In every possible sense of the world, I have done nothing to deserve my birthdays.
They are no fault of my own. My mother's water broke twenty-seven years ago today, two weeks before my due date. Cincinnati was experiencing such cold that the Ohio River froze. There are pictures in my baby book of people walking from Ohio to Kentucky without the help of a bridge, and somebody with an adorable sense of humor atThe Cincinnati Enquirer added icicles to the masthead. The entire neighborhood was turning out every morning to break up the ice on my parents' driveway, just in case. My sister was three and living in her fuzzy footie pajamas. It kept snowing.
It was so cold in the delivery room my mother wore two pairs of socks, and when her labor stopped the OB/GYN folded his arms and said, "I have a cocktail party to get to tonight. You're having this baby." They slipped a pill beneath her lower lip and ten minutes later another Catholic had entered the fold. It was eighty below zero, the coldest day in the history of Cincinnati.
My sister was dropped off at my grandparents and got so upset she was constipated for days. Her memories of my arrival are among her very first, of grandmother buying her a tiny yellow stuffed dog at the hospital gift shop.
My father missed the birth. He was in the parking garage, heating up the car so the engine block wouldn't crack in two. One of the nurses was running up and down the halls with me tucked under her arm, yelling "Who's the father of Ellis baby?"
I just sent my mom an email thanking her for all the pushing. It can't have been fun, especially when the result was an unemployable empath who is always too hot.
I was born with the first and only tan I have ever had. My kidneys weren't quite ready for the wide world yet and I was jaundiced. They shoved me under bili lights--see, in the spotlight already--until I was a proper pale German again.
I am confused in my first photograph. My eyes are slitty and my hands are waving about in a disorganized matter. "What the hell is going on here, and who took my umbilical cord?"
The birthday pictures in the years to follow aren't much better. I am wearing a nightgown in ninety percent of them because I am sick again. The best of this category is from 1990, when I am leaning over a birthday cake with a space shuttle orbiter featured in frosting. I'm dressed but wan: I have just gotten over the flu that has ravaged my family. When that picture was taken my sister was unconscious on the couch, having succumbed to a fever of a hundred and one that morning. My mother, just back on her feet, camera in hand, sang "Happy Birthday" solo against the backdrop of my father throwing up in the bathroom.
If I wasn't sick on my birthday, I was being dumped (he actually sat me down on the couch and opened with, "I hate to do this to you on your birthday, but...."); if I wasn't being dumped, wars were starting; if wars weren't starting, I was taking final exams. In geometry.
My longest relationship was with a guy who was born five hours before I was. I couldn't even whine to him about it because he was in the same boat. On our twenty-first birthday I wore an ugly dress to the campus bar, where I tried and did not like Guinness.
I was thrilled when I heard I am going to be an aunt, even more thrilled when I found out I am going to be an aunt in April. If you love your future children, you're not going to so much as shake hands with your spouse in the spring to as to avoid this horrific celebratory space between Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King Day.
What's it like, summer and fall birthdays? What's it like to have a birthday unmarred by post-Christmas hangovers, sugar shock, and debt? What's it like to not have to write a whole spate of thank-you notes a week after just having finished a spate of thank-you notes for combination presents? If I ever get married, it's going to be in June or July or some lovely non-January month just so that I can open things that weren't purchased on clearance.
When I came to work this morning, my desk chair was covered with cards and gifts. I was stunned. No one has really done anything like that for me outside of my family. Really, cash will suffice.
One of my co-workers will turn twenty-seven tomorrow. "You still look good," she said, tossing her hair. "You have young skin." Thanks, I'll cling to that as I sit here listening to my bones ossify.
I honestly don't remember what I did for my birthday last year. I know I was at the Cape. Maybe I took a walk on the beach and kicked small children. Where will I be a year from today? Disgustingly famous, I hope, but in a good way, not the I-saw-you-on-the-eleven o' clock-news way.
As of 10:28 AM, today hasn't gone too badly. So far it's going down in history as The Day Carol Moseley Braun Dropped Out Of the 2004 Presidential Race. This morning I blasted Jimmy Buffett ("She came down from Cincinnati! Took her three days in a Corolla!") and did my hair and put on pantyhose. If people are going to be dropping by your office to give you a card with a picture of a dog on it, you want to look good.
January 15, 2004