“What are you doing for your birthday tonight? A party? I didn’t get an invitation” she asks, teasing, sipping her soy mocha and clearly burning her mouth in the process.
“I don’t do parties”. I say. I’m stiff lipped and blank eyed and there’s an awkward silence. I place a piece of bacon on my toast and lift it to my mouth. There’ll be no elaboration on that subject and she takes the hint. We talk about our studies instead. She forgets about the temperature of her HOT HOT HOT drink and burns her mouth a total of four more times. Ladies and Gentleman: Stephanie, the PhD. candidate.
She’s a new friend, who I’ve met at University, so I forgive that she doesn’t know I’ve not hosted a party since I was 14. She’s also blonde, so I forgive that she doesn’t know that hot hurts.
Maybe at some point I’ll tell her about the last party. We’ve become quite close over the last two years but there’s still a bit of shame attached to the birthday story and I’m not sure I trust her not to judge me yet.
I think most of the time you can pinpoint the origin of an insecurity down to one event. In this instance, my brother was turning 11 and I was just mortified by the idea of spending an afternoon with his smelly, annoying friends. I thought I was a good sister though, so I only complained a little. Just a little.
My brother had luckily invited my friend Melissa, who we both knew from after school care. I knew Melissa wasn’t likely to come though. There were other parties on that same day and my brother wasn’t exactly Danny from Grease. I knew his party would be second choice, maybe third or fourth. Maybe not on the choice list at all.
It turned out that Melissa wasn’t going to come. Over a series of weeks, I begged her. I bribed her. She finally agreed and a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I didn’t think about my brother at all – I just wanted to make sure there was someone there for me to hang out with.
Melissa arrived at the official start time and we played “Pin the tail on the donkey” and “What’s the time Mister Wolf” with my parents and brother. No-one else came. She left at the advertised finish time and we tipped all but a few of the perfect lolly bags into the bin. We pulled the streamers down and it didn’t take long for the house to look like a party hadn’t even occurred there.
Every year my brother’s birthday passes with the obligatory Facebook messages and phone calls just as mine does. There are no streamers and no lolly bags. I’ve never told him that I begged Melissa to come. I never will. That’s what I’m most ashamed of – thinking only of myself and not taking the time to consider how he might feel if no-one came. I hate the thought that he might discover that Melissa only came because she was begged to. Would be be mad at me or just crushed?
“Do you want to hang out on your birthday at least? You can’t just let it pass without celebrating.” Stephanie interrupts the memory. Her coffee is cold now.
I think for a while. It has been 16 years. Maybe that’s long enough. Maybe I don’t have to punish myself anymore.
“Yeah. OK.” I say. “Let’s do dinner. Do you think anyone will be able to come at such late notice?”