The Birthday

Years ago I sat in a stuffy little kitchen with sticky legs on a sticky counter. The light came through the screen of the window and it made shapes against my tan skin that resembled hearts and smiles and rainbows. The air was light even if it was hot. Lady bugs crawled on my fingers and I made gentle wishes on their dotted backs. I don’t know what I wished for; there didn’t seem to be anything else in the world that I could have wanted.

Jack Johnson sang to us in the early morning silence. Casey hummed as he mixed the batter and poured it into the skillets. “We could close the curtains… pretend like there’s no world outside,” I sang, and my little heart was filled with a safety I’d never felt before. Case decorated my banana pancakes with chocolate chips that looked like an elephant, and I laughed when I saw it.

“Eat,” he said, and he slurped on his strawberry smoothie. Fresh strawberries from the garden, organic milk, purified water from the valley: it fit my restrictions perfectly.

That was the first time I felt joy in my chest as I filled my stomach. There was no shame. There was no guilt. There was a fluttery laughter bubbling around, and I was only thinking of my next witty comeback. There was no ticking calculator, no worried excuses, no doubt or hate or fear. I was safe for the first time at the dining table. I was free.

I sat on the kitchen counter again, my feet swinging in time to the beat of the whisk. These bananas weren’t fresh from the outdoor garden, and the flour wasn’t a refined wheat product, but my friends promised to arrange the chocolate chips in something resembling an elephant so my heart was spiraling back to the place it felt safe all those years ago. I didn’t have kitchen windows to clatter in the wind and the early autumn air wasn’t nearly as sticky, but the joy I felt back then and the joy I felt now were still somehow connected.

When I blew out the candles in our pancakes, I realized just how uncontrollable time is.

Here I am, no longer a teenager, and suddenly expected to live within the confines of the 20s for a decade until that too passes.

It made me wonder how permanent the temporary can really be. How is it that we feel so consumed and then suddenly we are freed? How is it that I can focus so drastically on being cold, or tired, or dirty, and then just as quickly I can be relieved from that feeling with the recognition that yes, everything is a fleeting moment?

How does that manage to relax me and frighten me all the same? And is it possible to control what stays forever and what escapes our grip? And is it possible to say that this dream, this right here, the pancakes and the music and all of you, please all of you get to stay in my embrace forever, and anything else outside of my tiny hands is up to the divine world but please don’t make me give up this gentleness right here?

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