Hundreds of Birthdays

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As my birthday approaches, the years that have built up to create this life wind and intersect in my mind. Loops of memory of all these years. Years stack on top of each other and stand side by side, three and thirty-two, six and thirteen, twelve and twenty-four…. and centuries more.

Some memories race, while others saunter in their Sunday best: playing bull in the pen, dandy shandy— we created our own ball with boxes, stones and paper, Emanuel Road (how we broke those rocks), green bows and brown socks, khaki and sweat, Rex– brown fur bristling, flaking patties, sun breaking on our heads, gathering in the hall in white dresses, whiter sand shimmering for miles– spanning oceans, hibiscus closing, red beans still simmering, dancing under flashing lights, body as playground, ploughing fertile land, grilled corn and champagne, glittering, unstoppable snow, the first blue bicycle resting beside the kitchen table, presents on the counter, flashing music videos, TV signing off, singing praisesongs, “Morning has Broken.” Yes, we were valiant “gainst all disaster.

You remember; we walked down roads and crossed seas together. Remember, every birthday, an incredible testament to our survival instinct.

When elders said, “Oh, you children are wise,” didn’t they realize we already had hundreds of years running through our bones? We were “new,” but ancient.

Drums continue for centuries. Every touch of the skin a message, and the remembrance that the body has memory. Fine threads, invisible, but unseverable, holding onto this body. So, on this birthday, many many candles, hundreds of flames, riding an Akan rhythm.


“I Get High on (the) Memory”


1) The most memorable birthdays I’ve had were in multiples of six, so I already know this year will be a bust. I remember my sixth birthday clearly, I woke up for school and there were presents lined up on my dresser. I think the Birthday Fairy put them there; absolutely no recollection of what was in those packages, but it instilled a love of prettily-wrapped boxes, surprises and birth recognition in me. On my twelfth birthday, I went downstairs for breakfast (no doubt a bowl of oatmeal– un-yummy, but yea thanks parents for feeding me– even it was horribly, bland oatmeal), and there beside my chair was a blue, 10-speed bicycle. The best birthday gift I’ve received to date. On my upcoming birthday, I’d like to be surprised, and not a surprise as in someone jumping from behind a closed door. Maybe, I’ll surprise myself… how?

2) The birthdays in multiples of five were life-changing. There’s something about a five that seems definite and significant. In my 25th year of life, I got a bed (*note I didn’t say that I bought a bed). There was something about being 25 that made sleeping on a mattress desirable… I thought, “Wow 25, this is adulthood, better get a bed.” Big hm. My 25th year was also the year that I decided to go back to college. It must’ve hit me either while getting tipsy at work as a hostess, or tipsy with my friends at Buttercup Lounge where I celebrated the day, or at Ludlow Bar, or in dire straits and begging my mother for financial help, that at some point I’d need an education and a real job. The thing is I can’t see what’s really changed since then. Big hm.

At twenty-five, I also went to the barber and shaved my head, not like Kojak, but close enough. Scalp could be seen; my mother hated it, and I loved it. Yes, 25– the year for change, rejuvenation, decision-making. How does it go backwards from there?

3) The birthdays in the last five years have been not only disappointing but downright ugly. The reasons could be plentiful: shock, anger, depression…. wait a sec, it’s beginning to sound like dealing with death. On one birthday, while living in Kingston, my friends threw me a surprise birthday party. It had to be one of the worst nights of my life… the night ended on this note: the guy that I went to the party with accused me of gin abuse (imagine if he’d known me just a few years before); I couldn’t even get upset because I’d had too much gin. Hm. A few birthdays following that one, a very close friend and I got into a huge fight… about what I can’t recall. It’s a shame that in recent years the day has resulted in casualties.  Thankfully, this year I’m not hiding or shell-shocked or hostile (probably because I’m around people who don’t know that my birthday’s soon).

4) It’s crazy, as I sit here and write this, I can’t remember most of the birthdays… I lied to my friends about being older for so long in high school and college that I never had birthday parties. It became ingrained to “not celebrate,” and as the years flew by, it started to make more and more sense to stay home and feel miserable about getting older. What a joke… when I was never “older” at all. I wonder if a few years down the line, I’ll look back at this time, and see how ridiculous it all is… how ridiculous I was.

Identity Issues

Hi Friends,

In the introduction to Oliver Twist, it is stated that Charles Dickens was “dedicated to any and every sort of game or jollification.” I underlined it twice, because I too have devoted my life to “jollification.” Sure, there were the years in Newark, NJ which will always be referenced, if mentioned at all, as  “The Dark Years,” when things weren’t very jolly; but, I’m trying my darnedest now to rectify those three and a half years of my life.

The fact that I haven’t once mentioned ever living or working in Newark, since I’ve been in Tokyo, drives home the point of how extremely easy it is to reinvent oneself in a foreign land (especially when there’re no friends or family around). My identity is ever-shifting here, and I’ve done nothing to correct misperceptions, and I’ve certainly done my fair share to promote other misconceptions.

My Age: Anyone who’s ever met me knows that I don’t like to mention/talk about/discuss/ or celebrate getting older. Yes, it’s a part of life, but I didn’t think it’d be a part of my life. Yes, I thought the good died young, and I was sure I wouldn’t make it past thirty. So what, if other people happily embrace their grays and wrinkles and sags and bags? That’s never been me. I’m not mature when it comes to this topic, and I don’t mind if you judge me and say, “Wow, how immature.” Yes, I’m immature about getting older and if that r&b group still existed I’d ask them if I could be their backup dancer. Yes I’m alive, healthy, I made it, life is good, yada yada yada… I still don’t like aging, and one by one I may have to distance myself from people who know my real age.

However (this is a big, awesome however), at my job all my coworkers think I’m anywhere from 26 to 28. I’ve done nothing to correct them. Nada. I think I may have even nodded the first time it was said. I don’t lie, what I do say is “I don’t want to talk about that.” I don’t pretend to be coy and giggle and say, “Oh a lady never talks about her age.” What I do is give a very stern look (but not stern enough to cause wrinkles) and say, “Let’s change the subject.” I wish it weren’t such a big deal to me. I wish when I was asked I could proclaim, “Oh, I’m –,” but the number scares me and it’ll surely scare others, especially as it seems that the people whose company I enjoy here are much younger than me.

It happened again today. After work, two of my coworkers invited me for pizza and beer. I worked for three hours today (big grin!)… but I digress… So, they invited me for pizza and beer, and I turned them down, because I’m stone-cold broke until this Friday, aka payday. T, a really sassy beauty from Seattle, insisted that I go and she’d cover me until that elusive day, aka payday; I, happily accepted, because it’s not only important to widen my circle of friends here, but I love pizza… and beer. T, D and I went to Gohan, where we ordered a sausage and pepper pizza, a Caesar salad pizza, and an order of nachos (can I just tell you the sausage pizza was off the chain, and I don’t even like sausage). I asked T to take a picture for me, because I was without my camera, and a pizza that gorgeous needs to be seen. D said something about not hanging with many of the people at work, because “they’re not our age, and they don’t really get it.” I simply nodded– “Those people over 30 just don’t get it, do they?” Friends, I’m on borrowed time– when will I be found out? I also just came home and saw a message on FB from my gorgeous, twenty-something friend Sonia highlighting our approaching birthdays (Oh no, not again!).

And here is the problem– on the train home, I was trying to think what age I’d feel comfortable saying out loud, and what that would then mean of all the other extra years. The problem is there’re no years I’d give up; there’re no years that weren’t crucial; there’re no years, not even “The Dark Years,” that didn’t add value to my life and teach me how to be myself today (crazy and accepting of it); there’re no years where I didn’t feel ecstatic to know the people I know and love the people who I’m blessed enough to have in my life; there’re no years that were a waste and that I can simply erase from my existence. So, therein lies the quandary: do I embrace and say my age out loud, ’cause I wasn’t just alive, I lived those years, or do I leave everyone thinking I’m 27  (28) and just another cool kinda woman/kinda girl? Hm. All I know now is that like Charles Dickens, I’m going to continue devoting my life and my time in Tokyo to the pursuit of “every sort of game or jollification.”