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tfw: It’s Your Birthday

tfw is a mini personal essay series I’m try to do on Tuesdays to recount second-person experiences of feelings and experiences we all have. Or maybe I’m the only one who has them?

You wake up and there are texts. There’s a note from everyone in your family plus a few friends and plus one brand who, somehow, have planned to text customers on their birthdays to seem “nice.”

You check your email and there are so many offers, discounts, rewards for being alive another year. There are so many wasted opportunities presented before you, from World Market Cost Plus to your yoga studio. As you delete one, another one comes in. How many newsletters are you on?

A gift arrives. “Happy birthday!” you get a hug. You are still tired but you take the gift and open it and try to process it all. It is your birthday, in case you have forgotten.

Your mother calls and you hesitate picking up but you pick up and talk to her and your dad and sister and brother and whoever other family person or friend wants to wish you good tidings. You try to get ready for your day while keeping the phone pressed between your shoulder and ear.

You go to work and you hope no one has checked your social media. You do not make any eye contact with anyone. Someone whispers in your ear. “Happy birthday,” they squeeze your shoulder. You nod and smile and thank them for not making a big deal.

You go onto Facebook and, although your birthdate isn’t listed, people have found out. There are so many postings from so many people you know and no longer know. They all get corralled together, isolated into a digital compost pile of tidings. One friend posts something topical and non-birthday related and it takes a few minutes to find because it gets lumped into the holiday compost.

You work and more messages come. You respond to some and don’t respond to others. There’s just a lot going on. You worry that someone is going to surprise you with a card or flowers or balloons or a cake at any moment. You are in the throes of a project and a coworker calls in you into their office. You walk over and somehow don’t notice that so many people have disappeared from their desks and then—Surprise!—a handful of them are holding a cake for you around a corner and they sing “Happy Birthday” and they’re wearing hats and you stand there clapping along like a fool, celebrating your own birthday with them, hoping the title will somehow slip to another coworker and the eyes will get off of you. There are screams and hugs and cake, which you have half a slice of. Everyone goes back to work and more than half of the cake just sits. Someone throws it away at the end of the day. Everyone goes back to work but no one mentions a birthday anything anymore and you are cleared of responsibilities associated with being born. You work without the stress of a surprise birthday ambush.

You leave work and go to dinner, which is a surprise. It’s a nice place. You have good food and, as if you forgot, someone with a candled cake comes out and places it in front of you. You measure if the place is too fancy to sing “Happy Birthday” or not, believe it is too fancy for the song to be sung, but the song is still sung. This twenty second song is five times as long as the hour long version that was sung earlier in the day at work. You nod and smile and pick at the dessert and leave an extra tip, as a thank you.

You go home. You check your messages and email and Facebook and there are so many that you haven’t checked. You resolve to handle them over the weekend. There aren’t that many but you just don’t want to deal, especially the one from your doctor that offers well wishes but urges you to stop in for a physical exam. You go to sleep a bit buzzed, thankful for so many people but mostly thankful that the day is over, that the spotlight can move on to someone else.

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