I hate birthdays.
Nobody knows that about me. Well, I suppose they do now.
I have one of those mothers that never forgets to do something special every year. On my first birthday, she baked a cake in the shape of a giant Humpty Dumpty, topped with fluffy white frosting and a detailed face made from food coloring. On my third birthday, I got a giant chocolate kitty-cake. My childhood birthdays were filled with skating rinks, sleepovers, and once I got older, nice birthday dinners with a candle in tiramisu. When I moved to California, like clockwork I received money, gift certificates, cards, and happy-birthday phone calls every May 28. My mother is not the reason I dread the day; the voices of family members have brought a smile to my face in the midst of muffled sobs. This is why I feel a stab of guilt every time I’m sad on my birthday.
No, my resentment toward birthdays has everything to do with my friends, each passing year a reminder of the crappy people I end up so desperately seeking approval from.
My obsession in middle school was the popularity I’d never obtain. By eighth grade, I thought I had all the qualities necessary to escalate to the top of the social ladder of my cliquey school. I was prettier than a good hunk of the elite, and although I still had prepubescent Kate Hudson tits, I’d returned from the summer with sun-kissed blond hair, tan skin, and a braces-free smile. I was even so bold as to sit at the semi-popular-girls’ table at lunch. But I found myself on edge, petrified of saying the wrong thing. Every time a girl left the table for a while, the others would make snide remarks behind her back, then greet her with sweet, Southern smiles upon her return. I wasn’t kicked out of that table, but I was never warmly welcomed. The girls didn’t accompany me to the front of the cafeteria to throw out my tray, even though the rest of them went in pairs. Determined, I persisted. When Christmas came, I spent hours individually wrapping incense sticks in red and green tissue paper, tying the ends with curly gold strings to place in the cards I would distribute the following day. Writing the names of cheerleaders and beloved yearbook superlatives on the cards, I knew they would not be returning the Christmas spirit.
But handing out Christmas cards was not nearly as tortuous as my birthday-party invitations.
“Sorry I couldn’t make it, Maggie,” they all said. “I was busy.”
It was a fantastic party anyway. Four or five of my real friends spent the day with my dad and me on his boat and swimming in the lake. That night, after cutting birthday cake, the girls and I lounged in the hot tub. We squirted water guns filled with Dad’s liquor into each other’s mouths. Still, my insecure, teenage self could not laugh off the fact that the other girls — those stuck-up bitches — had missed out. I was engrossed in the rejection. Instead of focusing on the family and friends who wanted to celebrate, I sulked over the ones who didn’t. And, every May, I braced myself for disappointment: my birthday would reveal that my friendships weren’t real.
There is no place on the planet more desolate of real friendships than Pacific Beach.
The one birthday I did not dread was my 21st. Turning this age dramatically affects the lives of young, bar-hungry San Diegans. At 18, I’d moved to a very 21-and-over city. San Diego’s nightlife is packed with concerts, clubs, bars, and stage venues that all require one to be of drinking age to pass through their bouncer-guarded gateways. And when it came to fake IDs, all the bars I encountered were ruthless. As a 20-year-old Pacific Beach resident, my age inflicted a harsh blow to my social life. Sure, I could go to house parties, but it seemed as if they were often interrupted by some 24-year-old prick shouting, “PUB CRAWL!” My coked-out friends would stumble toward the bar like a herd of fat people rushing to a buffet, leaving me behind.
I moved to P.B. in February, and from that time on, I awaited May 28, 2006, as anxiously as a pregnant woman does her delivery date.
Two months! I squealed to myself. One month! Twenty-nine days and 12 hours!
I was convinced that my life would be changed once that date rolled around. I could join other gallant young adults in the quest to drink the entire Garnet Avenue strip dry, starting at a sketchy dive bar called the Silver Fox, which opened at 6:00 a.m. for the most dedicated alcoholics. Then the other 21-and-up warriors and I would depart, headed west for a mimosa breakfast that ended with tequila and Coronas at Cabo Cantina; this was a gringo bar imitating a Mexican tourist trap, decked out with fake palm trees, mini umbrellas, and salty tortilla chips. It later became one of my favorite bars because of its outdoor patio area. Instead of an ocean view, Cabo’s had white boys in wife-beaters shouting obscenities and glitter-coated skanks tripping on their hooker heels. At 21, I would be able to freely frolic through the strip and enter any building I chose. I felt that this must’ve been what it was like to be black after the Civil Rights Movement.
My excitement for entering the realm of the legally drunk went beyond bars and the booze — I really hadn’t changed since my 14th birthday party. Deep down, my one true aspiration was to be cool. This time, I was among a whole new league of popular kids.
All those people back in my hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee, were now nothing to me. The popular girls there desperately tried to be Californian, bleaching their hair and baking in tanning beds until their skin fried orange. But they could have their country music, premature marriages, and hometown drama. I lived in a heavenly beach town. I had palm trees. I had beer bongs on the sand. I had the wildness of youth. My friends were thin, pretty, and naturally bronzed. They slurped vodka from the bottle while they drove. They roamed the streets in bikinis by day; by night, they wore skimpy dresses short enough to bare their ass cheeks when they bent over. They pushed up their breasts and snorted coke in the bathrooms of clubs before grinding their crotches into strangers until last call. And when the night came to an end, they romped through the filthy, gum-stained streets barefoot, too hammered to feel the broken glass. P.B. girls were wild, edgy, and dangerously carefree. I wanted to be exactly like them.