“Happy Birthday To You…”

It is not my story to tell.  In truth, I wasn’t even there to witness the scene I am about to share.  It was relayed to me not by the person who was a party to it, rather someone she shared it with who, in turn, shared it with me.  This happened several days ago, but the degree to which it has stayed with me and tossed around in my head brings me to this, my need to share.

On a mid-week night, in a neighborhood restaurant one step above an Uno’s or Not Your Average Joe’s gathered three generations of a family to fete their mother/grandmother on the occasion of her birthday.  They were a rowdy bunch, reveling in being together and marveling at the advanced age of the matriarch of the clan.  They drew attention to themselves throughout the meal, talking a little bit too loud, laughing a smidge too hard and, from what I have heard, oblivious to the fact that they were not in the comfort of their own home but were annoying to their fellow diners.

As the meal progressed they became more rowdy and less aware of their surroundings.  Other folks out for a (semi) nice meal flashed dirty looks and sighed heavily in hopes that they would send a message to the large group…to no avail.  Resigned to the fact that they would have to endure their meal amid such commotion, they ignored them as best they could, trying, instead, to enjoy their own companions and meal.

The sounds of the table were soon interrupted with the arrival of a birthday cake, seemingly engulfed with the resultant flame of a billion candles, and the wait staff’s half-hearted rendition of the birthday song.  And then it happened.  No sooner had they reached the “to you” part of the song when the guest of honor dropped dead in the cake.  Boom.  Just like that.  She didn’t pass out, or take a nap…no, she up and died.  In the cake.

bdaycake

 

Now, I will cop to initially finding this simultaneously horrifying and hysterically funny.  My mouth dropped open and my hand came up to cover it, as if to suppress my less than sympathetic response.  My G-d…what a way to go!

Later that evening, I was out to dinner with friends at the Cheesecake Factory.   Having just heard the story while driving to meet them, I shared it and they, too, responded with a mouth agape, hand-to-cover response and (slightly uncomfortable) laughter.  Apparently, The Cheesecake Factory is an enormously popular birthday dinner spot as evidenced by the fact that as we dined, we counted no fewer than half a dozen renditions of the song which will forever be aborted at “to you” in my head.  Each time the first notes rang out, our table grew silent as we anticipated a thud.  Fortunately, there were none.

Ever since hearing this story and conjuring up a vivid image in my head, I have not been able to stop thinking about it.  I find it to be so many things: horrifying, crazy, funny, unbelievable, frightening and awesome.  But mostly awesome.  I mean, really, think about it.  Yeah, it is really shitty for the family (here’s hoping their dinner was comped) but what a great way to go for grandma.  Surrounded by her family who were so caught up in the happiness and fun of the evening (well, the start of the evening, anyway) that they were utterly unaware of their surroundings.  Everyone was, by all (well, most) accounts having a ball.  The last thing she heard was “to you”, the last things she saw was a beautiful cake( in, no doubt, her favorite flavor),  the last thing she felt was love and the last thing she did was play a starring role in a great story.  Not so bad, actually.

So, on this, the eve of my (not a big one…yet) birthday, I think of the nameless woman who left this world in a dramatic, but all around pretty cool way.  Her’s is a story I will continue to recall and, in all likelihood, share.  I was not there for it.  I did not experience it.  But it will stay with me.

And, while I hope this is not the year I drop dead in my birthday cake, I can actually think of worse ways to go.

 

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Here’s a Link to My Blog…

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Last year, before meeting someone for the first time, I shared a link to this blog along with this note:

This will tell you a lot about me and your reaction will, in turn, tell me a lot about you…”

And then, I will admit, I held my breath. I might have even turned a little blue (all interpretations intended) awaiting a response. As it happened, the response (which, thankfully, came just twenty minutes later) was intensely benign, little more than a shrug of the shoulders. Here I was, freaking out about sharing the story with yet another unsuspecting soul and the reaction was so matter-of-fact as to be almost disconcerting. It was, however, genuine and, with the notable exception of my hair color (okay, and my nose) I am – and likewise appreciate others who are – nothing if not genuine.

Why did I share such a personal disclosure so early in the game? That’s easy: I wanted it out in the open and not hanging over me, knowing that it would, in all likelihood, need to be shared eventually; and, I suppose, I subscribed to a “the earlier the better” plan. Perhaps I jumped the gun, but that, to me, was preferential to waiting too long. It felt dishonest to withhold something which I consider a large part of who I am, all in the name of not making someone else uncomfortable. And, further, not only did I did not want to enter into any kind of relationship in a way that felt disingenuous, I also wanted to know, frankly, that someone I was going to let into my life would have a similar acceptance of the reality of my life. For better or worse, I am all about full disclosure, honesty, and what-you-see-is-what-you-get. I know that I am the exception and that many (okay, most) people would have let it happen more organically, if at all. That is simply not who I am and I have to be true to myself1 and, more importantly, my kid.

Interestingly, I have yet to come across a single person who has reacted negatively (in my presence, anyway) to the “announcement.” In fact, more often than not I wind up learning about their kid’s this, that or the other thing; mostly because all kids have some degree of this, that or the other thing. Those same folks who are more buttoned up than I (I know, I know…that is most people) find comfort in knowing that they are not the only ones who have a “secret” that might not play well in Peoria. It actually gives me great joy that I have been blessed with many friendships which were sown from this very honest exchange.

Upon meeting anyone with whom I suspect I will be spending more than just one parcel of time with, I have to suppress the urge to hand them a link to my blog and/or tell them all about how totally normal Jess is, despite her unusual path. How she is complicated but also wildly talented, ridiculously funny, disarmingly creative and crazy smart. That she inherited my left-handedness and blue eyes and the streak of pink in her shoulder length hair is reminiscent of one I had back in the day. That she can draw and sew and metal-smith so skillfully that you would not believe her work is that of a 12-year-old2. How she made an art form of making a mess of her newly cleaned bedroom in fifteen seconds flat despite swearing up, down and sideways that she will keep it neat. How she and I listen to “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” in the car most Saturdays and have a (mostly) friendly competition to see who can finish the sentences and guess which is the true story first.3 That she he tries to get away with swiping my makeup and hairbands and clips and brushes but always gets busted. And how, yes, her path is not going to be an easy one. But perhaps most importantly, she is truer to herself and has the courage of her convictions more than most people I know…myself included.

I have some new people in my life who do not yet know the story of Jess. I am, for the first time, really struggling with how, when and where to tell them. My trepidation is not for me, but for them being caught unaware. My disquietude is out of respect for the ripple effect it may, unfortunately, have on people I care about. I worry not about acceptance, but understanding. My anxiety is over my having waited too long and the potential sense of dishonesty that they may feel, although it was never intended. And, in true Julie form, I am likely (um, make that hopefully) pre-worrying about something that could (just maybe) go off without a hitch.

I grapple with keeping things as they are versus wearing my heart on my sleeve. I waver between making an “announcement” and not saying anything all all. And, I have considered taking a page my from my own playbook and simply forward a link to this post with the same message that served me well once before:

This will tell you a lot about me and your reaction will, in turn, tell me a lot about you…”

1My father always told my brothers and me to be true to ourselves and to have the courage of our convictions. I have passed that edict on to my children, but not always been able to live it myself. This one’s for you, dad.

2There has been jockeying for position on her friends and family pricing list since she was in Kindergarten. True.

3She is a formidable opponent. Sometimes it is embarrassing.