It is here.
I remember when I was a kid and I would get excited starting April 1. It really was never April Fool’s Day to me. Unlike my little brother whose birthday is December 30, I got to spread the love out a bit. A mere 3.5 months post Christmas, all the newness had worn off whatever wonderful gifts my parents had yet to make a 4th payment on. And I was laying plans.
[Aside: Daddy retired from GTE and he got a lot of our Christmas gifts every year from the GTE company store. Payments were deducted from his check throughout the year. He worked 14 hour days up a pole as a telephone cable splicer for 35 years in wind, rain, cold and shine. The overwhelming majority of the money he made and saved was spent on his sometimes ungrateful and more often times spoiled and clueless (even if loving) children. He turned 72 yesterday and there are not enough words to voice my love and appreciation for him. However, as Stephen King has so sagely pointed out, “The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of because words diminish your feelings – words shrink things that seem timeless when they are in your head to no more than living size when they are brought out.” That’s why “I love you” and “Thank you” rarely seem adequate at all – and they certainly don’t when it comes to Daddy. One of these days I hope I can find the words, but I haven’t yet been able to. My little brother and I always had great Christmases and, looking back on it now, I can barely understand how. Mother worked for the school system after my brother started school in the early 1980s. She retired as a teacher’s aide after 19 years. As a parent now, I can relate to the fact that some things you just do even though you have no clue how you are going to do it. Somehow you manage, and my parents always did, God love and bless them.]
I longed for Spring. I hate the cold, and believe you me, no matter what you may have heard, it gets damn cold in South Alabama in the winter. January and February are in the teens at times, averaging at or below freezing. It goes from too hot to snow to too cold to snow in a matter of weeks. There were times I may have been wearing shorts on Christmas Day, but was out walking the neighborhood checking out the damage from an ice storm at the end of January. Granted, it is does not spend an overwhelming amount of time at freezing temperatures and below down South, but it does go there. And, as a Southerner, you are simply not acclimated for it. Trust me, if you spend March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October and November averaging temps above 70 (with it well into the 90s in June, July, August and September), those 30 averages in December, January and February feel pretty damn cold. I could not wait for Spring. I watched the trees and got excited to see the first green buds. I walked barefoot through patches of green grass in Daddy’s immaculate yard. I waited impatiently for the dogwoods and azaleas to bloom. The beginning of April would signal renewal – both for me personally and for the world around me. It was awesome.
And, come April 1, I started counting down to April 20 when I would be another year older and would get some more presents to augment those from Christmas. See, 3.5 months was a prefect length of time to think about what I got for Christmas and what I either wished I’d gotten instead or what I needed to go with what I had just received to make it even better. Mother is the absolute best gift giver in the world. She has an eye for that kind of thing, and she has always had me pegged. She can spot something I will like immediately, and I have more Spring dresses and jewelry than you can imagine. She always says, “it just looked like you” when she sees something particularly appropriate and she is never wrong.
When I was a kid I did not have a lot of birthday parties and such that I can remember. I do remember a couple, here and there. There was one when I was maybe 7 at Burger King when it used to be on the Circle next to Long John Silvers (and real Dothanites reading this will know where I mean). Another time there was one at home that I had in middle school and I still have several pictures from that one. I may get a wild hair sometime and add one of those to this post. There are some who would hate having them posted, and I would be one of them, though, so they may just have to gather dust in a drawer in my desk at home. No matter what kind of party I did or did not have, Mother would bake me a cake. There is a really cute picture of me at about 10 or so holding a beautiful rainbow cake she had made me. I am sure she still has it somewhere (the picture, not the cake). That should be the picture I post here, actually. Mother used to bake cakes for all kinds of occasions, and she sold them sometimes. She is an amazing cook and I will have to post about that one day here, as well.
I remember one year I asked my parents to take me on a picnic to the River. Dothan is about 15 miles from the Georgia border and 15 miles from the Florida border. That meant we were only 90 minutes from Panama City Beach (where I have spent many a birthday in my 20s) and about 15 miles from the Chattahoochee (where I spent many afternoons in the summer – without my parents ever finding out, thank goodness). One year I was so itching for Spring that I talked my parents into taking me over to Columbia, Alabama where we found a little picnic area and had a lunch for me right next to the mighty Chattahoochee River, just the four of us. As I recall, my brother and I got the bright idea to try and swim in the Chattahoochee (a bad decision that would be repeated sometime circa 1986 when some of the cast of DHS’s West Side Story spent some time at the river with a bit of, umm, refreshment and I, along with some others, swam across the river. I learned quite a bit about currents and almost did not make it, but that story is for another time). In April, though, the water was very cold, regardless of the air temperature and I am sure my parents laughed at how quickly we changed our minds and got out of the water, shivering.
In my 20s, like I said, I spent my share of birthdays in Panama City Beach. It was never warm enough to get in the water, but it was really the first time of year that you could go down there and enjoy it. The wind coming off the water would be really cold and you had to watch it, because on a sunny day you could be lobster pink with sunburn before you realized it. The sun would beat down on you but the wind would cool the skin and, before you knew it, you were baked. I have come home many times with chills from a sunburn on my birthday. I may want to mention this to my dermatologist.
At some point in my 30s I decided it would be a good idea to start thinking of myself as another year older in January. I suppose I kind of looked at it as a way to lessen the shock come April. Not to mention, four months is not that big a deal and when someone asks you how old you are, you might as well say what age you are closest to. By January, I am 8.5 months away from last April and only 3.5 months from the next one. If I am rounding, it makes sense to round up at that point. I will admit, however, that this year has been a bit different than the previous years. I used to just say, “I’m 37” in February, even though I would not be 37 for another couple of months. This year, I have found myself saying, “I will be 40 in April,” a bit of a difference. [the obvious question is, who the hell keeps asking my age – and are they crazy or just sadistic? I know!]
If I am being honest, I have to admit that I am having a bit of an issue with this birthday. Although I am this old and I have a kid who is technically an adult, a full time job, two ex-husbands, a brand new car loan, am pregnant, about to be married and tons of other things I can use to date myself, I still feel like Marnie. Not Adult Marnie. Just Marnie. I can remember with great clarity being a kid and a teenager. I can remember fantasizing about being an adult. I can assure you that even in my wildest fantasies I was never more than 23. I remember thinking with absolute seriousness, “what do people do when they don’t go to school everyday?” and “how can you not have Spring Break and be off for a week – it is only a week?” I never dreamed of being a 40 year old mother. I had incoherent fantasies of being a beautiful woman (yeah, I know – at 23) adored by her handsome and perfect husband living in her beautifully decorated home that was all hers with a couple of lovely babies and a cute little dog. He made a lot of money and I did something, although it was never clear what. Point was, we owned all these things and there was no paying for anything or cleaning anything or making sure said beautiful children were well-behaved, clean and fed. The dog apparently came trained by the Dog Whisperer and never messed up or chewed anything in the house. I had long red curly tresses that never needed cutting or a ball cap. No one ever fought. It was idyllic. Because that was all my immature and brain-damaged 13 year old self could come up with.
I remember when a girl who I used to practically idolize when I was a child and teenager, and who was 3 years older than me, turned 30. Even at 27, I still lacked the maturity to see myself as more than 17. It shook me that V—- was turning 30. 30! I could not be that close to 30. She was sooo much older than me – but that was when she was 13 and I was 10 and 3 years was a big deal. V— is now married to someone who is just a few months younger than me. There is a part of my mind where he and I will always be 10, he will always have a crush on her (which, I suppose is true since they are married now) and I will always wish I was her (not to mention hear over and over in my head my mother’s voice continually saying, “why can’t you be more like V—-?” Why? Because she is perfect and sweet and nice and good and smart and I am none of those things. I am just a kid who wants to be like that – and never will). Needless to say, I never did live up to her example. I hate to admit it, but I think there is a part of me that subconsciously rebelled against it. If I could not be that good, then I would not try to be good at all. I reached my goal – by leaps and bounds. But the fact is, I could never be her because I was me, and she and I were, and are, fundamentally different – and I like it that way. I like being me, even when it was hard and even when I was wrong and bad and things were hard. I may not have always liked myself, but I have always liked being me and I regret those years of comparing myself to others. What a waste of time.
But the thing is, I still feel deep down inside like a kid – just a kid who is trying hard to be big and hoping that one day I will grow up. I think one thing that I both loved and dreaded about Jay was that he did not seem to see me as a floundering, wounded little girl scared of everything and everyone. I loved that somehow he seemed to think I was a grown-up. ME? Really? But then again, I AM, and I felt like it when I was with him. I should be proud of the fact that I have made it this far and have my decidedly middle class and wonderfully normal life. I wonder if sometimes I don’t allow my shortcomings to get in my way so much that they cause more trouble than I should allow them to. I have a great life and have been privileged to share that life with some great people. Some of them I have given birth to. Some I have had the pleasure of their friendship for years. Some raised me and loved me and made up my wonderfully and perfectly imperfect family who I adore. Some I have learned hard lessons from and some have been great fun, even if their time in my life was fleeting. Some have made me stronger and some have reflected my weaknesses. Some have taught with love and some with fear and some with cautionary tales from their own lives.
Maybe it is a good thing that I was never able to see myself at this age. Maybe it is good because I am still able to surprise myself and I still have the ability to do and be what I want. And maybe one day, I will look back on this post and the woman (?!) that is sitting here writing it and I will think how she still had so much more to look forward to and she still had so much more coming in her life – and she never had a clue how young she actually was. My, God, how could she? She was only 40 then!
April has always been my new beginning. It is April when my new year starts. Soon I will begin my 40th year. Last night I went to Target. I got 2 new lipsticks, a Burt’s Bees Hand Salve (best thing ever), sundry toiletries and medicines and a birthday present for myself. For the first time, Target is carrying Moleskine notebooks. I got me a new one. And now I am going to take the next hour and I am going to open up my wonderfully blank book and thumb through the pages of possibility. I will look through my notebook from last year and transfer in all the stuff I will need from it.
And then I will start my new year. Happy Birthday to me.