Birthdays

>If I used multiple word titles, this would be called “Why I Fail At Friendships and Other People Are Awesome.”

I fail at long distance friendships.

I’m bad about sending e-mails and letters. I fail at talking on the phone. I’m even pretty mediocre about IM.

But man, do long distance friends make birthdays awesome. Facebook exploded with birthday wishes, genuine comments and not just idle “Happy birthday”s forced with minimum emotion. I got e-mails and tweets and IMs from people I rarely talk with.

By the end of the day, I was able to survey the people I’ve filled into my life, the wonderful people who have taken up places in the world where, no matter how long since they last talked, they reach out and say “Happy birthday.”

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>Age

>When I turned seventeen, I wasn’t ready to be seventeen. My mom told me I could be sixteen again if I wanted. Age, however, isn’t like a suit. You can’t shed it. You can lie about it, you can pretend it’s something else, but in the end it is what it is.

Age is also a number, but it’s less of a social construction than other things. The planet really does revolve around the sun and, in a few more days, it will have been twenty-four revolutions since I was born.

I’m not ready to be twenty-four.

Twenty-four isn’t old. It’s only one more than twenty-three, and two more than twenty-two. It’s twenty-one more than three, which is the first age I remember being. In a sense, I’m going to be twenty-one, if I only count the years I remember.

My grandfather died right around his birthday, which is today. My mother was born thirteen days and some number of years after he was. My birthday is some number of years and less than thirteen days between theirs. I think about this every year, as the month of May ticks by and I feel an impossible, inevitable, inescapable threat of being older.

I don’t know what scares me so much about age, but I am terrified by it. I am struck deeply with the fear of the numbers changing. I don’t mind getting older in a day-to-day sense, and that’s really what counts. I look at myself in the mirror and have accepted that my hair will turn grey and my eyes will form lines. Creases will form on either side of my mouth. I will stop being older and I will be old.

But, plenty of people have done this. The ones that haven’t have died. The ones that have have died.

That’s sort of how it works.

While I didn’t mean to muse on my own mortality–I intended to write about baking blueberry pie last night–I found myself thinking about my grandfather and my own age.

B, my grandfather, grew up as a Jew in Baltimore. He joined the military. He accidentally became an officer during the war and married an Australian woman. He was so old by the time I met him that I grew up with this idea of untouchable age. He died around his birthday in 2002. He was never quite a real person to me, I was too young to really understand death and too young to really understand that he existed.

Only recently has my concept of object-permanence grown to a point where I understand that people are real: before I met them, they had lives not just stories, when I don’t see them, they still live. But he had a life that I could only experience through my tendency to wander around his house and look through drawers and boxes. I used to take everything out of them and try to put it back exactly as I found it. There was a section of the house full of nice things. I liked to sleep there. They had statues of trees with quartz instead of leaves. They had a large Japanese cabinet set full of china that I was scared to open, but did anyway when I thought no one else was around. He and my grandmother kept cookies around, seven layer cookies usually. I think he liked them, I don’t remember.

I can’t really tell you a single thing he liked, aside from his family, and I wasn’t always sure he liked that.

When I was younger, I thought he and my grandmother were going to get a divorce because they fought all the time. It seems silly, I guess, to be in your mid-eighties and get a divorce. I asked them this once and then they stopped fighting when I could hear it. I don’t know if they still did fight, but I never heard it anymore.

After his first stroke, but before he died, he gave me his wedding ring. It was the last time I saw him. I didn’t know what to do with it or how to take this. My mom told me to give it to her, that she’d keep it for me, and I resented her for that for years. When I got older and got it back, I wore it as a necklace. Suddenly, it was sweet that I kept it with me. I resented her for that too.

My birthday is equally marked by my own birth as it is by my grandfather’s death. So far, I have had more death-free birthdays than ones where death is so obviously next to me, but these will soon be out weighed. It’s already been nine years. I expect I’ll live for at least six more.

>Era

>My freshman year of high school, I was sitting in second period World History class when the principal announced that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. My teacher, who also taught a current events class, explained to us it was likely the work of a terrorist group like Al Qaeda.

We got out of school early and I spent that afternoon in the park, lying on the jungle gym and staring at the sky wondering if this meant everything had changed. In my mind, I saw fighter jets zoom overhead. I wondered if it was possible for war to come to my home.

It didn’t.

The next few years of my life were marked by a discussion about life in a “post-9/11” world. There was fiction discussing how it was different. There were adults on the news or other talk showed telling me things were going to change.

I didn’t notice these changes, but maybe it was because I grew up with them. Airport security got tighter. The government got bigger. Not all of these changes had, as far as I could see, anything to do with what happened in 2001.

The word “terrorist” became our horror. It replaced other words I didn’t know because I was too young to know them. I took history classes at university and, to me, it was just replacing one set of terms with another. England became Europe became Asia became Russia and Cuba became Middle East. King George III became Hitler and Mussolini became Mao and Kim Il Sun became Castro and names I never knew became Bin Laden and Hussein. The Monarchy became Nazis became communists stayed communists became terrorists.

For almost ten years, for a theoretical generation, Osama Bin Laden was a villain, a scourge. He was a symbol just as much for us as he was for Al Qaeda. He was something we were told to rally against.

When this started, when I first heard his name, I was fourteen. I was sitting in class. I was just starting high school and working on figuring out who I was. Yesterday, I was twenty-three. When the news broke, I was sitting in a bar with people who have come to define my life. I was explaining that I’d gotten a job offer over the phone, but I wasn’t ready to acknowledge it was real until I had a paper offer or an e-mail address [from the company] or -something-.

I came to adulthood between the years of 2001 and 2011. Last night, nationally and personally, an era ended.

I am an adult and Bin Laden is dead.

Fan

Every now and then, there is a post on Post Secret that fits in this vein. “I have decided to kill myself after X comes out.”

Most people I’ve talked to who are suicidal to varying degrees don’t respond to emotional trauma with plans of suicide. Rather, they have a drawn out plan that relates to a specific life or cultural event, either for them or someone else. After I turn thirty. After my parents’ fortieth anniversary. After my best friend’s wedding. There’s a forethought, either selfish or selfless, that the event is so important it either needs to be experienced or they don’t want their death overshadowing the importance of it.

Of these, the ones I find most interesting relate to cultural events. “I want to see the end of Lost” (no longer valid). For years, there were “I want to know how Harry Potter ends,” and with the book series ending those thoughts were transferred to the movies. I first heard someone say something like this in 2000. A t the time I was younger, harsher than I am now and my immediate thought was ‘Well, that’s ridiculous.’
Now I don’t.

When I’m biking and it’s really hard, I look somewhere ahead of me and I say “There. When I get there, I will rest.” I know I won’t, but I say that, as though I can convince myself of the obvious lie. I focus every part of me on getting to that spot until reaching it is the only thing that matters. When I get there, I pick a new spot, like I knew I would in the first place.

Eventually I get to a part where it’s easy.

Most people I know do this with their lives, especially when things are hard. They pick a point, somewhere, and they go to it. That point can be in time or a goal that they have to work towards, but it’s something. It’s a singular thing they can focus on. It’s a hope they can tell themselves.

I need to struggle now, but once the last Harry Potter book comes out, I can finally rest. I can finally give up.

And even if they’re not lying to themselves the way I lie to myself when I say I’ll stop when I get there, they then have time to find something new. They have time for things to get better. They have time for things to change.

I have no statistics on people who say this or do this. I have no idea how many actually kill themselves and how many find something new to live for, but I like to think that they pick a new point and refocus their vision. “I’ll wait till i get there,” they’ll say. And then, one day, they’ll be on top of the hill they’ve been struggling to get up and just coast down.