Tomorrow is my birthday. I was born in the middle of a pitiful time, a time of taking down the tree and settling in for winter.
I'm not sure what I have to say, but I want to say something. Something to prove what I am. I am 34 years of life, long, and this is what I have to show you.
Once, I dated a grown man who was cheating on me with a nineteen year old girl. She was a ballerina. They worked together in the ticketing office of the Civic Light Opera in a rundown building downtown.
My boyfriend, he asked me to drive across the city on my day off to bring him cigarettes. I did. Of course I did.
I parked in front of the building, checked in with security and rode the elevator to the seventh floor. I stepped into the hallway and came face to face with her, the little blonde ballerina. She was small and plain and beautiful. She was so young. She had only recently found out about me, that I even existed. I could have said something, in that moment, that would have destroyed her. I was a heroin addict and had dreadlocks that reached the small of my back. I was adorned with stolen bits of ribbon and string, ripped sections of cloth, that marked something important, in my tattered life of airborne experiences. My eyes were painted black. My boots had a steel toe. She looked up at me and froze, where she had been walking. Her face turned bright red. She looked at the floor and whispered, "Hello."
She was so young and I loved her. She had lost more than me, by knowing him. I had been through this before. My piece of flesh was barely an ounce or two.
Except that, this time, my car got towed while I was inside, doing him another favor. I caught the driver hitching it up to the truck. "I'm right here!" I said, running at him. "I'm right here. You can let my car go and I'll drive it away."
"I'm sorry," he said. "I can't unwrite this ticket. It's already done."
My lights were flashing. I thought that would be enough.
I took another ride in the elevator. My purse and all of my money were in my car. My boyfriend didn't have any money. Of course he didn't. I started to cry.
The ballerina approached me softly, her student bus pass in her outstretched palm. It would get me to the tow yard to free my car. I stared at her for a moment. She was a student, for fuck's sake. I felt swept up by love for her. I wanted to grab her roughly, wrap my arms around her and press her willowy body against the cold solidity of mine. I wanted to tell her that I was sorry for what he'd done. I was so sorry for what he had done. I was always sorry.
"Thank you," I said, taking the bus pass and slipping away down the hallway.
That happened, somewhere in my 34 years.
I also birthed two babies. They were cut from me while I lay strapped to a table, trying to stop myself from throwing up. They were bundled in sterile white blankets and presented to me, to my turning head separated from my gutted body by a sheet. I tried to kiss them through an oxygen mask, struggled madly to shift it away from my mouth. My daughters, they cried a first cry, made a first sound in this world, and I was there. I was mommy.
This also happened:
We were in our twenties. Kurt came home from work and I was sitting on the couch with another fumbling, junky boy who had yellow, rotting, septic sores all over his body. We were hunched over our knees, emptying tiny paper packets into spoons, stirring the cinnamon water with the orange plastic tips of needles. Kurt came in and rolled up the sleeve of his button down work shirt and exposed the bend in his arm to me.
I joked, because I always joked. "Armie up!" I said, letting go of his belt, where it had been clenched in my teeth.
A few moments later, all the world was pandemonium. The rocking chair was tipped on its side. My shot lay, an undisturbed puddle in a spoon, on the coffee table. My hands, they were grasping his wrist. Our friend finished getting high before helping me, half standing up and pushing on the end of the plunger. We dragged my love's lifeless body into the hallway of his apartment building and closed and locked the door behind us. I pocketed his keys.
His face was blue. His lips were bloated and cracking. One of his eyes wandered off and rolled up into his head.
"We came to visit and found him like this, officer," we said. Cross our hearts and hope to die.
He spent a night in jail and a month in rehab. During that month, I took a stolen pregnancy test in a grocery store bathroom. Two little pink lines appeared, and that was all she wrote, as they say.
I stopped everything, in that moment. I suddenly didn't smoke or drink or inject poison into my veins, anymore. Just like that. Do you know what a thing that is, to have two little pink lines save you, in an instant? Do you have any idea how much your head spins and how hard your heart beats? Have you ever known something so right, so obviously right, that the path of the rest of your life is suddenly carved out of a world of junk and shit that piles up around you so high that it blots out the sun, and this rightness, this path, your purpose, it gleams in front of you, winding off into the distance and all you can hear is the weeping of god?
This, all of this, lead up to my birthday, tomorrow.
This morning, I made peppermint tea and sat with my five year old daughter at the table. We worked on a packet of papers her kindergarten teacher sent home for the holiday. My girl, she puts a dot inside of all of her "Os," like they are little eyes. I love her for this detail, and for everything else she does and says and is. We drew mustaches with a black, licorice scented marker, on each other. We laughed until I choked on my tea and tears fell down my cheeks.
I've lived a life, up until this point. It's all inside of me, somehow, twisting up together to tell my story. It is too much, sometimes, to be a living thing. Happy Birthday to me, because there was a time where I wouldn't have made it to number thirty fucking four. Happy Birthday to me because it's winter and I need another medal on my sash. Happy Birthday to me because I am the best mom that has ever lived. Happy Birthday to me because I did it. I lived it. Everything in the universe, all the blood and glass and tears and pills and tepid water and shit and light and beauty and blood and love came together to bring me here. I'm 34 years old, tomorrow. Let's all give me a hand.
And I'll thank you and thank you and thank you...