On my birthday last year I ran into a girl I’d gone to high school with. We hadn’t seen each other in almost a decade. It was the first warm day of spring, late March, and I was a beaming mess, wool coat over who knows what, giggling and smoking Camel filters next to a boy, sex hair at its all-time worst. Maybe I wasn’t wearing any pants? We would have liked that. All of us, everyone out on the street, we were all shocked by the sun because we’d forgotten what to do with it.

My fellow alumna and I exchanged quick hellos and all I could do was squint and laugh and try to explain that it was my birthday, that I didn’t usually look like this: a pink scraggly tumbleweed on my head (I’d dyed it with the cheap stuff a few days before), mascara under my eyes, proclamations of love brewing in my throat, cum dried onto various parts of my body. He was wearing the most ridiculous pants. I think she was just back from a few years of nonprofit work in India. It’s important to note here that she went to Harvard. Maybe I told her we should get coffee, because that’s a way to end a conversation. The encounter became a laugh that was woven into the story of our day, all the parts of which had the hazy blurred edges of a memory you’ve glommed too much sentiment on to. In talking to her I’d realized how ridiculous we looked, like someone had held up a Times Square street artist caricature of us in front of our eyes.

The day had technically begun in a dark bar playing jenga but it properly started in a shower at some morning hour when we we realized we were awake. I have a running bit where I claim that no real normal-sized people can fuck against a wall like they do in the movies, where he’s strong and she’s sample-sized and lifted up against a wall (or a fence!) and they’re fucking, hips perfectly aligned, a complete lack of muscular exhaustion. I’ve never made it work except this once, something about my back suction-cupping white tiles, both of us extremely confused as to how we were pulling off this very good thing. Is magic real, et cetera.

It ended when I finally left his apartment at 6 PM, scrolling through all the birthday texts I’d ignored and walking the 45 minutes home, my skin a lacy doily of buzz, everything thick with a love I would always compare to a beautiful sort of anxiety. I have no idea how we filled all those hours that day except maybe I napped and maybe we floated around in the liminal space that only beds can make, where you teeter back and forth between sleeping and fucking, your limbs wrapping around a person the second you edge back into waking, all dopey smiles and a chorus of giggles. We marveled at my mat of hair, maybe we watched a movie, likely we didn’t finish it. What’s the point in knowing the details.

As I floated home the pride trumped everything else: I’d stolen my own birthday and hidden it in a bed. Hadn’t even talked to a family member yet. Have you ever walk-of-shamed through Brooklyn at 6 PM like you’ve just won a championship game? Have you ever been so happy you wondered how obnoxious the look on your face was? We’d made our own stupid cinematic love montage, hovered over each other with light pouring through a window and stared, laughing and wordless, at the other staring up. We’d won–we’d gotten a perfect day. We didn’t stop to recognize that this would all end soon, that all of it was deeply flawed, haha, shhhhhh.

***

We’d put on clothes only to buy a pair of bagels and a pack of cigarettes. When I’d pressed into him in line at the bagel store his flannel felt so foreign after I’d grown so used to skin. These days that bagel store is closed and someone else lives in the bedroom.

***

My brain shifts back to the glowy snapshots when I want to replay the movie because they’re all I have left (I burned some letters) and because this type of day is a gift that’s both temporary and permanent. If you’re enough of a masochist to hold onto the memory, you can pull up the file and sink into it for a minute, when you’re feeling wistful or lonely or horny (I usually am). You can hide yourself in this little preserved corner of your soul.

But let’s be honest that this a bad habit; when you can’t rely on the person you love you need movies to play mentally to fill in their silences, zamboni over their flaws. You remember feeling consumed and happy and the glowing covers all that other shit up. But the shit never disappears, it just lays there, preserved under a glimmering sheet of ice.

The danger is that the memories start to feel inimitable and unsurpassable, a slick fear that our sexual and emotional lives have peaked. Like that awful Sex And The City episode where Charlotte says you only get two great loves in your life (Fuck you, Charlotte!). It’s too easy to think that we only get a handful of movie-montage naked days. This dumb flash of beauty made me fear my next birthday for most of a year.

Can you imagine! I was worried I’d be sad and wistful all day, missing a ghost. I was legitimately afraid of this on the one day a year when you’re obligated to be frivolous and celebrate yourself and eat gobs of cake. All that fun had come from giving myself up—to a person, to a day. What I’m trying to say is I forgot that I had agency. I thought the memory was strong enough to forever clutch and steer my innards. I thought part of me was still his. Ha ha. But I created a little day for myself this year. Got a tattoo and a haircut, ate nachos with a bunch of women I like, kissed nobody. I was still giggling all day. Also, giggling at the idea that I’d cursed myself with one good memory. Giggling at how silly fear can be.

***

The night after my birthday last year, I showed up at a dinner party with a nest of pink on my head, pointed at it and yelled “How did this happen!” All I wanted to do was answer the question for everyone around me, which I did coyly, and which they indulged, because when it’s your birthday you’re allowed to giggle over the bad men you love and nobody can tell you how fucked you are. Nobody gets to point to the sick desperation you’ll still be feeling months later.

My mother always taught me to celebrate my birthday for at least a week and ideally a month but really it’s good we only get one a year. Losing yourself is an indulgence like three pieces of cake. Last year, it took me three days to brush out my hair and nine months to get over the pink phase. The forgetting hasn’t happened yet and the loop still plays when I feel a certain ache.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Ahhh I love a girl who’s totally cool and comfy with indulging in the pleasures of the flesh. Damn Marian I hope we meet out here in Brooklyn some night. Don’t know if I’m your type but I think there’s a decent chance and I can tell by your writings that we’d definitely make some lasting memories. You rock! Happy belated birthday, Mike

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