I’m really crazy about birthdays. My own birthdays, I mean. It’s my favourite time of the year. All other festive holidays, I’d either be working or sulking at home because my parents would be working. It’s been like that since forever.
I used to be a lot crazier about my own birthdays; maybe it was because of the overinflated self-esteem of my teenage self. Birthdays were the perfect reason to celebrate myself and buy myself stuff and feel so special! I’d spend the entire January looking forward to my birthday, make pre-birthday speeches on my blog and write a full-blown birthday report afterwards (sometimes with pictures). My favourite thing to do on my birthday was to not go to school and feel all powerful waking up safely in my bed, smug in the knowledge that my classmates were probably sweating under the sun in PJ class or suffering through Sejarah. When I was thirteen I had a birthday party and invited all my friends over to pretend that I was King (although I ended up having to clean the crazy strings off the poles of my four-poster bed with Narmatha and nmh when the party got a little wild in my room). That was the last party I ever had.
I loved all my birthdays. It was a great period dominated by the adolescent carelessness of fearless aging. When 19 rolled around, I got a little nervous. People say age is a number but 19 was special. It was my final teenage year, and I wanted to make it count. There would be no more celebration after this year, at least not with the liberating fearlessness/ arrogance/ ignorance of the previous period. I wasn’t looking forward to it anymore. Knowing it’s the last time, I didn’t want it to really happen.
But it did, and today I’m 20. It’s crazy to think that I’m in my third decade of life. How did I manage to survive this long? I never really thought I’d be anything other than a teenager. Yet here I am, on the other side, and nothing has happened. I’ve passed safely and seamlessly from teenagehood into a new period of uncertainty, because the universe doesn’t give a bloody shit. The world goes on as usual, but in the span of the time from 11:59PM 19 January to 12.00AM 20 January, something in me has changed.
It’s not my aging that concerns me. It’s that my aging marks the aging of everyone else. Existing in a self-centred universe has me habitually marking the new year using my birthday. Everyone else exists relative to how old I am. At 20, I’m still hardly discernible from a 19-year-old, but that’s not what bothers me. At 19, my mom is still the mother to a teenager. But at 20, everyone at home seems a little older. I know, time is universal. It flows whether I’m there or not. I know it theoretically, but instinctively it’s still a little strange. Reminder: I come from a self-centered universe.
The changes would have been subtle if witnessed daily, but observed monthly, it’s quite drastic, as happened when I was in Sunway and came home on a monthly interval. The upholstery starts to tear noticeably. My brother’s voice gets a little deeper and he grows a little nearer to my height. My dad’s face is looking slightly older. Bottles of prescription start filling up the fridge. You see all the signs of aging, and it’s not going anywhere good. At 20, with my cover of adolescence gone, it feels like the process will be accelerating.
Yet, strangely, I feel a lot younger.
Depressing shit aside, I compiled a list of favourite moments from all my past birthdays and most of them were surprises, like Sze Wern getting her mom to make me these amazing fried-Gardenia-bread-in-egg, or nmh going through the trouble to bring a cake to school, and we were so late for the next class because we were washing up in the school toilet. This year despite choosing ‘nothing’ in an ‘all or nothing’ scenario I’m still a tiny bit disappointed if there are no surprises. Okay, honestly, extremely disappointed. I feel like surprises validate my being, and if I don’t receive any I’ve probably been a bad person. I’m trying to get rid of this habit of thinking, but still today I felt that tinge of disappointment/ sadness. I’d wait until 12:00am before the build-up bursts and I’d feel really sad like a failure. Hypothetically. This hasn’t happened before.
I was bracing myself for it this year because I wanted to mourn my aging-yet-getting-younger. I was very good at having no expectations whatsoever. Mainly the mourning helped, but I was also busy replying to the flurry of messages in my Whatsapp. Okay, and partly questioning if I should have chosen ‘All’, because choosing ‘ Nothing’ sucks. So it happened that I was safely sitting on the sofa at home in boredom while replying to some message or other, when Narmatha and Xin Yi just appeared out of fairy dust behind me. I heard some familiar voices that definitely didn’t belong in the peace and quiet of my own home, and I was really disoriented at this point so I turned around and got even more confused.
They were holding two cakes with candles on them but my phone photo gallery had to be full at this crucial moment! I got them to hold the birthday caroling while I fetched my DSLR to properly record the moment. When I got back one of the candles had extinguished, and I remember the next moment in vivid imagery because Narmatha’s finger was in the cake trying to get the candle out D: D:
But I was distracted by the symbolism of the moment (I like making my life more meaningful than it is). I mean, Narmatha, Xin Yi [and nmh] and I literally grew up together. From the first day of secondary school, they’ve seen my tantrums and breakdowns, been with me through my impulsive ideas, and were probably featured in my most embarrassing moments. We’ve fought deadlines and systems, and we’ve even fought each other and survived A Very Cold War. And yet they were here with me, on the perceptively very solemn day that I cross the one-way bridge to a new and terrible land. I had had to cross the bridge alone, but the rest of the way, I don’t think I will have to be.