When it lets you down, you'll cry if you want to!
Will you pardon some real self-indulgence? Yesterday, by coincidence, was both Tracie's birthday and mine. Also Lance Bass. And Audrey Hepburn, wherever she is. I IM'd with Tracie a bit; neither of us had big plans. I don't ever do much to celebrate, and a rainy Monday's not the most festive, but even so: the day did not end up being what I had in mind.
We didn't have much planned, but because I've been in low spirits lately, we'd decided to go out for dinner. Then my boyfriend fell ill, and he's one of these people who, on those rare occasions when he does get sick, gets really sick. So our dinner was out. Nursing was in. We had macaroni and cheese, and when I realized it was only six, I made a little cake. When anyone called or emailed, they'd ask what I was doing to celebrate. "That's not much of a birthday," remarked my mother doubtfully. Later, she called back to make sure my spirits were okay. Other people seemed to agree with her. Wasn't I going out with friends, people demanded? At least having a drink? Well, no.
For most of the day I was fine, and then, as I ran him a bath with a special decongestant eucalyptus soak, I found tears of self-pity running down my cheeks. Everyone was right! This sucked! The humble lemon cake sitting on the counter suddenly seemed to me unspeakably tragic, my own behavior that of a saintly martyr. I told myself to think of poor children in other countries, of my own great-grandparents who, in the old country, I'm told "didn't have birthdays." Of lonely people with no one to sent them cheering Facebook messages or give them beautiful cocktail hats (my gift from my boyfriend.) It didn't help; it just made me feel like a worm, but still sad.
Still sitting on the bathroom floor, I examined the question. What, really, is a birthday? A designated day when we're supposed to feel special? When you think about it it's arbitrary and stupid. What was I, I berated myself? One of these women who needs to be treated like a princess because she's graced everyone with her presence for another year? What did I want, a national holiday?
The bath was ready and I called my boyfriend in. He was feverish and achy. While he soaked I read aloud from the new book I'd been given, about Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld in 1970s Paris, which proved to be highly entertaining. After changing the sheets, I tucked him in and iced the cake, soaking it first in lemon syrup, then frosting it with butter, cream, lemon and powdered sugar. We ate it while we watched the second installment of an American history documentary I'd ordered from Netflix. I thought about the year, and how bad my depression had been at points, the experiments with different medications and the lows so low that I didn't want anything so much as to evaporate. The loss of interest in food, in weather, in history, in 80s miniseries, even in dolls. How hard it had been on my family and friends, and especially my boyfriend who'd borne the brunt of it. And then the cycle of guilt that eats at you when you thought you couldn't get any lower or feel more worthless than you already did.
This sounds lame, but there's a notebook where I write down things that have made me happy, an almost superstitious practice I started a few years ago as an extra talisman when things got bad. I keep it by the bed, and I reached for it now. I hadn't written in it for a while; the last entries were, besides the names of some friends, "A Band of Bees: 'A Minha Menina'"; "bohemians down the street have doll head in yard"; "really nice person checked me out at Whole Foods, Union Sq." I added "cocktail hat." I went back to the documentary, safe in the knowledge that we could go out to dinner another time.