New York, Measured in Birthdays

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Tomorrow is my birthday, my eighth in New York.

I belong to the camp of people who love birthdays. Mine falls early in July and coincides with two important things: Wimbledon and blueberries. Growing up, birthday mornings consisted of watching Agassi, Graf and Sharapova, and then Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and the Williams sisters, beat nearly everyone on mowed grass while I ate big bowls of blueberries in pools of cream and took intermittent sips of bottomless coffee for approximately four hours. Probably a dozen early birthdays looked something like that. Later in the day I’d see my friend Julia and we’d go to a movie or swim at my aunt’s pool. At night my parents or Grandma would have a birthday dinner and make short cake with homemade whipped cream and dark berries. My cousins would be there, crowded around me when I blew out the candles. Birthdays stood out for their consistency: A day of the same people and things I liked.

In New York, birthdays have been different: Instead of consistency, they’ve been defined by their differences—the people in attendance, the places I’ve celebrated, the memories I’ve retained. Rather than a celebration of me and things I like, birthdays have served as a measure of my life here: growths and setbacks; happiness and struggle. New York is synonymous with change; but we are all so busy, distracted, and tired, that it can be difficult to take stock of it all, to see and understand what we’ve been doing with our time. Once a year, birthdays can help us do that.

When I tried to unearth the seven birthday plot points of my time in New York, I remembered only three. Not a good sign for a birthday lover. So I searched “July 2 birthday” in Gmail and found the rest. Most revolved around bar gatherings with friends: It was important for me to gather as many good people around me while other things remained unsettled.

July 2, 2008: I turned 25 at Commonwealth in Park Slope, even though I lived in Harlem. I remember hardly anything about that day. It was like a first date: totally pleasant but ultimately lacking in deeper meaning. I hadn’t created any yet in New York.

July 2, 2009: I turned 26 at Bar Reis in Park Slope. Scary fact: For as little as I remember about turning 25 at Commonwealth, I remember less about turning 26 at this bar. My work didn’t excite me. I was unengaged, at least with myself. But I did live in Brooklyn. So it at least felt like being home.

July 2, 2010: I turned 27 at Elsa on the Lower East Side. Here, change. I had boyfriend. I’d left my job, was nannying and headed to grad school. I was surrounded by good friends. My dad was sick, but I had a lot of love and was excited for the future.

July 2, 2011: I turned 28 in Paris during grad school—a portion of my degree that I enjoyed the least. Instead of exploring the city, I sat in an old apartment in the equivalent of the Upper East Side struggling to write in French. My mom showed up the day of my birthday. She brought a family friend along, which surprised the hell out of me. We ate a nice dinner. But my dad had died. There was progress, but the life-bag was mixed.

July 2, 2012: I turned 29 on an airplane. Flying back to Brooklyn from a wedding in California with my fiancé. I’d just told him I didn’t want to get married. Somehow we made it through the red eye flight and arrived in Greenpoint the morning of my birthday. We patched things up. We ate dinner at Mission Chinese.

July 2, 2013: I turned 30 in Williamsburg. I was single and living with a new roommate. I had a summer job—reporting and writing—that I loved. I ran every morning. We threw a giant house party. My ex-fiancé was there; we were friends again. Wrongs had been righted. Truth had led to growth.

July 2, 2014: I turned 31 in Greenpoint. A surprise party at my oldest friend’s apartment, and beers after at Palace Café. Lots of friends accumulated throughout six years; they were the highlight. I was freelancing again, but feeling professionally anchorless.

July 2, 2015: I turned 32 at t.b.d., that weird bar with a giant outdoor beer garden in Greenpoint. Things were looking up. I freelanced more regularly, and that work would lead to my current job. I was single, surrounded by the same good friends. A low key gathering, but an honest representation of how things were generally: pretty good, and where they and I needed to be.

July 2, 2016: I’ll turn 33 on Block Island, tomorrow.

So, it’s been a journey, marked by darkness and marked by light. New York birthday’s have given me the chance to appreciate both. And while I’ve always (except for Paris) prioritized gathering as many friends as possible the day of, this year felt different: when my friend invited me to spend my birthday on an island with just four people, I was surprised that I was happy to say yes; to not plan another bar gathering somewhere in Brooklyn with friends. It’s easier to leave a place when our relationships with ourselves and with others feel all right. So tomorrow I’ll turn 33 outside of New York, and I think it will be ok; this year I know the good stuff I’ve fallen into, or worked for, and appreciate, will still be here when I get back.

Illustration by Laura Resheske

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