Birthday Wishes

Birthdays are a mixed bag. When we are young our birthdays are an event—we can’t wait for the big day to come. When Max started school, the first day was the day before his birthday so he thought everyone was there just for him. Lexi used to count down the days on her calendar. She just turned 26 and still believes her birthday should be an International holiday. Beginning weeks before she reminds us “do you know what day two weeks from tomorrow is?” As we age, we begin back pedaling as birthdays approach. “Thirty-nine again,” my friend, John, answers when asked his age. I prefer no one mention my birthday at all—but then, I am royally miffed if anyone important to me misses it. Of course I enjoy cards and gifts, love receiving them, love looking at them, but often don’t open them until after the big day has passed, after I have spent my birthday my way—in agonizing reappraisal. For me, each birthday is reckoning day. I think back over goals I had set for myself and evaluate whether I met them, how well, or why not. I make new goals, I feel the years racing and long to dig in my heels and slow the passage, I agonize, moan, regret… And yes, as you might expect, I am usually, absolutely miserable on my birthday. I used to say “give me two Valium and wake me when it’s over” and I wasn’t kidding. But this year, maybe because I have, as my friend Dick wrote, “fully crossed over” something is different.

I am in Indonesia for my birthday this year. This may have something to do with this strange sense of wellness bubbling inside. Since Indonesia is over the International Date Line, my birthday here came a day early and so it really didn’t feel like my birthday, and then, when my birthday time arrived in California, at 8 am on the 8th day of the 8th month, it felt like it was already behind me. So, on one hand it was like my birthday was two days long, and on the other it was like it was over before it started. This is not to say the day (days) were not emotionally charged:

  • I woke to an e-mail from my agent that a story I had high hopes for was rejected in committee.
  • Curtis came home early so we could do something fun.
  • I couldn’t think of anything “fun” to do that didn’t involve traffic or spending, so we went to work out.
  • While I was working out, news reported that the terrorist Noordin Top, the villain responsible for the Ritz and Marriott bombings, the man responsible for recruiting countless suicide bombers had been killed in an 18-hour long shoot-out with police.
  • Came home, checked my e-mail. Birthday greetings and e-cards were popping into my mailbox.
  • Baked myself a birthday cobbler and an antipasto platter for tonight.
  • Checked my e-mail a few more time—many more than usual—and my face book “Wall” because now, thanks to Max and Chelsie, I know what it is and how to find it.
  • The galley of my new picture book, Dance Y’all, Dance arrived via e-mail. It was my first peek at the illustrations.
  • The friends we invited to dinner arrived, we went to dinner, had a delightful time, but one didn’t feel well so we didn't pop the bubbly.
  • We came home early from dinner, changed into our jammies, then Curtis and I sang “happy birthday to me” and shared the birthday cobbler and I fell asleep in the middle of the movie I had chosen, Duplicity.
  • Woke up this morning and because it is still my birthday but not really, I could enjoy it. Curtis made coffee, I opened cards and gifts. Especially touched because Rusnati had given me a lovely stone and silver fish with a tiny note in Indonesian.
  • Lexi called at 8 pm her time and she and Curtis sang to me. Then she put Ryan, her beau, on the phone and we tried to get him to sing. He started to, then caught himself and said no, “no matter how many trips we take, Kelly, I am not going to sing…” Which might have been the best birthday gift of all because it prompted this memory of our last trip.

It all goes back to Lexi’s birthday (as it rightfully should, she believes.) She and I always do something together for our birthdays. This year we spent a long weekend in Montauk, Long Island. It was a kind of beach holiday/birthday/ongoing search for a place for Curtis and I to retire trip. Ryan went with us. We took the train and he drove his car and met us at the station in Hicksville (not Lexi’s preferred stop—she is not the type of girl one “picks up in Hicksville.)

We had booked a room at Sole’ East a resort in Montauk. One of many we researched. It was well reviewed and seemed like the better of the not-so-expensive lodging options. Most were either way over our budget or looked like by-the-side-of the highway motels. Ryan had scoped out the best places to eat, watch sunset, drink bloody marys, have oysters, etc. and one by one we checked them off our list—great fun! As it turned out Sole’ East is not some quiet little motel, although the rooms are tiny, circa 1950 motel rooms. It is a happening spot, where singles (mostly groups of 30ish women) and hipster families, with hipster tots in tow, weekend in summers.

Most nights the three of us would go out, eat, enjoy a nightcap and then I’d turn in while Lexi and Ryan went out. But one night, Lexi crashed with me, leaving Ryan on his own. As he does, he went out to see what was up. About three in the morning, Ryan woke me. He tried to wake Lexi, too, but she wasn’t moving. It was Saturday night and Sole’ East was hopping. A bunch of bongo buddies had started jamming and Ryan wanted to share the experience. “Come on, Kel, you gotta see this," he told me. So I got dressed and we went out to enjoy the show.

Just as I arrived the group ripped off their shirts and really got into it. The bongo players ranged in age from dreadlock front boy of about 23 to Jack Lalanne. They pounded out the rhythm and women and men of all types danced and sang. As the room got hotter, we all moved outside to a lounge area beside the pool. Around 5 Lexi showed up. She had woken, found us gone “I wasn’t worried that Ryan was gone,” she told us, “but Mom, too?” So she came out to find us.

By then, a red-haired lawyer/stock broker-used-to-wanna-be-Cat Stevens-and-maybe still-does picked up his guitar and began playing and singing. He had a great voice—and knew all the words Dire Straits to Bob Dylan. Earlier, a blonde back-side-of 30 came over to ask Ryan if he had a light, then whispered to me that it had been way too long and she was long overdue. After catching Lexi up on the what was what, we three sat back, watching the action, wondering if she was going to get lucky, wondering if guitar man was going to get lucky, cheering when they both did.

Throughout the evening people had been asking “Where’s Winston? Where’s Winston?” Around 5, Winston showed up. He was an older Rasta guy who picked up the guitar, said yes to a drink, and busted into reggae Thank you Mama blues. Sitting there, in the velvet night with Lexi and Ryan, sipping a cocktail, listening to the music, I wasn’t “crossed over or crossed out,” I was the "short white hair chick", Winston asked Ryan about--

Lexi, Ryan and Kelly in Montauk-Happy Birthday!

--still young enough and interested enough to jump out of bed when adventure calls.

Happy Birthday to me—and many more!