Today is the fifteenth of August, and today you turn twenty-seven. Not unlike the previous times you woke up on your birthday, you don’t feel that much different from the person who went to bed last night. You’re still the horny, somewhat angry, pimply, overeager self. Except now when you look in the mirror, you’ve actually grown to love the image staring back at you—or at least, most days. Even the clouds outside your bedroom window are grey and heavy, just like how they usually are back home this time of the year.
One thing that is different, however, is that is the first time you’re spending your birthday without your family around, and you are quite ambivalent about it: on the one hand, you do feel somewhat lonely; on the other, you are right where you want to be in this juncture of your life, pursuing your dreams, making great strides toward that amorphous yet constant idea of a future you always wanted.
You’re still the horny, somewhat angry, pimply, overeager self. Except now when you look in the mirror, you’ve actually grown to love the image staring back at you
You get up, brew yourself a cup of coffee, and sit down to breakfast. Because it’s the summer break and you do not have anywhere to be, you take your time, and in between sips of coffee and bites of stale croissant, you go through your messages and feel grateful for all the well wishes.
You are long overdue for a haircut, so after breakfast you head down to Kreuzberg and in a barber shop run by affable Turkish men get your hair done. The turk that attends to you asks what you want done, and you say you want your hair cut short. He charges you €13 for his effort, but because you like his work you give him €15 instead and wish him a nice day. Because you are no longer held captive by the siren lure of material gain you decide that this is your birthday gift to yourself, a sensible present that sensible people your age give themselves—or so you like to believe. Nevertheless, when you pass by a bookstore on your way home, you can’t help but purchase a very heavy and a very expensive copy of Lovecraft’s collected fiction. To assuage that post-purchase guilt, you tell yourself that you deserve this treat, and you do: you have exceptional marks in university, you are receiving positive feedback from your professors, and you’ve been whittling away at your backlog of books. You do deserve this.
Later you receive a letter of rejection from an internship to which you applied and hoped very much to be accepted. It stings more that you thought it would, and it throws you for a loop. This is the last thing you want on your special day, the voice in your head says. Despite yourself, those familiar feelings of inadequacy resurface, recalling to mind the many rejections and the many failures you previously endured. You give yourself an hour or so to wallow, because one of the most important lessons you’ve learned in life is that you need to honor how you feel, to acknowledge it and to give it the attention it requires, to face it no matter how uncomfortable and uneasy the experience is, because to dismiss it, to diminish it, to pretend it does not at all affect you only makes the feeling linger and fester and blow up in your face sooner or later, and it always does. In the end, you will remember that life has a way of working itself out, that rejection always pushes you toward the right direction, that you always get what you want, perhaps not in the exact package and make that you want it to come, but it does come. Always. This is a mantra you’ve taken to telling yourself. Half the time you don’t even necessarily believe it, but today when you affirm it you realize that it rings true. After all, some of the most painful failures in your life has led you to better things, better places, better circumstances.
You want to be happy, and some of the time you are, but more often than not you have to actively look for things to buoy yourself up.
The one person in your life that you wish the most to remember what today means to you forgets, and you try not to take it personally. You try to imagine that perhaps today is a particularly busy day for her and she just genuinely forgot. You try to convince yourself that this oversight is not a testament of your friendship, and that one’s inability to forget another’s birthday is not a measure of genuine connection. Instead you comfort yourself with the thought that there are people who did in fact remember, people with whom you have not spoken in a while, people you least expect to remember but did and have gone out of their way to wish you well—and that’s what matters.
That night you will go out to dinner to celebrate, and you will eat yourself to the point of avarice and not regret it. Candles are lit and blown. Presents are given, champagnes served. A horrid rendition of “Happy Birthday” is played on YouTube, but you love it all the same. Before you go to bed that night, your phone pings with a message from that friend you are longing to hear from. She says she just landed in London. You hop on a video call and she wishes you a happy birthday. You catch up and make plans. You will see her in a month’s time, in Spain.
In bed you tell yourself that you have come a long way, but you are not where you want to be, and the path to get there seems to you daunting, and most days you don’t know whether or not you have the strength to make it. Every day is a challenge, a struggle, even though it doesn’t have to be. You’re afraid without knowing what it is you’re afraid of. You want to be happy, and some of the time you are, but more often than not you have to actively look for things to buoy yourself up. The good news is that you never run of out these things: an unexpected kindness given by a stranger, your favorite song on heavy rotation, a cool breeze on a warm day, remembering a joke long forgotten, even something as insignificant as a wank. In bed you tell yourself that it’s for these little things that you live for.