Wednesday, December 23, 2009

birthday catharsis

As a kid, there is nothing worse than getting the all-in-one Happy Birthday/Merry Christmas present. Being born on December 23, it is inevitable. Every other kid I knew hit the jackpot twice a year. Not me. I never got to have a birthday party either; it was too close to Christmas, school was always out, and people were on vacation.  How I envied the kids who had birthdays in May or February. They got piñatas, pin the tale on the donkey, and musical chairs. I was lucky if anybody even remembered it was my birthday. During the holiday madness, there have been times when my best friend or even my parents forgot my birthday! With the exception of the obligatory first birthday party, which of course, I don’t remember, I did, however, have one birthday party. It was my 10th and I will never forget it.

I know don’t who helped my grandmother pick out presents for me, but she always bought me the fliest outfits for my birthday. One year, she got me this awesome purple number with green glittery swirls. It was a 2-piece outfit: short skirt with biker shorts and matching top. For my 10th birthday, she got me a skirt and vest combo complete with turtleneck. It was the coolest. This, of course, was my outfit of choice on my birthday--even if I wasn’t going anywhere or doing anything special. My hair was carefully styled with extra attention to detail: lots of mousse, lots of hairspray, and pumped up as high as I could get it.

There was nothing special planned for the day it seemed. My mom was going to drop me off at my grandmother’s as usual. We were on our way there when my mom decided to pick up some dry cleaning right up the street from my grandmother’s house. We were driving up Talbert in our little Nissan Sentra and all of a sudden out nowhere this kid on a bike pops out from behind a van and SMACK! His bike hits the fender and I see him fly over the windshield. Everything started moving in slow motion and I could hear the subsequent thumps of his body hitting the trunk and back bumper of the car. We stopped the car and I look at my mom as she’s about to get out of the car and I ask her, “Mom, Are you going to go to jail?” She looked at me blankly and didn’t answer.

She got out of the car first and I followed. The first thing I saw was his feet. He was face down, his feet were in that lifeless, pointed inward position you so often see when people get shot in the movies, only this was real life. His head was right next to the back right tire. His face was all bloodied up and the ground next to his mouth was a mixture of siliva and blood, still dripping. He wasn’t dead. He was moaning, “She hit me. She hit me.” I thought my mom going to jail for sure.

The police and paramedics arrived shortly. They were asking him questions as he lay there. He couldn’t remember what day it was, but he remembered that his name was Raymond. The police had all their investigation instruments out to figure out if my Mom was speeding and whose fault the accident really was. I watched nervously as they deliberated my mother’s innocence. The fact was we didn’t hit him. He hit us. He was making his paper route and riding on the sidewalk when he darted out into the street. We didn’t see him because there was a big van parked right there. The proof was in the fender where his bike hit our car. My mom was cleared. She wasn’t going to jail on my birthday after all.

We picked up my mother’s dry cleaning and headed for my grandmother’s house as planned. I was still pretty shaken at this point. As I’m walking up the steps to my grandmother’s house, I was replaying the traumatic events of my birthday so far. I was in a daze. Then I opened the door and, “SURPRISE!” It was a surprise birthday party and my whole family was there, and even some friends. I found myself in complete and utter shock. It took every bit of energy in my body to not break down into tears. My day had started out normal then all of sudden I’m seeing this kid all smashed up and I think my mother is going to be locked up behind bars forever--and now this! A surprise birthday party was the last thing I had expected to happen next. After so many years of uneventful party-less birthdays, I finally had got what I wanted. And boy, did the gods deliver.

I should have been ecstatic that day, but there lingered some sort of dark and guilty feeling. I hardly remember what the actual party was like. But I do remember so clearly that boy’s face. In celebration of my birthday this year, I thought I might share a memory with you. I’m glad that I’ve fished this particular memory out from the depths. I have not thought about that day since it happened. I suppose this can serve as some kind of birthday catharsis—leaving behind the bad birthdays and opening myself up to the more beauteous and peaceful birthdays to come…

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