Last week, I celebrated my 34th year on Earth. The afternoon festivities included a lazy, backyard BBQ brimming with laugh-out-loud stories – the kind amplified by comic timing where every time an inappropriate word was uttered such as “threesome” or “doggie style”, a new guest would appear at that exact moment. We had a beautiful spread: plates of barbecued steak, lamb sausages, some fresh salad picked that day from a community garden, sweet pineapple and yogurt, salami and cheeses - slowly being nibbled away as you would a lover’s earlobe – followed by candles being blown on 3 cakes – chocolate and raspberry, strawberry cream and a Thorough Bread & Pastry white cake made especially for me.
We walked off our happy bellies with a migration downhill to our favorite karaoke joint, the Mint. DJed by an unforgettable Chinese “Karaoke Nazi” who at any moment could shout “No microphone for you!”, we serenaded the young night with “China girl,” “Piano Man,” “Under the Bridge,” “Pretty Woman” and “I Will Survive.” I’m blessed to have a diverse group of friends who hail from many parts of the world, who have blessed my life, each in their own way (even though they don’t realize it). For that, my 34th has been one of my most favorite yet.
But before shots, before credit cards and the easy means afforded by employment, the best birthdays have always had a bottle-it-up, magical quality. Like an infectious smile of glee and rapture, a happy heart dancing and leaping, that ephemeral bliss-filled feeling that makes you want to hold on to every second – a first kiss – so that it never ends. Jamais.
I’m recalling another favorite birthday.
I’m 10, in a pink, floral Sears dress, bright clashing red leg warmers with ducks on the shins and brown, leather sandals - my own fashionista stylings a la 80s vintage. We’re at a fancy Italian restaurant in San Jose. After 3 years, in the US, it’s our first time eating out as a family, a memorable indulgence, made possible by a gift certificate my mother received at work. For one night, all my desires come true. Adorned in my most favorite clothes, we are together, united as a tribe. We occupy one of the restaurant’s largest tables; 7 beings, including 4 young cousins – Huong, Chau, Phuong, Phuong-Anh and David – my adoptive sisters and brother for the night. I remember watching the black-tied waiter slicing the garlic bread, tossing red sauce into long strands of spaghetti. We laughed and timidly nodded yes, as the waiters walked behind each of us, offering a dusting of grated cheese. The meal, so simple and yet so sublime – a secret doorway into delight. It felt warm and infinite.
Eating and laughing for the sheer pleasure of eating and laughing.
I’m back in our apartment. Alone. I’m looking at the reflection of my face through the window glass. Looking into the milky night sky, the empty space into the future, I wonder how my face would look at 20, 30, 40. I’m wondering about the woman who would become me. I want so quickly to be older, for time to fly.
Now arriving at age 34, I think of that little girl often. I hope I’ve honored and kept true to her. She has traveled an adventurous journey – hard at times and so very wonderful too.
So, I dedicate this poem to my little girl. Happy Birthday! I hope your wishes and your dreams come true.
(an adaptation of an Emily Sparks monologue)
Where is the little girl,
The one I loved best of all
Thinking of her shy,
A hidden belly of fire; she’s full of curiosity and hope.
My little girl, the one who liked to out run the boys.
My girl, my girl
in many godless hours at night,
for whom I protected and shielded.
My little girl, where ever you are
May you always listen to your Heart.
May you always guard the empty space that allows you to Play and Dream
May you always dare to take care of yourself
for there is nothing but this.
And may those fears instilled in you, all those “Shoulds” taught to you
May they yield to the Courage of you
Until there is nothing but Light,
Nothing but Love.
By Mai Brehaut