Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Big 2-1


             I hate birthdays.
            Nobody knows that about me. Well, I suppose they do now.
            I have one of those mothers that never forget to do something special for it every year On my first birthday, she baked a cake in the shape of a giant egg, topped with fluffy, white frosting and a very detailed face made from food coloring. It was a Humpty Dumpty cake.  On my third birthday, she baked a giant chocolate kitty cake. My childhood birthdays were filled with skating rinks, sleepovers, theme park parties, boat parties, and once I got older, nice birthday dinners with a candle in my Tiramisu. When I moved to California, like clockwork, I got money, gift certificates, cards, and special Happy Birthday phone calls every May 28th. My mother is not the reason I secretly dread it. It’s actually been the voices of my family that have brought a smile to my face in the midst of my muffled sobs.
            I’ve known people whose families don’t do birthdays and have mothers that completely forget about them. For many people, birthday presents from their mom end at adulthood.  Some people have mothers who are too broke or occupied to take their kid to dinner or bake them a cake. This is why I feel a searing stab of guilt every time I ‘m sad on my birthday. My birthday is a yearly reminder of how much my family loves me. I have no right to feel sorry for myself, but I always do.
            My resentment towards birthdays has nothing to do with my family, but everything to do with my friends. Since my teens, each year is a reminder of the shitty people I end up so desperately seeking approval from.  Next to starving myself to preserve my emaciated figure, my greatest obsession in middle school was the popularity I’d never obtain. By eighth grade, I thought I had all the qualities escalate myself to the top of the social ladder of my staunchly cliquish school. I was prettier than a good hunk of my middle school elite. Although I still had my prepubescent Kate Hudson tits, I had returned from the summer with sun kissed blonde hair, tan skin, and a braces free smile. I was even so bold as to sit at the semi popular girls table at lunch. I found myself on edge at every lunch period, petrified of saying the wrong thing. Every time one girl left the table, the others would immediately make snide remarks behind her back and then greet her with a sweet, southern smile upon her return. I wasn’t kicked out of the table, but I was never warmly welcomed into it. The girls didn’t accompany me in the journey to the front of the cafeteria to throw out my tray, even though the rest of them went in pairs.  Determined, I persisted. When Christmas came, I spent hours individually wrapping incense sticks in red and green tissue paper, tying the ends with curly gold strings to place in the cards I would distribute the following day. Writing the names of cheerleaders and beloved yearbook superlatives on the cards, I knew they were the ones who would not be returning the Christmas spirit. Handing out the cards was nerve racking, but not nearly as torturous as my birthday party invitations.
             “Sorry I couldn’t make it, Maggie,” they all said. “I was busy.”
            It had been a fantastic party. Four or 5 of my real friends spent the day with Carl and I on his yacht swimming in the lake. That night after cutting birthday cake, the girls and I all lounged in my hot tub eating M&M’s and squirting water guns filled with Carl’s liquor into each other’s mouths. But my insecure, teenage self could not just laugh at the fact that those stuck up bitches missed out. The friends that did come were a lot more fun anyway, but I was so engrossed in the rejection.
            It’s not that I was a victim of an annual sabotage. My real problem with birthdays was that I let the wrong people mean too much to me. Instead of focusing on the family and friends who actually wanted to celebrate my day, I internally sulked over the ones who didn’t. Every year there was a boyfriend who didn’t get me a card or a crush who completely forgot. Every May, I braced myself for disappointment because I knew my birthday would be the final revelation of the friendships that just weren’t real. And there isn’t place on the planet more desolate of real friendships than PB.
            The one birthday I did not dread was my 21st.  This was the age that dramatically affected the lives of young, bar hungry San Diegans. At 18, I moved to a very 21 and over city. San Diego is very active in its nightlife packed with concerts, clubs, bars, and stage venues that all required one to be of drinking age just to pass through their bouncer guarded gateways. And when it came to fake IDs, all of the bars I encountered were ruthless. As a 20-year-old Pacific Beach resident, my age regularly inflicted a harsh blow to my social life. Sure, I could go to house parties, but it seemed like every one of them was rudely interrupted by some 24-year-old douche bag shouting, “PUB CRAWL!”  My coked out friends would hungrily stumble towards the bar like a heard of fat people rushing to a giant fried Twinkie.  A group of friends would go to a concert and I’d be excluded because of my age. I remember one particularly pitiful scene where some of my friends decided to drink at an outdoor patio bar. I, along with another 20-year-old, just waited for them outside on the sand. We could literally reach out our hands to high five our friends, but were not allowed to climb on the porch. I was beginning to wonder why I bothered to bang local musicians when I couldn’t even go to their shows.
            From the time I moved to PB in February, May 28th, 2006 was anxiously awaited like a pregnant mother’s delivery date for her first born.
            “Two months!” I’d squeal to myself. “One month! Twenty-nine days and 12 hours! Two weeks, 3 days, and 10 hours!”
            I was convinced that my life would be forever changed once that beloved date rolled around. When the frat row boys wanted to embark on their famous PB Pub Crawls, I could respond with, “Great! I’m going too!” I could finally join the gallant young men in their glorious quest to drink the entire Garnett Avenue strip dry, starting at a sketchy dive bar called The Silver Fox that opened at 6 a.m. for only the dedicated alcoholics. Then the 21 and up warriors and I would depart for our journey west to a mimosa breakfast ending with tequila and Coronas at Cabo Cantina, a gringo bar imitating a Mexican tourist trap decked out with fake palm trees, mini umbrellas, and salty tortilla chips. This became on of my favorite bars because of its outdoor patio section. Instead of that boringly cliché ocean view, Cabo’s had white boys in wife beaters shouting obscenities and glitter-coated skanks tripping on their hooker heels. Finally, at 21, I would be able to freely frolic through strip and enter any building that I chose. This must have been what it felt like to be black after the Civil Rights Movement.
            My excitement for entering the realm of the legally drunk went beyond the bars and the booze. Even after puberty, drugs, bulimia, a live in boyfriend, sex, a fake marriage, weight gained, weight lost, and half a military enlistment, I really hadn’t changed since my 14th birthday party. Deep down, my only true aspiration was to be cool. This time I was in a whole new league of popular kids.
            All those people back in Tennessee were nothing to me. The popular girls in Chattanooga desperately tried to be Californian, bleaching their hair and baking in tanning beds until their skin fried orange. They could have their country music, premature marriages, and hometown drama for all I cared. I lived in a heavenly beach town. I had palm trees. I had beer bongs on the sand. I had the wildness of my youth. My friends were thin, pretty, naturally bronzed and accessorized with bug eyed Nicole Ritchie sunglasses. They slurped vodka straight from the bottle while they drove. They roamed the streets in bikinis by day and by night, skimpy dresses short enough to bare their ass cheeks when they bent over. They pushed up their breasts and snorted coke in the bathrooms of clubs before grinding their crotches into strangers until last call. And when the night came to an end, they romped through the filthy, gum stained streets barefoot because they were too hammered to feel the glass shards sticking to their soles. The PB girls were wild, edgy, and dangerously carefree.  I wanted to be just like them.
            It seemed like I was well on my way. I felt popular. My Myspace was constantly blowing up with comments from new friends, refreshing my memories of the outrageous things we said and did the night before. We joked about the Absinthe shots we took and the weird guy who fell through the glass table after trying to dance on top of it. We hysterically giggled as we filled in each other’s gaps from our memories forever lost in intoxication. I saw those people again at more parties. The girls eagerly welcomed me in their social circles, hugged me, swearing that we were all great friends. We all vowed to spend our summer parading through PB together. Loads of people all made promises of the glory of my big 2-1.
            “Girl, you’re not 21 yet?” they’d all chip in. “Ok, well we have to all go out on your birthday. Oh my God, it’s on Memorial Day weekend? That’s perfect! We’ll all have to get you shit faced!”
            “Your birthday is gonna be so rad!” James, the leader of the frat row pack assured me. “We’re gonna rage like we’ve never raged before!”
            I was certain that I would not be facing that horrible dilemma of not having people to go out with on my 21st birthday. After all, this was PB, a town where a person would to go the bar dragging an oxygen tank if necessary. My birthday landed on the beginning of Memorial Day Weekend. Who was going to stand me up on such an ideal day for drinking?
            As the big day approached, I faced a bleak reality that I would have to live with for the rest of my days in San Diego.  San Diego, especially PB, is a town full of flakes. With them, there is no such a thing as making plans. If you throw a party, the people who say that they’ll make it won’t show and the people who say they won’t show, make it. The only way people do anything in that town is spur of the moment. This behavior violently clashed with my southern etiquette still lingering from childhood. In the south, it was extremely rude to back out of plans. You were expected to either keep them or call in advance to cancel them. The people I interacted with in San Diego did not give a damn about your plans. Whatever was good for them now was the only thing that mattered. If I wanted to be a PB girl, I had to inhabit an ultra laid back, I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude or else I’d be considered uptight and dramatic. Nobody would like me.  But I never could become that nonchalant. I just pretended. When a friend and I planned on doing something later that weekend, I knew it would never happen. I could repeatedly call that night, but my attempts were in vain. I never spoke a word in opposition. I never called my precious PB friends rude, self-centered, or unreliable. And when my birthday came along, I never revealed how hurt I was when the dozens of friends who vowed to make that it unforgettable seemed to scatter into the depths of the universe. Nobody apologized or even remembered that I had a birthday. Unlike middle school, the PB popular kids didn’t even tell me that they were busy. To them, my birthday disappeared and one day I was magically able to enter the bars. The city I loved and was so desperate to blend into seemed populated with lost little lambs- brainless, coked out, cleavage baring little lambs unable to think or care beyond one footstep ahead of their 4-inch wedges. Everyone from that city had the attention span of a toddler on crack. Trying to tame them was about as pointless as trying to tie a ribbon on a raindrop. 
            On May 27th, hours before the midnight I would turn 21, I fought the urge to bury myself in my sheets and cry until my birthday passed. I called my Navy friends who I much too often took for granted. After enough borderline begging, I convinced Yolanda and our friend Janet to go out with me.  Myleen was still underage. Janet was a 24-year-old Georgia gal who reminded me of Devi in many ways. Both girls were kind hearted, but annoyingly dimwitted. I believe she was book smart, but completely lacked all common sense. Her speech impediment didn’t do her justice. Janet could not pronounce her R’s. When people asked where she was from, she replied, “Joe-Ja.” Luckily for her, most Californians assumed it was a southern accent. Janet was one of those people who truly needed the Navy as her corporate mommy. Even towards her 30s, she never learned how to be a functional adult. Janet was financially retarded. At an E5 rank with nearly 7 years in the Navy, she made a pretty hefty sum that she blew on outrageous rent, pricey furniture, sporadic shopping sprees, and a brand new sports car she would later total right before getting her first DUI. Everyone knew that Janet had an addictive personality, but we overlooked how dangerous it really was. She could not have a few beers. When she drank, she did it continuously until she was either purging out her intestines or naked with whoever took advantage. Under the influence of alcohol, she was a date rape waiting to happen. Men were drawn to Janet. There was nothing remarkable about her appearance. She had a cute but quaint, round face with a short, chestnut bob with the tips touching her chin. Her body was a petite and pear shaped. Janet was always a little chubby with stubby arms and legs.  She looked just like Meg, the daughter from the cartoon, Family Guy. It wasn’t her beauty that attracted men, but the fact that she was an obvious disaster. When it came to standards, she had none. Even in my drunkest, most slutty moments, I had still a hundred times more selective than her. She fucked anyone who gave her the time of day, but there was innocence to the way she did it. She was like a child being poisoned with liquor and manipulated by ravenous pedophiles. Men were attracted to her because of the immense power they had over her. Janet’s men were the worst kind.
            With Janet, Yolanda, her husband Darren, and I legally entered the doorways of a bar on May 28th, 2006 around 12:30 P.M. The bouncer looked at my ID, smiled, and said “happy birthday.” I wanted to kiss him. It only took 1 Long Island Iced Tea to make me forget about all the people who had stood me up, including James, who I’d seen with his frat row crew at another PB bar that very night. By the second Long Island, I was posing for goofy pictures and throwing darts with Darren, happy with the 3 friends who had come out. Yolanda had not been in the bar hopping mood, bust sucked it up because she sensed my desperation. By my third or fourth drink, we had company.
            Janet had invited a boy she’d met off Myspace. His name was Tony. He was short, standing at about 5”6 with short brown hair, a 5 o’clock shadow, and goofy, big ears. He looked like he’d stepped right out of the Jersey Shore. He was accompanied a friend. I paid little attention to either of them because I was much more focused on getting shit hammered, assuming that I would not have an appropriate 21st birthday if I didn’t. After my 4th or 5th stiff, liquor filled beverage, my memory of that night became blotchy. The next thing I recall is walking down the street with everyone to Darren’s, Yolanda’s husband, car and falling flat faced on the sidewalk. Wearing 3-inch Nine West heels on my 21st birthday was genius. Suddenly, Yolanda and Darren were gone and it was just Janet, Tony, his friend, and me crammed into my tiny living room. I sat in the cheap loveseat, the friend sat in the circle futon, and Janet curled up with Tony on the carpet with his tongue down her throat. A happy couple for the night, they stumbled into Bianca’s bedroom.
            When Bianca and I lived together, I was not always the greatest roommate. My rent was always on time. I did the majority of cleaning in the house and even threw her a 20th birthday party. But I occasionally stole her tampons and allowed people fuck in her bed while she was on duty at theHiggins. And when I was really mad at her, I drank her vodka.    
Once Janet and Tony disappeared, the friend and I were left alone. We had not exchanged a single word. As he fumbled through his cell phone for cab numbers, I took a good look at him for the first time that night.
            Hot damn.
            He was attractive.
            Very attractive.
            He had brown hair that wasn’t sticky with gel, but I could tell that he had styled it by the way it swished to the front and flipped into a little wave. His face was long and rectangular with a strong, masculine jaw-line. He had olive-tan skin, the shade of a white boy that spent his days lounging at the beach and chocolate brown eyes below a set of neatly groomed eyebrows.  His long legs hung off the side of my round little futon and I remembered how tall he had been. He was at least 6”2 and though he wasn’t too thin, he had a lean, lanky build. Although I’ve never had a preferred type, I’ve always loved a tall man without too much bulk. He wore a crisp, white button down shirt that hung over a pair of blue jeans. He looked clean and well kempt, unlike all the scraggly surfers that hung around PB. Number 12, who I was still sleeping with, was a handsome guy, but Tony’s friend, my Number 14 made him look like Joe Pesci.
            I’ve mentioned my theory before. When I was at the height of my promiscuity, it was as if men could sense my availability, like it all fell into our evolutionary process of the male knowing which females were ready to mate. If that’s the case, Number 14’s reproductive instincts must have been in full swing because he somehow became aware of my sudden attraction. If any words were exchanged between us, they were very few. I don’t remember them. He just put his phone in his pocket and followed me into my bedroom.

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