
― Rachel Caine
I was born on April Fool’s Day.
Which is quite the extraordinary day to enter this outrageously cruel and daringly beautiful world.
When people aren’t asking you if your pure existence is just one epic joke, they are playing a trick on you.
On my 6th birthday, someone brought a cake to my party. Which, at the time, I thought was the nicest thing you could bring a fool like myself. Except the cake had one trick candle on it.
So after I made my wish, I blew and I blew and I blew the fire on top of the stubby little candles out until my face turned bright red and I started to cry.
People started to laugh and shout, “April Fools! April Fools!”.
As if at the age of 6, they were all part of this secret society.
As if, they set up a private Facebook group that was called “How to play a trick on Jen the fool” or started a group text asking each other who would be the one to get the cake and who would be the one to bring the trick candle from the gag store across the street.
I felt so alone in that moment.
I wanted to find a way to disappear into the vanilla sheet cake from Publix that was slowly starting to sink around the areas where the trick candle was shimmering.
I wanted one of my friends from school to scream out, “Stop! Leave her alone! It’s her birthday!”
I picked up the flaming candle, dunked it into a glass of ice water, and asked my parent’s If we could move to Timbuktu or Mars – as I’m sure they have a wonderful school system there.
So this year, I had a plan.
It would finally be my turn to fool all of you.
On my birthday, I’d turn 26 all over again.
Would people even know?
I bet if I walked around for another 365 days and said “I’m 26!” when someone asked my my age, they wouldn’t question me or sit me down at a wobbly wood table underneath a fluorescent light and interrogate me about it.
They’d accept it and even better than that, I’d start to believe it.
I planned to do this not because year 26 was a total and complete disaster and I wanted to make up for it.
I planned to do this for the simple and daunting fact that I do not want to get older.
I guess when you’re 6, you want to be 7 so you can grow a little more and finally fit into clothes at the Limited Too. When you’re 15, you cross the days off the calendar and count down until you turn 16 and get to take your place behind the wheel.
Of course, when you’re 20, you’re begging for the day to come when you can proudly show a bouncer your ID and have them not draw a humongous X across your hand in permanent marker.
But after you turn 22 and 23 and 24 and 25 and 26, you suddenly want to count backward.
You find yourself waking up on a Tuesday, soaking wet in your own stress sweat, screaming “Ahhh, it’s April and I don’t even have a 401k and I just downloaded my third dating app of the week and now i’m supposed to turn another year older?”
Our age, I thought, never matched up perfectly with where we were in our lives. It was always a little bit off.
What happens is, you hit a certain age and you realize this whole thing is not practice for something else. This is all we’ve got.
And every single day and every single decision and every single conversation we have with a person is, in the end, all we have.
That’s a lot of freaking pressure.
Sometimes I find myself having a staring contest with my marshmallow colored pillow case at 3am, wondering If I should have said “I’m sorry” instead of “I never want to speak to you again.” Or If I should have accepted that job instead of selling all my belongings and packing a duffle bag of my precious books and the dollars in my savings account and roaming around this world like I’m trying to find something more long lasting than what’s inside a 10×10 cubicle.
Sometimes I wonder if i’m doing it right. If I even know what right is.
Should I be married by now? Should I breast feeding kid #1 and planning for kid #2? Should I have a savings account and a Roth IRA and a 401K that has more than 3 digits in it? Am I wasting too much time chasing a career and a lifestyle that’s as reliable as the 6 train on a Saturday afternoon?
Last week, I found myself across from a friend celebrating her birthday with a plate of scrambled eggs and an overflowing glass of champagne and orange juice.
She just turned 23 and I desperately wished I could close my eyes and go back to that age.
At 23, I was living in LA. I didn’t have a resume or a full-time job or a stable place to live. But yet, Inside of the messy pile of nothing I had, I somehow had everything. I always wish I started earlier, did more, went on facebook less. Loved harder. Stopped caring about what people thought when I spoke out loud. Blurted out the stubborn words “Okay, I’m so so wrong. I can feel it. I can see it.” Instead of hanging up the phone.
“Why are you going to do that?” My friend said to me when I told her my game plan of lying about my age.
“Because, it’s a lot of pressure to grow up and turn another year older when you’re in your 20’s,” I said.
Pressure to get married and settle down. To be someone who is so tangled up in their career that their job title gets a gold star on their LinkedIn profile.
She glared at me, as If I was telling her stuff she was just a handful of years away from understanding yet at the same time, she understood it all.
“Jen,” she said, taking a bite of mashed up eggs from her plate. “Pressure is a privilege. So is turning another year older.”
We finished our meal and wrapped our bodies up in oversized coats. She hugged me goodbye and asked that I reconsider this whole age thing. She asked to see me next week when all that would be different was the number assigned to my body. The official marking of how many days I’ve been on this planet.
And if you think about that way, if you think about birthdays as just an overall count of how many days you’ve made it here, so far, it changes everything.
To cling on to love and to look love in the eyes and say goodbye. To eat slices of pizza and to get fired from jobs. To move across the country and then move right back home again. To watch people and places and things dissolve into nothing but tiny memories that are sparked by other, newer, people and places and things.
27 years. That’s 9,855 days. That’s just the amount of time i’ve had so far to figure this whole thing out.