I turned 26 last week. A few minutes before midnight, my best friend messaged from Japan, ‘I will celebrate you today. Think about where you were and how far you’ve come.’
It’s the same story every year. A few days before my birthday, I slip into this dark space to mull over some painful memories. In many ways, I’ve used these memories from a past birthday to define me. Somewhat like the people who set the dinner table for their loved ones long after they’re gone. Being sad on my birthday had become my way of proving my point. “See? It still hurts. That’s how important the event was.” Like telling yourself that you’re allowed to feel sad today. I was gearing up to feel shitty, anticipating the heartache. I don’t know why. It’s not like memories follow a calendar or a timeline. They catch you off-guard… as forgotten notes slipped between the pages of a tattered book or as perfumes on strangers and verses that taunt you on the radio.
That night, I thought about my friend’s message. Where had I been and how far had I really come? I found the answer in my diary. Here’s my entry from my birthday last year:
‘I was in Goa this past week. With a wonderful, crazy and madly fun boy. In some ways, in this phase of my life, he knows me better than a lot of my close friends. In most other ways, in ways that matter to the world, he’s a stranger. Definitely not the person you run off with on your birthday. And yet, I don’t regret it at all. If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
I’m going to call this boy Q. Because there are still so many questions about him that I have no answers for. Still so many things I need to know about the person I spent six days of my life with.
I’ll start the story in Goa. Because I don’t want to think about all the reasons I took off with Q. Maybe I needed a new story to immerse myself in, maybe I was just running away from my life. Whatever the reasons, I found myself bringing in my birthday with Q, away from home, my city and my people.
For those six days, I was a different person. Because it didn’t matter what Q thought or if I disappointed him. It didn’t matter if he thought I wasn’t a good enough writer, if I wasn’t pretty enough or interesting enough. It didn’t matter if the real me didn’t live up to the idea in his head. How often do we have such complete freedom to fail? At the end of those six days, we hadn’t taken a single picture together. No keepsakes, nothing. And yet, each detail is crystal clear. I remember the night we came together. It was animal sex, urgent, greedy and needy.
But even more than the physical him, I remember the way I felt when he told me he was going to miss me.
I remember the overwhelming sadness I felt when we left Goa. I remember him telling me, on our last morning together, that if we wake up, I’d go away.
When I told my friend this story last night, she thought I’d fallen in love with him. But this isn’t about love. I’m so in love with someone that there’s no room for another. It’s about two people who have no reason to meet, finding each other—even if only for a brief passage in time. It’s about the universe sending the person you most need at just the right time. Maybe it is a love story, but it’s a short one, not a classic. It may not be the kind that has a ‘happily ever after’, but it’s definitely a ‘once upon a time’ in my life. Maybe it was so perfect because there was no conscious thought, reasoning or logic that went into it. Maybe it was so beautiful because we went our separate ways before we were forced to bring this oneness into our realities. It ended exactly the way it started, without expectations, without thought.’
This year, I tried not to RSVP to this pity-party for one. I wasn’t entirely successful, but I didn’t fail miserably either. I met The Dude, let him take photos and even accepted presents. The next night, he threw me a party. Q was one of the last guests to arrive. When I saw him, just for a second, I was taken right back to where I’d been last year. I suspect the grief will linger for a long time. But I don’t need to invite it to bed and turn down the comforter.