“One’s unbirthday should not be confused with one’s half-birthday, which only occurs once a year.” – Wikipedia – Unbirthday
I had a roommate in college who cut hair. She wore dark clothes and lots of boots and was able to rock short hair in a way that would make my round head look, well, rounder. She dreamed of dropping out of our university to attend beauty school. Instead of studying she would spend nights in our co-ed house dying the hair of the boys who lived down the hall.
The boys would emerge from narrow hallways smelling of bleach. They’d strut towards us, proud of their new, burnt orange do’s while swooping their freshly cut bangs over their eyes with a vicious tilt of the head. Smooth.
I was dating one of those boys. He later became my husband.
I’d watch from the worn, scratchy couch across the way as this roommate would confidently wield her scissors, tucking clips in her layers of black, kind and sure of herself in a way I wished I could be. I was not sure of myself in college.
This roommate was also sure of celebrations and firmly believed in celebrating her half-birthday. ONLY her half-birthday. She and her mom would give halves of gifts and eat halves of cakes and celebrate making it another tilted trip around the sun. She hated her real birthday.
I liked this premise and tried to make it my own.
Over the next four years, I started acknowledging my half birthday too. I wasn’t ready to renounce my real birthday and chose to adopt another day of recognizing me. I’d shout to myself as my half-birthday approached and remind people I loved with text messages and emails. My loved ones didn’t get my obsessive need for celebration. Most ignored my cries for recognition – I’d survived another six months, so what? In most minds, my half-birthday was just another day. As Alice in Wonderland would say, just another un-birthday. We have 364 of them.
Not in my dad’s mind though. He was one of the only people who would follow my whims, get onboard my excited text message chains and holler “woo woo!” throwing a fist pump in the air as I urged others to come along.
Sometimes, I really just wanted to be seen.
He didn’t have to understand the why of my absurd claims, he would just start to play along.
Sunday was my half-birthday.
I texted my loved ones and whooped quietly in the morning and they responded limply. I ate half a muffin and would have tucked a candle in my homemade banana cake, but the waxy old sticks rolled missing in my drawers.
This year, in his absence, my half-birthday felt like an un-birthday and perhaps that’s ok.
I’ve been working on a running list of the many things we don’t do anymore as his bubble of absence grows and pops.
Half-birthdays turn to un-birthdays. Move air. Blow bubbles. Pop.
Vacation traditions fall flat.
Car caravans leave without our vehicles.
Lines fill at taco stands with feet in Chacos, not ours.
They’ll sleep in the valley, under the stars while we keep mending here instead.
Move air. Blow bubbles. Pop.
We no longer eat small bowls of vanilla ice cream.
I was in my garden this evening and saw this giant snail, carrying its home on its shoulders. My dog sniffed and sniffed, her breath blowing the cobwebs and dirt on this creature’s muddied shell.
I paused and I thought, “What is this snail carrying that protects, but no longer serves? What debris of home follows you, little snail, wherever you go? And what of me? The things I carry, my dirt, my dust, my joy turned to wispy webs of systems and traditions no longer serving a beautiful, bubble-filled heart.
A very merry unbirthday.