Dreading And Celebrating My 23rd Birthday

I spent the beginning portion of my birthday in downward dog.

 It was just past midnight. I couldn't sleep. My eyes were already fatigued from scrolling through my phone and then my laptop.

 I conducted a series of Lion’s Breath breathing exercises, thanked the universe for granting me another year of stay on this planet and shut my eyes— not before watching the first twenty minutes of Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood. I figured that in my drowsy state, marveling over a Hollywood landscape, good dialogue and moving characters would be a good place to be before entering REM. I figured: I'd rather be any place but here. The Groundhog Day effect is no longer a quip— it’s reality. I've grown tired of it. I wish the lockdown was over. 

 In the morning, I battled with myself between flipping my phone up and receiving the plethora of notifications or keeping it face down just a little longer.

 Quarantine birthday rule #1: No physical contact with individuals may lead to a rise in social media birthday greetings, especially from people you haven’t spoken to in ages. 

 I trudged my way downstairs— of course, after I fixed my unruly eyebrows, put some mascara on and reminded myself that 23 isn't old. It's just older.

 My sister— who you will soon learn is quite the party planner— had beat me to it. She was hovered over the waffle maker and fumbling with the ‘ready’ switch.  Aside from this, she was whisking blue food colouring into a bowl of cream cheese frosting. Nice touch, sis, nice touch. Alongside that, she was arranging her already cooked waffles in diagonal lines across a floral-painted platter that looked like it was picked from a Pier 1 Imports catalogue.

I opened two out of my four gifts. Yes, my parents still give me presents like the child I often try to personify. I tried to look as alive as I could for the spontaneous photos.

 Hot crispy waffles were paired with a yogurt parfait, topped with granola.

 I lazed around afterward, brimming with that unidentifiable anxiousness and happiness that comes with a birthday. You don't know why you're happy— you just are.

 I spent the afternoon trying to finish the movie. I couldn’t. Calls, texts, Whatsapp messages, Messenger messages, and Facetime calls to be answered and returned— it was all very overwhelming but gratifying. Names who haven't been present on your lock screen in months, even years, pop up. All well-wishes. All good things.

 Then, I became bored. I worked out because I told myself, five days a week, Rhea— that's all it'll take. Just dedicate 5 days a week. I figured my birthday was no exception so I dragged myself to the home gym, attempted a circuit, got bored, then left.

I thought about what I'd be doing if life was normal then I decided against this mental exercise. Today is your birthday, I told myself, just live it and stop being so...indirectly unhappy. 

My sister urged me to get dressed up and also pointed to a quote she wrote in my pink and sparkly birthday card: “A woman who doesn't wear perfume has no future.” Alright, sis, I get the point.

 Before descending the stairs to get something to eat— I was under the assumption that I burned all the calories of my waffle-yogurt breakfast, but then again, I barely broke a sweat— I was told to wait upstairs. Fine.

 I tried to finish the movie. But I couldn’t— too much on my mind. I opened a book and tried to occupy my imagination. That didn't work. I was also tempted to pluck my eyebrows, but thankfully, I was called to the kitchen before I could make the first ‘pluck’. 

 Wearing a brown leather skirt and an armless black bodysuit, I was greeted by my family in the kitchen. Lined up on our grand island was a large charcuterie board with shaved salami, ham, pepperoni, Carr’s water crackers (a family favourite), Portuguese pumpkin jam, olives in a silver dish, and cubed cheeses in the form of gouda, applewood, cheddar, brie and camembert. 

Lined up along the base of the island were photos of myself from my younger years to my embarrassing elementary days— the days when my nose looked too big for my gawky face and my teeth stuck out in one too many directions. I also had a mushroom cut I was convincingly told was the coolest thing around. Sadly, I was no Victoria Beckham, and therefore, I had no business sporting shoulder length hair. I marveled at the royal blue Ed Hardy t-shirt I used to don with immense pride. I even took notice of my little sisters, when their diminutive statuses were actually true, and they were once shorter than me by great lengths. Today, we all kind of look the same, our height difference is negligible and some days, we all fit into the same clothes. 

My sister was amused by the evolution of my haircuts and bad teeth. She is artistic, so she finds a way to make it all seem commemorative. I blushed at some of the pictures and covered my eyes with dread for others. I fawned over it in the most genuine way possible. 

Remember I told you she has a future career as a party planner? Flashing on our round wooden dinner table was a silver tray with a sign— ‘Entry: 1 Jello Shot Per Person’. The red solo cups were filled with raspberry jello shots and lined up like tiny soldiers. I popped one in my mouth without caution.  

We feasted on the large tray that initially appeared to be too big for a family of five. We soon learned that it was perfect. Only two crackers sat on the tray by the time we were done. We watched the sunset on a day that I hadn’t expected to be sunny at all. 

This may sound strange to some, but writer Kurt Vonnegut’s words began to echo in my ear as I sat, meditating over my filled stomach, good company and the brilliant sky. 

In a lecture Vonnegut presented, Shapes of Stories, he said that oftentimes, we never know when to be happy. We can’t even detect our own happiness because we’re not sure what to measure it by. He was right. I figured that in the particular moment of being so stuffed that I regretted wearing a skintight bodysuit, I was happy. He told the audience that he says the following phrase when he thinks what he’s experiencing is happiness. He advised them to do the same. 

“If this isn’t happiness, then I don’t know what is.”

It’s true. It all made sense. It made sense to me. 

The plateau of the evening was no plateau at all. I indulged in a rich and moist chocolate cake that tasted like the one you always want when you imagine biting into a chocolate cake. Before that, I opened the remainder of my gifts and clinked my glass of cranberry-infused champagne. I blew out the candles to unlock the doors to a new year, and I greeted this sobering year with open arms. I say sobering because anything has to be more sobering than 2020, right? I try to tell myself that. 

I fell asleep easy that night. Was it the lavender that my mother had just placed in my bedroom because she knows I love lavender? Maybe it was the lavender, but perhaps it was just a ‘sleep easy’ type of night, typified by my tiredness, my acceptance and my confidence that the day was nothing short of spectacular. 

If that wasn’t a good birthday, then I seriously don’t know what is.