My July Birthday

I turned 23 yesterday.

I used to think that birthdays were nothing more than an excuse to wear a hat and ingest an alarming amount of chocolate cake. It didn’t take long before I traded the hat for low-rise jeans and the cake for a bottle of Pineapple Malibu. Slowly but surely, they became another painful reminder that I was alive.

That sounds dramatic. Maybe it was.

I see those Tumblr pictures and I have to laugh. They feature the bottom halves of girls with thigh gaps and short shorts and captions that say things like “Summer Love,” as if summer isn’t fun and love is out of reach without those two elements. I have to laugh because I had the thigh gap and the short shorts and summer still seemed like an endless stretch of eternity that I would rather have slept away.

My July birthday was something I loathed, yet waited around for every year in a desperate sort of anticipation. I kept waiting to wake up more at peace, more mature, more fun. I kept waiting to “grow out of it.” I imagined opening the door for the people who arrived at my party and feeling safe in their presence, like nothing would change and we could always contort our mouths into pained smiles and pull the strings in our backs to release an enthusiastic “Let’s be friends forever!”

I waited for these things, and yet, I woke up with the same knots and insecurities that I had fallen to sleep with the night before. I woke up with the same fears that had always kept me from having fun, the ones that reminded me that I was different and strange and everyone knew it. When the people floated through the doorway and wished me a happy birthday, their smiles of admiration looked more like contempt, and I always found myself searching their palms and their eyes for the instrument or the secret that they might use to damage me further.

This is not anyone’s fault.

My July birthday was a mirror to the way I felt about myself. My July birthday was a reflection of the expectations I had and the standards I set, and the sick way I sat around feeling like I was the only one who had the right to sadness and humiliation. My July birthday was a reminder of the truths I couldn’t face, and the way they made me a liar.

I celebrated 23 years on Earth at the bedside of a dear friend. I celebrated 23 years watching her breathe peacefully inside a deep slumber, grateful that she was breathing at all. I celebrated 23 years by reflecting on the 7 and a half I’ve been lucky enough to know her.

Her fingers twitched in mine, and I knew for certain that this must be the most valuable gift I’ve ever held. They were warm and full of life, full of strength and, though they remained still, they clung to life with a vicious tenacity that one can only find in the hands of someone who has beaten (no, smashed) the odds. As she does this, I know what my July birthday means (and has always meant.)

My July birthday is another mark on a tally on a score sheet of a mind game, a brain teaser more puzzling than any riddle. My July birthday is the candle that remains lit after all the others have been blown out. My July birthday is the gift that I do not deserve, but am given anyway.

My July birthday is a mirror to the way I feel about myself, and my July birthday felt pretty fucking great this year.

 

A Bee Wouldn’t Fly Without the Flowers Below.

This morning I woke up and felt like a complete and total failure.

I keep waiting for the days to stretch out into a melody of happiness, where my attitude doesn’t have to be “one day at a time.” I’m finally starting to grow into myself. My hands are sure and strong where before there was a hesitant shakiness when I dared to reach for anything. I can feel vines weaving themselves through my fingers and I know that there is progress, growth. I stand, arms outstretched to meet it, but my brain is the barrier between us.

I think we’re conditioned to want everything at once, and I don’t think this struggle is exclusive to the mentally ill. We are only physically capable of accomplishing so much before we collapse in exhaustion, but the mind doesn’t tire. Even with our eyes closed, we’re still sitting in front of a picture show of want. A yearning to have more, do more, to BE more. It is somehow both beautiful and torturous, like almost every delicious bite we take knowing that soon we will have finished and must wait to taste something that delectable again.

I wonder, though, if those moments would feel so idyllic if we knew that they would never end. I had a dream the other night, about the vines wound through fingers, winding around my arms. I felt roots spilling from my heart, anchoring me to the ground. My shoulders sprouted wings, and I suppose the whole mystery of the dream was how I could possibly have both.

See, I think I need roots. I need to know where I came from, who I’ve been and all the hands that have taken their turn in shaping me. I need these roots so that when the storm blows in, and it will, I will remain steadfast and wait for the winds to set down my branches. I need these roots so that when I awaken to the wreckage in front of me, I will know that I am the mightiest tree, and I will grow again. My leaves will sprout with beauty and with wisdom, and I will watch the cycle in front of me in awe.

But I also need wings. I think that the wings represent my mind, my imagination. The ability to be anyone, anywhere doing anything. When the scenery becomes dull, I can fly away on a passing thought and live in any vessel I please. These wings are important because they will always carry me back to my tree, to the roots, where perhaps I will have realized that

this was where I was supposed to be all along.