Now we are thirty-six.
That we have achieved thirty-six is mostly unremarkable. We have been devoid of bad luck, stray buses, and careening pianos. At our age, no one bothers to bake a birthday cake. The mail is devoid of cards. We cook our tired, traditional Monday night dinner, or perhaps we’ve ordered take out. Fork to mouth, we wonder how we got here already.
We have conquered our fear of raw chicken, car washes, and crowds. We’ve mastered the airport parking garage and double-sided fashion tape. We are young enough to find favor with our nieces and too old to race our nephews. We have a firmer grasp of the checking account but still struggle to wrangle our calendar. There are crows feet around our eyes and freckles that appear overnight of their own volition. There are bruises from solid obstacles on our arms and shins, injuries quickly forgotten, accidents and incidents, fits of pique.
We are practicing our life’s work, whether we meant to or not, whatever it happens to be. We have landed on paths as parents or thinkers or dreamers or builders or teachers or engineers or librarians or translators or crane operators or all of those things or none. We’ve learned to stash things like chocolates and broken cassette tapes and old love letters and the beginnings of a collection of a thousand paper cranes and the fortunes from cookies in Chinese restaurants. We amass shelves full of books boasting allegories we see straight through and still fail to comprehend. Pictures, too. Pictures of a time when we were more beautiful than we realized.
We now know that we do not need to have a favorite color–a lie that has been told to us to separate us from the others. We are not yellows or greens. We can change our minds every day, if we so desire. We drive too fast or too slow, and choose not to brush our teeth. We leave the bed unmade, and the dishes in the sink. Or we demand everything be crisp and sparkling, cautiously dictating our own customs, free from the yoke of repercussion. No one is watching anymore.
Our forever friends number fewer than we expected they would when we were small. This means we’ll be trusted to accurately portray the trajectory of our lives to strangers without significant additions or subtractions. This is a heavy burden to a memory that is already beginning to betray us.
We have fallen in love and out of love and in love again. We’ve been married and divorced and re-married. We’ve learned to ask for what we want. We’ve learned to cede that which has always been unrealistic. We’ve learned to relish living alone. We’ve respected the spaces in our togetherness. We’ve fallen in love with our friends, with our enemies. We’ve learned to fall in love with life, which has become a tenuous and fickle thing.
We no longer have a place to send a father’s day card. Our own doctors, whom we no longer trust, take us apart to look for the cancer inside. We are terrified for the first time. We hide from the support we once begged for openly. We don’t answer the phone. We drink to forget.
The wine that once brought us such elation makes us too sleepy to sing and dance to the wheeling stars, so tired we fall asleep with a hands in a curious spaces between legs and breasts, our original intents unconsummated. Our dreams fill out the rest, muddled and strange, tightropes and leaps off bridges and canyons, naked abandoning and abandonment, images difficult to parse in the summer daybreak.
We shake it from our heads like water, striding, chins up, toward the oncoming years. Happy Birthday to Us.