These are the flowers David sent me…
Birthdays come faster now, so much faster. In fact it’s fucking daunting, so I get why so many long term friends or contemporaries go, “Please, don’t remind me,” or “look, it’s really not a big deal.”
Ah, but it really is.
And though the number of candles makes me reach for sunblock, it’s also pretty damned swell. In fact, a birthday is the best gift you can give yourself. You just have to remember or discover how to enjoy it.
About twenty five years ago, well into my second decade of being HIV positive, I called my mom to bemoan my rapidly dwindling circle of friends, thanks to AIDS fiendish desire to poach my personal VIP guest list. My friends were handsome and ambitious, buff and funny, sexy and clever, and, most glorious and tragic of all, they were young. However, my mother’s response to my stream of sadness was to tell me about all of her friends who were dying around her in Del Ray Beach as well, one right on the golf course just the other day. “But that’s different, ma,” I said, cutting her off with blanket dismissal. “Your friends got to live their lives. They got married, had kids, retired, played golf, they got to experience all of it. My friends won’t live to see that.”
The phone went uncharacteristically silent, which is even more dramatic once you factor in that my mother and I speak with the same frequency, employ the same syntax and deliver dialogue with identical declarative intensity. “Ma, you there?” I asked. Nada. “Ma!” I repeated. “So, is that what you think?” Blanche inquired, at a low and succinct decibel level that had bore no correlation to her anger. “Is this because your father and I have, as you say, ‘lived our lives,’ so that’s it? We’ve done it all, seen it all, been everywhere, and now we’re just waiting for someone to bring us the check so we can pay up, walk to the edge of the cliff and jump? After all, why wait when, the way you see it, we’re just sitting here, marking time until it’s that time.”
“No! that’s not what I meant!” I ranted back, terror stricken at the immediacy of the two of them not being there for me. “No, Harold, it is what you meant” she quietly replied. “You just didn’t realize until now how awful it sounds and how wrong you are to think it. Do you honestly believe that I’m more ready to leave here than you are? That when you get older, and you are – don’t forget the ‘Kina hora’ – still healthy and have your wits, your sight, your mobility and someone to love, that you have any desire to wrap it up? Oh, my God, Harold. Of course you think about it, you have no choice when you see your age on your driver’s license. But that doesn’t mean you’re ready. I’m no more ready to leave than you are. I want to see a lot more mornings and kiss your father goodnight 10,000 more times. You couldn’t be more mistaken. You’ll see when you get here exactly what I mean. You’ll see.”
I’m here. And I see.
As usual, mom was right, which is why I adored her. She saw life as a limitless curiosity shop and she passed that onto me along with my sizeable nose and her hatred of peanut butter. I remain as fascinated by what I don’t know as I was when she first warned me. Only now I’m more aware that the expiration date on exploration can come at any time and without warning. And no, I don’t want to go either. It doesn’t matter that no amount of sit-ups or squats will ever restore a 6-pack or a butt you can bounce quarters off, because I now know my eyes can sparkle just as brightly when they are bewitched by the unknown.
I know. I don’t look my age. And that’s nice. But what really matters is that I don’t feel my age, nor do I feel ANY age when I am excited, intrigued, entertained, enthralled, learning, appreciating or holding David’s hand.
In addition, there is one great, extraordinary gift that comes with age. You don’t give a shit about anyone who isn’t on your side or adding to your day and you have little or no problem cutting him or her or it out and turning away. Yes, it makes your immediate world a bit smaller, your circle of friends tighter, but the unburdening of dead weight is marvelously life affirming. If anything, it makes you hunger even more for discovery, for something fresh, for the thrill of each new morning because you have made yourself a promise to move forward with open eyes and open arms.
Finally, birthdays that require you check off the boxes on the far right offer something else that’s pretty wonderful. It’s the blessing of clarity about who and what matters, and of the imperative to remind those have made each day so far so special that you’re so tickled and grateful and blushingly happy that they chose to enrich your life.
No one gets everything they want. But that’s not a measure of success anyway. The yardstick that matters is did you get everything you needed. Birthdays are an opportunity to take stock, to stop, to survey, and hopefully be humbled by your extraordinary wealth even if you can’t use it as a down payment on a Tuscan villa.
It’s a sad truth. When you are older, your parts don’t work right. Every joint creaks a challenge, every mirror reminds you of repair, you can’t recall the name of that actress you love in that movie you can’t remember who is married to the man who still is James Bond. Tough. Save your complaints for your immediate family, because we all have the same ones, so I don’t want to hear it. And young people could care less and who can blame them?
Instead, focus on the miracle of one more day. Every day.
One more day to feel the sun. To read the Times. To bitch on Facebook, to be entertained by Murray, to talk to Debra, to write a story that entertains me first, to marvel at Stefani, enjoy the warmth of Patti’s voice, to marvel at Harvey’s photographs, to remember my father’s smile, to cheer on Molly in her new adventure, to pinch myself that I found David and to watch a bad movie while I sit next to this man who makes my heart dance.
No, ma, I don’t want to go. I still like it here. There are too many birthdays ahead I’m looking forward to.