And, Of Course, You Can't Become, If You Only Say What You Would Have Done, So I Missed A Million Miles Of Fun
Tomorrow my friend Faye turns twenty-one. She has it all planned out. She can't come home from school for whatever reason, so a huge contingent of her friends will be taking her around the more adventurous locales of greater Bloomington. Sufficed to say, it will be a birthday she's going to remember... or maybe black out from her mind after tomorrow. But, whatever happens, it will be your typical all-or-nothing celebration.
We've all had them. My cousin Victor spent his twenty-first in Vegas for three days, where I saw him do more things out of character than I have in the thirteen years since. Breanne, twenty-one being a multiple of three, spent the night before hers half-naked in Memphis. My brother Francis got so drunk with his friends on his that I found him that night crawling to the front gate of our parents' house. If I had to recount each and every story I've witnessed or at least heard, it would form a litany of bad behavior and quasi-illegal activities that seemingly brought out the worst and best in people at the same time. Nobody I know had a bad time at their twenty-first birthday outing.
Nobody except me.
I don't know if it was the confluence of events surrounding that time or if it was just my usual dour disposition, but I must have the most unmemorable twenty-first birthday celebration every recorded. Tara was in Maryland, I think Lucy and I weren't on speaking terms (probably because of a fight involving Tara), Dan and Peter were living away from Pasadena by that time, and I really hadn't made it a big deal at the bookstore to have my work friends take me out to do something. Indeed, it would be another year before I felt close enough to start actually hanging out after work with them (as opposed to party at work three, maybe four, hours after my shift had ended already like I usually did). It was the beginning of my last year of college and I didn't want to stay up all night because all my classes were early the next morning.
I didn't feel like doing anything by myself. I didn't feel like talking to someone, anyone, on the phone would be good enough to satisfy my sense of ennui at the whole situation. I didn't even feel like treating myself to something special that night. All I remember was going to class, going straight to work afterwards, and then coming home. If I remember correctly, because I wasn't feeling it, I may have gone to bed early for a change that day. Then, just like that, it was the day after and any chance to actually do something on the day of my actual birthday was gone. Sure, my parents took me out that weekend like they always do. And, sure, a few people called me over the next two or three days to wish me well. But as far as actually propping up the day with something memorable, the whole day was a bust. It's a testament to how little was done to commemorate it that I can't even tell you one thing specific I did that day aside from talk to Tara (which I pretty much did every day back then).
However, I've never liked celebrating something after the fact. I hate it when people say let's just do something on the weekend instead of the actual day. The whole point is that that day is special. When it passes unnoticed, it's only salt in the wounds to try and make up for it some other day. Even when Breanne eventually started talking to me again, I wouldn't let her say word one about wishing me a happy twenty-first. It was already a week past the day. To start talking about it so long after the fact would have been pointless. It needed to have been done on October 10th or no day at all, that's how I felt. Even a week after I was thinking that I was going to regret not making a bigger deal out of it. It's much the same way I never made a huge deal about prom or homecoming or any of my high school events. It's much the same way I never made a huge deal over any graduation before college. And it's much the same way I never made a huge deal out of a good deal number of days that should have very well been important to me. I don't regret not living because, you know, I've done quite a few things off the list of things I've always wanted to do. They might not be extravagant, but they are mine, so they all felt special to me. Nope, what I regret is not attempting to memorialize them more. What I regret is trying to play them off as being no big deal.
Yes, I was hurting on the actual day of my birthday. I wanted to put myself to sleep so I could just start over with the ordinary day on the eleventh.
But on all these other important days I've always taken steps to downplay their significance when I should have been buying wholeheartedly into them. I have all these habits to attempt to make every day seem like the next, even when they aren't.
I purposely don't say bye to people I know I won't be seeing for awhile. People going off to college, moving away, or even about to die, I have truthfully said, "See ya" with the same conviction I would say it to someone I was seeing in an hour. I don't like long good-byes where you have to pour out everything they've meant to you over the years. I can write it (like in this blog) I just can't say it. Conversely, I've said hello to people I haven't seen for years and years with the same amount of feeling I would say it to someone I just saw at lunch. "Hey," is my usual weapon of choice just like "See ya" is.
In fact, I'm not a big fan of any social convention involved with people you haven't seen in ages or aren't going to see in ages. I don't go for the whole, "how have you been?" or "what have you been up to?" or "God, how long's it been?" Worse yet, I don't like making it a big deal when I'm the one who has been absent for a long time. The worst feeling I can imagine after a vacation is the dreaded, "You're back! Tell me what have you been up to?" that happens when I get back to work. My friends know this more than anybody because I've almost trained them to specifically not call attention to any sort of duration. I just want people to treat me like they talk to me everyday, rather than place all this heft behind the first moment we meet after a spell.
I'm the way with any big event. I like planning huge getaways and doing all these great things, but I would rather people treat them as if they're not this huge deal. For instance, when I was taking DeAnn to D.C. for the first time she kept mentioning how everything looked so different. All I kept saying, it's no big deal. She wanted us to embrace the differences and all I wanted to do was get to our eat, watch tv, and sleep like we did back in California every day. Just because we were planning to see all the touristy stuff over the course of the next few days didn't mean we had to make every moment into a huge deal.
That's what I regret about stuff like my twenty-first birthday. I'm so busy trying to ingrain into people's heads not to make a big deal out of everything that concerns me, that when it happens I honestly am surprised at the lack of attention paid to it. It makes me wish I took more pages out of Lucy's playbook, tried to get that spotlight to shine on me more. As much as I protest that I don't want the focus on me, it's only because I'm used to having to fight to make the attention more subdued.
But subdued doesn't mean lacking entirely.
And treating my milestones like they're no "huge fucking deal" doesn't mean they aren't a small deal to me.
I might not want the all-out extravaganza that my friends seem to want when they reach a milestone, but I do want a token memory I can associate with the day. Try as I might, I can't make studying, working, and sleeping into anything but a disappointing twenty-first birthday memory.