Blah, Blah, Birthdays

Yesterday was my birthday. Yay, and all that. I tend to like birthdays. (Heck, they're a good excuse for a party, after all!) But birthdays are also days when I get a bit melancholy, when I know someone who usually remembers is going to forget that it's my birthday, and so I'm always prepared for feeling a bit depressed at the end of the day, even if overall, the day's been great.

In part, it's because the whole birthday thing matters to me - quite possibly more than it should. I used to get really depressed when people didn't remember my birthday, because I've got a pretty good memory for dates and for me, forgetting a birthday was pretty unusual. (That, of course, has changed over time, though I'm still pretty good…) After a while, I figured out that not everyone is like me (whoa! weird!), and that some people really have trouble remembering birthdays and such, and that it doesn't mean you're not important to them. I got in the habit of telling people, on the day, "Hey! It's my birthday!" That was great - everyone wished me a happy birthday, and I didn't think about who had remembered and who hadn't, because it didn't really matter.

That was in college, before I had a lot of long-distance friends. It's a lot easier to tell someone "hey, today's my birthday!" if you happen to run into them. You can't really get the same effect when you call someone to tell them the same thing. Then it just sounds like a guilt trip, and won't make anyone happy. And sending out an e-mail a few days beforehand, saying, "Hey! April 16th is coming up, y'all, and you know what that means!" just seems rather tacky. A friend of mine's boyfriend used to remind all of us when her birthday was coming up, but my partner doesn't know most of my long-distance friends. So, basically, I need to rely on their memory.

Now, some people just don't remember. I used to think that meant they didn't care, but it doesn't. It has nothing to do with whether or not I'm important to them. They simply don't remember birthdays. I know that, and I can honestly say I have no problem with that. If they don't call, it's not that I'm not important to them - it's just that my birthday isn't, and we both know that, and it's ok. It would probably unnerve me if they did call, because that would be decidedly odd.

But then there are the folks who do remember and call, either because they have a similar view of the whole birthday thing or because they want to humor me. Either way, it works for me. And it's wonderful to get the calls, and the e-mails and cards.

But there's always the apprehension, because there will always be at least one person - someone who usually, ordinarily, generally always remembers, someone who's been calling on April 16th for years - who was expected to call and who, for whatever reason, didn't. And that "whatever reason" - that's what gets to me. It could just be that they were just too busy, or they were out of town and couldn't call, or even that I was online during the precise moment they were trying to call and they couldn't get through. But what if that's not it? What if it's a sign that our relationship has changed? What if it's that my old friend in Germany just doesn't think I'm that much a part of his life anymore? What if my good friend in New York has other priorities and just doesn't think calling me on my birthday is that important anymore? Because often, it's that birthday phone call - or e-mail, or card - or rather ,the lack thereof is often one of the only clear signals of the gradual fading out of a friendship.

And that happens. Some friendships fade. Because of distance, because you or your interests grew apart, because you both got really busy and then just gradually lost touch - for whatever reason, they slowly drift away and fade out. And it's gradual, often so gradual you don't really notice, and it's not really painful. Maybe you're only calling every other month instead of every other week; maybe you kept that e-mail in your in-box for a month before responding; and even if you notice these things, you aren't really that aware of the bonds of friendship loosening, slipping away. And maybe they won't drop off altogether, and you'll stay friends, but you'll be less close, and some of the friendship, if not all of it, will have faded.

And for those people who usually call on birthdays, the only moment of drama in this gradual disappearance of a friendship is the absence of that birthday call. And sure, I know that it's inevitable: you cannot keep all the friends you've ever made in your life, and some close friends will become less close as time and distance take their toll. But it still makes me melancholy to lose a friendship. Even if I'm not interested in salvaging it, it's still sad to see it go.

And so, every year, I wonder about that absent call, and if that means that over the course of the next year, another friendship is going to fade. And I can tell myself that it's probably just that he was too busy at work and there's that time difference, too; or that she was on the road and couldn't get to a convenient phone; or that he forgot the exact date again and will probably call tomorrow and be confused and we'll have a good laugh about it; and a lot of the time, that turns out to be true.

But I can't help it. I still worry about the possibility that the call that doesn't come is a signal of a friendship beginning to fade.

And in some ways, I wish I didn't think about that so much. It would make enjoying my birthday so much easier if I weren't thinking about who didn't call (or e-mail, or write), and why. But then again, it's also a peculiarly appropriate thought for a birthday, which is, after all, all about the passage of time. The disappearance of a friendship, to me, is one of the saddest aspects of the passage of time, and so my birthday turns into both celebration and melancholy. I'm getting older; I have friends who call, and friends who don't, and friends to party with, and friends who gradually disappear. This is what happens as life goes on.

But regardless of how appropriate the melancholy may be, I'm still going to keep hoping that it was just that they were out of town or forgot the exact date and will be calling in the next few days, and that the fact that they didn't call on my birthday really doesn't mean anything at all.

 

Great moments in birthdays...

One of my earliest birthday memories is what I think was my sixth birthday. The party was downstairs, and I was trying to show someone the way into the basement and just fell right on down the stairs. Which, I guess, showed them the way to the basement, but not really how to go about getting there.

On my ninth birthday, my parents finally ok'd having Faygo Redpop at the party table. Faygo pops tend to be rather brilliant colors. The party was in the dining room, which was carpeted in a light beige. You see where this is going, don't you? Redpop. Light carpet. The next year we didn't have Redpop for the party.

The birthdays in junior high and high school are all a blur. I don't think those birthdays were much fun, because it's really hard to have fun when you're trying so hard to be cool.

My 21st birthday was a crushing disappointment, because a month earlier, I'd been diagnosed with an ulcer and needed to take medication for 2 months and avoid all kinds of foods and beverages. Sadly, that included alcohol. I didn't feel like throwing a month's worth of pills out the window for one drunken evening, although in retrospect, I so should've done it anyway.

My 24th birthday was spent in Berlin, before I really had any friends there at all. I wasn't totally alone - friends of my parents, who later became friends of mine, made sure of that. But I didn't have a phone in my apartment and had to stand in line to call my parents in America from a pay phone on the street corner, which was pretty depressing. And that was also the year that my brother forgot my birthday. Overall, it was probably my most miserable birthday ever.

My 30th birthday, on the other hand, was a load of fun. My parents came from Michigan, my partner drove in from Albuquerque, one of my best friends drove in from Houston, and they and my Austin friends converged upon my backyard for a fun party. I loved turning 30!

My 31st birthday? I don't know yet. Good so far (I got a Buffy lunchbox!), and the party's in a week and a half!

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April 17, 2002

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