Tomorrow is my birthday. I spent the whole weekend with my stomach tied in knots. Really it was stupid. Why would I feel this way? It comes from my childhood. No one wanting to spend my birthday with me. That and holidays in my family were always a stressful time.
My childhood years were spent in a neighborhood where there were few Jewish children. Many of my friends could be my friends in school, but not outside of school. So they could not come to my birthday party. The invitations would go out and few would come. So it would always be the same kids in the neigborhood. And somehow it was always my fault. Just ask my mother, or her mother, or her sister. The venerable Brown Connection. They were a force to be reckoned with in my formative years.
The birthday I remember most was my 10th birthday. The birthday that was another disaster, only to be somewhat saved by my then Uncle Herbie and my Papa Brown. The silent defenders. My birthday is May 24th. It always has been. Even my birth certificate says so.
I woke up on the morning of May 23rd and went into the living room. There was a new shiny blue bicycle. Even at 10 years old I was a wise child. There were two problems here. One, I did not want this bicycle. I wanted a black 3 speed. The same bicyle my cousin in Milwaulkee had. This bicylcle was ugly. Worse was today was not my birthday.
The bigger problem was how to tell my mother. She was an atomic bomb waiting to go off. I remember my sister coming into the living room. "It's not your birthday." she said to me. "I know." I remember telling her. What to do. "You can't touch the bike." she told me. "It's not your birthday yet." I wasn't supposed to argue with my mother. But today was not my birthday and I didn't want that bicycle. It was ugly.
My father was out of town like usual. Maybe he would call and I could tell him I didn't want the bicycle. Probably I would just have to have it even if I didn't want it. I remember looking at the bicycle and trying to decide if I could live with it. When my mother came into the room.
I decided to just tell her. "Today is not my birthday mom." I said to her. She was angry. I don't remember her response. I just remember her anger. I told her my birthday was the 24th, not the 23rd. It made her angrier. She disappeared into her bedroom, came out and told me to get ready for school. End of conversation.
When I came home from school the bicycle had disappeared from the living room. That was good news. I don't know where it went. Uncle Herbie was in the kitchen having coffee with my mom. I liked Uncle Herbie. He asked me how I was. I told him about the morning events and the bicycle. I could see he thought it was a little funny. My mother didn't like I was telling him the story.
"I didn't forget your birthday." she snapped at me. I knew she was angry. Uncle Herbie asked why not take the bicycle back and get me the one I wanted. He could not see a problem. I know my mother wanted to kill him. He made her feel like a fool.
The next morning was my birthday. I got up and there in the living room was the black 3 speed bicycle I wanted. My Uncle Herbie and my Papa Brown had made the exchange. The phone rang. It was early, before school. Papa Brown called me to wish me Happy Birthday. It was one of the last birthdays I had with him. He was always very thoughtful. I don't think he could ever understand why my mother wanted make things so difficult sometimes. He was also the one that bought me what she called my "Polish princess dress." I knew he and Uncle Herbie had made the exchange because I heard my mother talking to my Aunt, her sister, and then to her mother. The clock gets wound daily.
I had to hear about how the bicycle was not feminine, how I was too fat. Everything else negative about me. I didn't care. I had the bicycle I wanted. They felt I won because I got the bicylce I wanted on my birthday. You would have thought I asked Rome to be moved to Spain for all the drama they put on. I won some kind of stupid competition in their eyes, so they had to make me feel bad about it. Do you wonder why I get so wracked up about my birthday?
Since moving to Argentina I have nothing to be wracked up about. Months before my birthday my friends start up. What am I going to do? Where? How? At first I thought I wasn't going to do anything this year. Like a stupidhead.
Then my friend Alicia got the idea we should do our birthdays together in one milonga. Done! My friends wanted to know what day they could come to my apartment with food. Wow! I started to think about it...Saturday. Then when I was feeling really blue (like the ugly bicycle) comes an invitation from Lucia to have a big celebration in her milonga on the day of my birthday.
Those days are over for the little girl who was always alone on her birthday. I live in Argentina now. Oveja negra.