Today is a friend’s birthday, and it made me think, what do you get the woman who could go out and buy anything she wants? Flowers? No, predictable, and she can get them fresh on the corner. Jewelry? No, too personal. A card, possibly, but would she rather I save the paper…and therefore, the tree? An ecard…god, no, they are dry, humorless (with the exception of Hoops and Yoyo that make me giggle) and for the most part, unimaginative. Maybe a gift basket showcasing the wonders of where I live…a locational euphemism for I am here, and you are not. No, plus, snow doesn’t ship well. So what then? Ah, of course, a few of her favorite things…words. So, Susan, here is my gift to you, an expressional brown paper package all wrapped up in string. Happy birthday.
Birthdays. I have reached a point in my life that I sometimes forget my birthday. No, it is not senility, though I imagine some would beg to differ. It’s just that I have had so many. And before you begin to wonder just how old I am, I am not referring to the collective anniversaries of that traumatic trip down the birth canal that scared me so badly I didn’t speak for a year and a half. (Thank you, Gracie Allen.) I am referring to all those other times I have been born. Those times when life was breathed into me instead of those first few gasps of instinctual inhalations.
I remember my awakening to prejudice and discrimination and making a conscious decision to eradicate those sequences from my DNA. It was a long, hot, lazy summer day in the northern reaches of Atlanta. It was June 14th, Flag Day, the displays of polyester red, white, and blue hung limp in the stale, humid air. I remember it was unusually hot for June. Having quickly exhausted our supply of ice cold and freshly squeezed lemonade, my parents decided the only thing to break this heat was a day at the swim club. Now, the swim club was really just a bogus beach built around a lake, but that was no ordinary lake; it was bottomless. As a kid, I hung on every word of the tall tales told about that lake. From tragic to sinister, the message was always the same…”and they never found the bottom”. Whether true or not, that was one deep, cold, lake. Headers off the high dive were met with layer after layer of chilled exhilaration. On a steaming day like this, you can imagine my anticipation for immersing myself in that water.
Upon pulling up, I noticed an African-American family getting out of their car. A girl about my age was climbing through the window of the way, way back of a station wagon…I always wanted a station wagon with a way, way back. The family was waiting patiently in line in front of us, the girl and I exchanging “hey’s” and giggles. When they reached the window, they were asked for their membership card before they could enter. Membership card? We were never asked for one of those. But wait, we don’t have one either, hey, Dad, we don’t have one. Where are they going? Wait! Frustrated at my elevated persistence, my father snapped at me exactly where they were going…and why. It was at that moment that I realized though we live most of our lives in various shades of gray, this time, life was very black and white. I took a deep and cleansing breath, and I defied my father’s order to get inside. If not my new almost friend from the way, way back, then not me either. It was a very long, hot, but personally motivating summer day…in the parking lot of the swim club.
Though I have never marked this day with any celebratory hoopla or even used this awakening as an excuse for chocolate cake, every June 14th, way way back in my memories, I think of my almost friend and the birth mark I received as a result of our meeting. It is just one of the many longevity stains that make up who I am, each renewal a new layer, a new growth ring in this tree of my so-called survival. Birth happens, over and over and over again as life cannot be lived by abstinence only.