I’ve been 50 for 7 days. Today is the last day of my birthday. Yes, I decided that my 50th birthday celebration was to run from Friday May 17 through Memorial weekend this year. Eleven days.
Throughout the eleven days, I didn’t have a single cupcake.
I did paint my guest bedroom. Now Sophie the stray cat’s bedroom. It went from a bland khaki beige to Benjamin Moore’s Softened Violet. Purple. I finished painting on Sunday the 19th, the day before my birthday. I took Monday off from work. I told my boss I was spending the day at the spa. As it turns out, I decided I didn’t want to spend the day at the spa. I wanted to spend the day at home. But I thought that sounded pathetic for a 50th birthday, so I said I was going to the spa.
I awoke at 7:30 am on the morning of my birthday and called my mom. She was to have outpatient surgery later in the day (bladder issues) and I wanted to catch her before she left. My first birthday without a “happy birthday” from my dad. Or my brothers. Steve sent me flowers when I turned 45. I bet he would have sent them for 50 if he were still alive. Mike sent cards and usually enclosed a Starbucks gift card. Except the years when he was drinking heavily. Those years I didn’t hear from him.
I didn’t hear from any of my nieces or nephews except one. She turned 30 on the 16th, 4 days before I turned 50. She sent me a text message. Maybe the others wished me happy birthday on Facebook. I haven’t checked. And of course I didn’t hear from my sister.
After I spoke with my mother, I decided to begin taping the guest bathroom with blue painter’s tape. My goal was to paint over the horrifically bright beach-house aqua with the purple. Halfway through the taping, I decided to go with a softer shade of purple for the guest bath. I haven’t gotten around to buying the paint, so the room is still adorned with blue painters tape. Next weekend.
Later in the day on my birthday, the carpet measurer arrived. The old beige carpet is now 12. Like the new paint, I want new carpet. I’m going with a light, silvery gray. Cool colors. I need to be surrounded by cool colors. Teal, purple, gray, lime green. I recently got my new dining room chairs. They’re covered in lime green velvet. The accent wall in the dining area is Benjamin Moore Pacific Ocean Blue.
I need cool colors. I need to paint over the past five years. I need to peel off my skin and see who I am underneath.
My 50th birthday. I prepped the bathroom for painting. I had measurements taken for the new carpet. I hung Kitschy Cats on the wall. My neighbor stopped in with chocolate truffles, a calla lily, and a card. The doorbell rang shortly thereafter. Flowers from my dear friend in Houston and her husband. The friend who has worked for my father’s business for 30 years. The one who has watched her work family, my father and two brothers, die within 11 months. The friend who attended all three funerals with me, running interference between me and my sister and her husband.
I sound bitter. I don’t know that I feel bitter. I think I just feel tired. Worn out from everything that’s happened over the past several years.
I didn’t go to the spa on my birthday, but I did treat myself to a manicure and pedicure. Purple. That was the extent of my decadence. Anything more would have felt incongruous.
I rushed home from my pedicure to get ready to meet the girls for dinner at Uchiko. Sushi. Trendy sushi. One of my dear friends rounded up the girls and made the reservation. There were to be eight of us. Six showed. Air conditioning repairman and a late evening at the Legislature kept the other two from coming.
There were more flowers. More chocolate. A faux fur stole. A gift certificate for a massage. A bottle of wine. Cards. We toasted with bubbles. We ate plate after plate of sushi. There was laughter. Exotic desserts. One contained kalamata olives. Kalamata olives in the dessert. I shit you not. It’s trendy sushi. They have to push the boundaries. Even if it does taste nasty. It’s trendy. So lucky to be eating trendy kalamata-olive-filled dessert.
At the end of the evening, the conversation turned to my losses. I can’t remember which of my friends was brave enough to broach the subject. But she gave me permission. I got to talk to my friends about my most recent loss. Finally. I haven’t talked to a single friend about it since my brother died on March 25. Except my neighbor. Other than going to work and an occasional Pilates class, I’ve stayed home. But on my 50th birthday, they drew me out. And the thoughts I keep thinking over and over fell out of my mouth.
“This one was by far the worst. My oldest brother was hard. My father was hard. But Steve was the absolute worst.”
“Why? Because he died suddenly? Because he died 15 minutes before you got to the hospital?”
“Because I thought I’d saved him. After the intervention, I had my brother back. After the other losses, my father, my other brother, I thought I’d saved him. And then out of the blue, leukemia. They said he had the kind they could treat. With a pill. But they were wrong. And within hours of getting the formal diagnosis, acute myelogenous leukemia, he was dead.”
I dabbed at my eyes with my napkin as the waiter inquired whether we wanted anything else. After he left, I repeated,
“I thought I saved him.”
And then came the platitudes. The same platitudes I tell myself. And my mother.
I gave him three sober months. He spent the last three months of his life connecting with the people he loved. The people who love him.
The platitudes help some. But my heart still is broken.
So the birthday dinner ended with tears. And I was grateful for them. I was grateful my friends let me acknowledge my losses. Allowed me to cry.
I felt joy on my birthday. And sadness. I didn’t have to pretend.
But the kalamata olive dessert and the dearth of cupcakes had to be remedied. And so this morning, on the last day of my birthday, I ordered a chocolate Italian cream cake from a local bakery.
“Do you want anything written on it?” he asked.
“Yes. Happy 50th Birthday, Ella.”
“Okay. And what’s your name?”
I picked up my cake, and my neighbor stopped in.
“The eleven days of my birthday are over today. I haven’t had a single cupcake. So I bought myself an entire cake.”
She went home and returned with a Waterford cake stand. She put the cake on the stand, stuck five silver candles in it, and lit them.
I made a wish. Blew out the candles. And ate cake.