Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sign the Card

I’m not a fan of birthdays.  The ones I tend to remember most clearly are the let-downs, the disappointments, the elevated expectations of the milestones (16, 18, 21, 30) and how the reality just didn’t match up.

More than that, birthdays just feel strange to me.  Perhaps it’s to do with the longer I spend as an artist; every year people are recognized and rewarded for something specific they accomplished during the previous year (or, more likely, they spent years building a venture that culminated into a finalized form during the previous year).  Not everybody gets the trophy, but the few who do have earned it.  And the few who do aren’t publicized for an entire day, they’re publicized for 30 seconds, given another 60 to say thank you then they get out of the way for the 27 other people also being recognized for their accomplishments this year.

Expecting other people to celebrate my birthday feels like being handed an award I didn’t earn.  I didn’t do anything different or special that day, it’s just my turn.  Everybody gets one. 

Perhaps the best birthday in my life was followed up by perhaps the worst.  Six years ago I celebrated my last birthday before I moved to Chicago.  I knew it was my last in Dallas, and so did everyone else, so it was more than a celebration of the day – it was a celebration of our friendship.  I had worked with these people for nine years, and two or three dozen people came out (many of whom wouldn’t have otherwise) specifically because I was going to be leaving in a few months.  Of course I wasn’t close with all of them, but nonetheless there was great mutual affection, and a precious few made a special effort to make me feel good to simply be in their company.

A year later I turned 30 in Chicago, and I made big plans.  I owned a grill and lived 300 feet from the lake.  I filled a grocery basket with food and booze and invited the 30 or so people I worked with for the previous eight months to come celebrate the milestone with me.

Of the thirty I invited, eight showed up.  Of those eight, only four stayed for more than half an hour.  Of those for, only two of them knew one another, so the other two felt a bit isolated and out of place and rapidly things got quietly awkward and I grew quietly homesick.  The people Back Home who meant the most to me sent me a message, but it was a pale shadow to substitute for their company.

Strangely, the following year was even MORE of a letdown when Facebook started advertising birthdays.  For about half the day I felt good when the messages started coming in.  Then I started getting messages from people I hardly knew, whom I had barely met, but we worked in the same office and had a conversation once and then became Facebook friends then never talked again, but here you are wishing me happy birthday…

…and I came to realize they were just signing the card.  In some workplace scenarios, the person at work you’re closest to buys a card and passes it around.  Your friends will sign it.  Other people sign it because they’ll feel like an ass if they don’t, and you know that because you know how many times you signed a card, not because you were friends with the person, or even knew who they were exactly, but because you’d feel like an ass if you didn’t.

Facebook birthdays feel just like that, only I’m the one who bought the card and passed it around for everyone to sign.  I just feel dirty.

I don’t mind people knowing my birthdate or how old I am.  I’ve been physically injured too many times to let my literal age make me “feel old.”  But every year, during my birth month, I remove the date from my profile.  There are people who know, or remember, and those are the birthday wishes that make me feel special.  This year I was wished a happy birthday by about a dozen people who know and like me well enough to say so, and that made me feel better than the wishes of 200 people I might have met once.  Or less.

And thanks to my Lady Love, this birthday was easily the best one I’ve had since I left Dallas.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Dirty Laundry

Sometimes the consequences of finding a thing are greater than the consequences of losing a thing.

It was many years ago now that a particular relationship ended for me.  It hadn’t lasted long, but long enough that she’d stayed the night on a few occasions.  Sometimes she’d leave a piece of clothing behind, and I’d put it in with my laundry and set it aside for her so she’d have something clean to change into for the next time she stayed over unexpectedly.  So naturally, when we broke up, she came over to pick up her things on her way to work.

I do remember that it was a Wednesday, because one of my dearest friends and I used to spend every Wednesday together.  I was grateful for the company, because I knew my ex was planning to come over that day and I needed a friendly distraction from the awkwardness.  The anticipation was uncomfortable, but it was readily dulled with whatever Anime series we were plowing through at the time.

In my hope to make the handoff as rapid as possible I’d bundled the few items – a t-shirt, one or two pairs of socks, one pair of underwear – into a single wrapped object, and tucked it so nothing would come loose.  There was a knock at the door, a quick “Hey there, here ya go,” and she was gone in less time than it takes to deliver a pizza.  It was in the awkward stage of more than anything wanting her to stay, and more than anything needing her to leave.

Brief as the exchange was, I was still reeling when my phone rang ten minutes later.  Caller ID told me it was her, and I immediately started planning my responses to the things I’d hoped she’d say.  Probably it was something she couldn’t say while my friend could overhear.  Something about how she missed me, that giving these things back seemed too final and maybe she didn’t want it to be over after all.  Maybe she wanted to plan to meet for lunch, or dinner, or to hang out after work because a clean break was just too much to handle at once.  Lost in my hopes of what she might say, I squeaked out a weak, “Hello,” wholly unprepared and flattened by what she did say.

“These are not my panties.”

Not, “I want you back.”  Not, “Thanks for my stuff.”  Not even, “Hello,” or even a more casual, “Hey there.”  These are not my panties.

I forgot how to breathe.  I didn’t understand how this could be possible.  I had certainly entertained no other company who had removed her underwear in my apartment; there was simply no one else they could have belonged to. 

“Whuh…what?” I managed.

“These panties.  Are not mine.”

She had a history of fucking with me.  Was she fucking with me?  Was this a prank to throw me off guard?  I realized I hadn’t spoken.  My stunned silence was precisely how I would have responded had I been horribly, horribly guilty.  I needed to say something, and now.

“Yuh . . . yeah they are.” 

“No.  They’re not.”  I’ve never heard such calm intensity in a voice before.  It could have sliced raw meat.

Whatever conversation followed lives in a blur of confused near apologies mixed with utter bafflement.  She had to get off the phone and start work, so she hung up before I could get anywhere near a conclusion as to what had happened.

Over the next couple of hours I finally realized what must have been the case.  This apartment was the first place I’d lived that had a community laundry area.  I was in the habit of checking the washer and dryer to make sure I hadn’t left anything behind, but I had always taken it for granted the person before me had done the same.  I ultimately had the conversation with her that explained my theory, but it was absolutely one of those times in life where one is totally innocent and looks horrendously guilty.

I’ve no idea whether she finally believed me, or simply pretended to and moved on.  We’re still friendly to this day, and she’s never thrown that occasion back in my face, so it doesn’t affect me either way.

Except now I always remember to check the washer and dryer before just as carefully as after.