It’s about to be the seventh anniversary of … the day my birthday became a day of infamy. And the approach of my birthday is maybe another part of why I’ve been so silent lately. I’ve never been particularly good at marking my birthday. It’s always seemed somehow wrong or vain to call so much attention to myself. But then, about a dozen or so years ago, I started marking the day with more enthusiasm. A woman I knew introduced me to the concept of Birthday Week — planning something nice for yourself for a few days leading up to and a few days after The Day to extend the specialness. I actually threw myself a couple of birthday parties, commissioned a fancy cake one year, really started to make a bit of a big deal about my birthday.
And then, seven years ago, it became almost illegal to celebrate my birthday. I didn’t, of course, celebrate it that year. I forgot about it completely. I mean really forgot about it, forgot to age myself until late spring of 2002, which left me feeling I’d ‘lost’ a year because I was already swinging around the calendar toward my next birthday.
I decided not to do anything for my birthday in 2002 … even though it was one of those ‘landmark birthdays.’ It just seemed in poor taste to expect anyone to get excited about something so not-at-all-significant-in-the-face-of-everything- else. I hoped my family would remember to call, hoped a few other people would call, too, but I couldn’t ‘celebrate.’ Two of my friends insisted, however. They pulled me out of myself, took me out to dinner, gave me flowers and wine and a fabulous red-and-gold-sequined and mardi-gras-beaded headdress (yes, a headdress … like a mini version of a Vegas showgirl headdress). They insisted I wear the headdress at dinner (they took turns, too). Basically, they forced me to reclaim the day a little, to remember that it had been my birthday — and so many people’s birthdays — long before the terrible events the rest of the country would commemorate every year for the rest of my life.
I was grateful for that dinner, and for that headdress. That dinner with my friends couldn’t push me back to the place I’d been cultivating before 2001, of course. I doubt I’ll be throwing myself any birthday parties any time soon, maybe never again. My birthdays since 2002 have been sort of up and down. Last year’s was mostly down, so I’m hoping to make this year’s more up. My family, friends and coworkers help enormously, but it’s not as though I can ignore everything else going on around me. I live in New York City, after all. It really is vain to focus on myself when everyone around me is focusing on honoring the losses of that day.
My brother is not alone in suggesting that I might consider picking another day, moving my birthday ahead a few days to make it easier to celebrate. It might not be a bad idea, but I can’t do it. I’ve always liked my birthday, my birth date, even if I haven’t always made a big deal about it. I liked my ‘eleven,’ liked getting phone calls from people saying, “It’s a birthday emergency!” and other silly date-related things. But more than that, moving my birthday (can anyone really do that, anyway?) just feels wrong. It’s my birthday, my birthday. It was my birthday for years and years and years before it was this day, before it was Patriot’s Day.
So I keep my day … and I struggle with it. I have friends born on milestone days: ‘Black Tuesday’ and Pearl Harbor Day. I’ve never heard either one bellyache about how hard it is to celebrate, how bad they feel about having birthdays on the same day that something awful happened. That makes me see that I need to stop whining and get over myself. I just wish it was that easy. Maybe I can get Cher to come and slap me a good one, tell me to ‘Snap out of it!’