Today is my 28th birthday. It's June 28th, so it's my golden/champagne/round birthday; I also happen to know that I was born on a Tuesday, so it's rounder still. My birthday falls almost exactly six months from New Year's; and so I am in the habit of reflecting and evaluating myself every six months. All birthdays have a rhythm, I think, a meaning instilled upon them by time of year. We all know what it means to be born on or around Christmas. Greg has one of those birthdays in the mid-April zone, which I'm pretty sure is the month in which 90% of Gen X was born, according to my social calendar.
But summer has its own laws, too-- of warmth and relief, of school letting out and vacation coming up, of bare feet and swimming, of hope for good weather, of learning to share your day of cupcakes with all the other kids who have summer birthdays, of the fact that most of my yearbooks are signed "I can't wait for next year! PS Happy Birthday!". A friend recently said to me, when I apologized for having to miss her picnic, "I've had a summer birthday all my life," and it rung true for me then, too-- of the weird smorgasboard of friends you get when half of them are already away for the fourth of July. But there is delight in that, too; I have always been inclined to invite large swaths of people to hang out since I know there's only a 50/50 chance of getting anyone, and sometimes acquaintances have become close friends at those parties.
Being born in the summer means that my mother probably had the windows open in Hoboken, and that my grandparents visited right away. Maybe lots of people visited as part of their vacations. Or maybe it was a slow summer in Hoboken, too warm to move, a great excuse for my Mom and Dad to hang out with their first baby in their fixer-upper Hoboken house.
I don't remember that. But I do remember turning three or four, and receiving a tiny gold brontosaurus pendant with an emerald eye from my father. There is video of me sitting in my turtle-shaped sandbox in my wild backyard, my penchant for ancient, gentle animals both at my feet and around my neck. I am almost certain my friend James was there, playing on my new swing set, neither of us knowing that when we were seventeen I would watch him out of that window while he mowed our lawn, or that when we were twenty I would still be alive and he would not, and that I would regret not going out to say hello that warm summer.
And I remember being five or six and holding a stuffed cat, a gift from my best friend, and loving that cat with dedication (despite its sour expression) because Johanna had given it to me, and I loved her with a fierceness that I don't think has been echoed in any part of my life since.
And I remember being eight and the backyard party just dying down, only one friend left, the sweet and very Mormon Kirsa Stay. We were likely the two quietest girls Washington School had ever seen, and probably because of that, three triplet fawns walked out of the woods towards us and into our yard towards our crabapple tree. They were so magical and momentous to my silent newly-eight-year-old self that I feel compelled even at this moment to convince you that this really happened. I see now that those fawns were a reward for my silence and my solitude, two qualities that would not last many years longer.
There are many birthdays I remember: I remember inviting a group of girls to my twelfth birthday and their choosing of that moment to tell me they hadn't liked me all along. I remember five straight years of holding yearbook-signing parties in my backyard, just to force something holy and commemorative onto the kind of party I was outgrowing. I remember ice cream late at night with Katie, one of the hundred million nights we spent trying to remain children. I remember my birthday falling in the first week of a New York City publishing internship, and not telling anyone at my new office, and feeling very grown-up to keep something like a birthday to myself. I remember turning twenty-one and talking quietly on the phone to Greg, my new boyfriend. At twenty-two I believe I was out in Saratoga Springs, warm and delighted at Desperate Annie's.
At twenty-three I woke up on a boat somewhere between Korea and China, having just left the home of my friend Abby's biological mother, whose name she had not known a week earlier. Abby and Jessica and I disembarked in a shitty coastal town in China and celebrated my birthday at the first restaurant we could find, which was a Pizza Hut. We sat and spoke of family and of travel and of wanting to go home.
At twenty-four I looked over Central Park from above and walked through the Natural History Museum with five of my favorite girlfriends-- librarians and teachers all, women who love learning and appreciate things like brontosauruses with emerald eyes. Women who I still speak to every day.
At twenty-five I stayed in the Bronx, and Annie delivered a pie, and we probably danced in the garden. I can't remember exactly because that entire summer felt like one long uninterrupted birthday, one long hello to a happy self, one long goodbye to a worryless childhood.
At twenty-six my new Hartford friends and their corgis and their business degrees met me in a park of just-now-dying roses. Kira, my college roommate, came to visit, too, and I rode home on the back of the Vespa, my arms around Greg. Last year I had new food with my coworkers and told them stories of my past reckless self, before they knew me in the cubicle, when I used to do things like rode ponies in Mongolia.
All of these things are what it means to have a birthday at the beginning of summer.
But, as I mentioned before, there's another element: I was born on a Tuesday. When I was living in Ghana, I learned that everyone knows the day of the week of their birth, and is named for it. I am Tuesday. I am Abena. I am Tuesday's child, full of grace, apparently. More like: full of good intentions.
Even before I knew the association with my birthday, I have always loved Tuesdays: they are peaceful and productive. The weekend is not far off, if you look at it right. They do not have the disappointment of a Sunday night or the panic of a Friday morning. There are so many things you believe you can accomplish when it's Tuesday. I am a Tuesday girl.
The Tuesday girl in me sees every birthday as a time to plan, to set goals. It is also a time, if I'm being honest, to punish myself for everything I wanted to have done by now. You know what I mean. To be thinner, or have saved more money, or to have done better things for this world. Those are mine. Others have others: to be married, to be someone's boss, to have traveled. Birthdays are when we keenly feel our goals, and the disappointment in ourselves for not having met them. We say: by now, by now.
But looking back on my birthdays there is only one thing that has ever mattered on those days: friendship. And with friendship comes unimaginable surprise.
Without a quiet friend, by now I would not have seen the fawns. Without a brave friend, by now I would not have taken a boat to Korea. Without a lonely friend, by now I would not have pie on my doorstep. Without friends I would never have danced in a backyard by now, acted in a play by now, began an improv business by now, published a word of writing by now.
And friendship is contained within other things. Greg's friendship takes me out on a Vespa. My best friends now are my business partners and coworkers; many of my teachers have spoken to me with love and respect. Very real friendships with very fictional characters shaped my mind. My father's friendship with his daughter picked out a dinosaur necklace.
Right now on my facebook wall there are salutations from a teacher, an old student, elementary school friends, college friends, Ghana friends, China friends, writer friends, ex-coworkers, Hartford friends, New York friends, my mother, my previously long-long cousins, my boss, friends who once did not like me and now do. Friends who taught me how to grow up and how to grow older.
Without you all, I do not know who I would be by now. I would not be this person. I would not know how to live nor how to love. I am not perfect and I will never be. But I am so glad, and so grateful, that by now, I know how many different kinds of people in this world can be wonderful.
To celebrate my sister Emily's birthday two weeks ago, she and my brother taught Greg and I how to rock climb. She climbed the walls with the grace of a once-reckless and now-brave and intelligent girl. And then, when I climbed, overjoyed and awkward and afraid, the rope and clips attaching us like an umbilical cord, I looked down and she was grinning. I reached the top. She said, coming down is the best part. I pushed off. She held me by the small and simple rope, and found myself flying down from that new wall, held up by her.
Thank you all, always, for your friendship and the many new climbing walls. You have made every birthday good.