48

“I count too heavily on birthdays, though I know I shouldn’t. Inevitably I begin to assess my life by them, figure out how I’m doing by how many people remember; it’s like the old fantasy of attending your own funeral: You get to see who your friends are, get to see who shows up. ” ~ Lorrie Moore, Anagrams

I reached my 48th year of life this past week.  Just saying the numbers “forty eight”… it sounds so old.  Of course if you are reading this, and you are past 48, you will think, “oh, please, 48 is so young!” in the way that I think that about someone who is say, 40 or younger.

It was an ordinary day for me, not unlike any other day.  I woke up early, went to the gym, showered (and dressed a little smarter since it was my birthday), and went to work.  No one at work knew it was my birthday, and I was ok with that. I did appreciate the handful of greetings I received from my old friends who simply remembered my birthday without the help of Facebook or some other social media site to remind them.

After work, a friend took me to Fred’s, a high-end restaurant inside Barney’s on Madison Avenue.  We love to go there as it is a great place for food, drinks, and celebrity-watching.

Sure enough, we found ourselves seated to none other than Vera Wang.

I read somewhere that she is nearly seventy years old.  She looks like she’s around my age.

To my right was Cybill Shepherd, or at least someone who looked very much like her.  I was not able to capture a photo of her as it would have been too obvious (and rude).  I wanted so badly to tell her how much I loved her and Bruce Willis in Moonlighting, but the truth is, these celebrities deserve some privacy and to not be bothered, especially at dinner, so I decided to leave her and Vera alone.

My friend told the staff that it was my birthday, so they quietly wished me a happy birthday.

When I was about to blow out the candle, they said, “Make a wish!”

I could not really think of a wish, so I just blew out the candle.

Being alive at 48 is a gift in itself.  I do not need anything more.

Slow Dance

“Nick stands up and offers his hand to me.  I have no idea what he wants, but what the hell, I take his hand anyway, and he pulls me up on my feet then presses against me for a slow dance and it’s like we’re in a dream where he’s Christopher Plummer and I’m Julie Andrews and we’re dancing on the marble floor of an Austrian terrace garden.  Somehow my head presses Nick’s t-shirt and in this moment I am forgetting about time and Tal because maybe my life isn’t over.  Maybe it’s only beginning.” ~ Rachel Cohn, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

On my fifteenth birthday, my parents let me host my first real teen party.  I invited a few friends over to my parent’s basement, and in lieu of gifts, I had them bring an unknown guest to the party.  My decorating options were limited as I was a poor teenager with restricted funds and who had parents who, well into Spring, still had not taken down the Christmas lights.  As such, I made the best of it and used the colorful Christmas lights and disco ball strobe lights to decorate my birthday party.  As the party got underway and the guests were starting to arrive, I locked my target onto an unknown guest whom my friend Ruth had brought to my party.  The dark basement, illuminated only by the tacky colorful lights, seemed to somehow frame the stranger’s tall and lean silhouette in such a way that I felt the first stirrings of teenage lust.  Ruth introduced me to the stranger.  Nick.  He had a nice smile that made his eyelids crinkle upwards.  He wished me a happy birthday and we started to dance.  Other guests started to arrive, but I was not interested.  I just wanted to be around Nick.  Pet Shop Boys was in the background.

“You’ve got a heart of glass or a heart of stone
Just you wait ’til I get you home
We’ve got no future, we’ve got no past…

Then, the mother of all slow songs started playing.  Almost as if on cue, he and I move slowly towards each other.  He takes my hand, and we are standing close to each other, his breath warm on my cheek.

“Swaying room as the music starts
Strangers making the most of the dark
Two by two their bodies become one
I see you through the smokey air
Can’t you feel the weight of my stare
You’re so close but still a world away
What I’m dying to say, is that I’m crazy for you
Touch me once and you’ll know it’s true
I never wanted anyone like this
It’s all brand new, you’ll feel it in my kiss
I’m crazy for you, crazy for you…”

His hand is on my back, and I feel him pulling me towards him.  Our mouths are so close that our lips softly touch.  I feel the room spinning.  Or is it I who is spinning?  I feel the warmth of his body against mine and I feel so comfortable, almost as if I could sleep.  I close my eyes and I feel as though I am floating.  I don’t want the song to end.  I don’t want the dance to end.  I want to be in this moment forever, just me and Nick slow dancing for all eternity.

That dance, that moment, is all I can remember about that night.

Yesterday, I turned forty-five — thirty long years after that first slow dance.

All I wanted for my birthday this year: to slow dance with a man and feel the way that I felt that night, so long ago.

Ticking

“Try to imagine a life without timekeeping. You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie. Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays.  Man alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.” ~ Mitch Albom, The Time Keeper

My 42nd year of life crept on me a few weeks ago.  As was my wish, there was no fanfare and no bright lights.  But the people who mean the most to me celebrated my life by surrounding me with their love and warmth.

It was all that I wanted.

***

It’s difficult to not assess our life without thinking about the years and time that pass us.  When I met with old friends from my kung fu school a few weeks ago, I was made aware of the fact that it had been nearly a decade since we all had trained together formally.  When I realized that my birthday had come and gone, I could not ignore the fact that I am aging and that the time for certain events in my life might be coming to an end soon.  And when I received the news from my friend C that her mom unexpectedly passed away in her sleep, I had to face the realization that the last time I had seen her mother was when she attended my own sister’s funeral in 2000.  It had been thirteen years since I had seen her, and this past Friday, I saw her again for the last time, at her funeral.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, the clock keeps ticking.  Man may be the only creature that keeps time, but nature does as well.  That is why there are changes in the seasons — Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter.  The seasons represent the time for rebirth, growth, death and rest.  Nature may not keep a clock, but it still knows that there is a time, and a season for everything.

41

That’s what birthdays were. Days when you found out where you stood. Who was on your side and who wasn’t. Nothing to do with how old you were.” ~ Rupert Thomson, The Five Gates of Hell

One week ago, I quietly slipped into my forty-first year of life.

There was no big party. No big presents. No candles. There wasn’t even a cake.

I remember prior birthdays — last year, two years ago, five years ago, ten years ago… and all I can take away from those days is how deeply unhappy I was. I was always yearning for something, searching for some deeper meaning to my life, and hoping to grasp onto some semblance of happiness.

I realize that this year, for the first year in God only knows how long, I was happy on my birthday.
After forty-one years, I want what I have, and I have what I want: love, strong family bonds, true friends, and a newly-found love for myself.
I am not quite where I want to be, but I am getting closer.
God willing, I will get there.

Seventeen Dollars and a Dream

Happy Birthday, Papá.

You turned seventy-two today.

When you were thirty-five, you immigrated to the U.S. You took a chance and found a position at one of the largest engineering firms in the world. You came to the U.S. on borrowed money. I remember years later, you told me that you had only seventeen dollars in your pocket when you first stepped foot on U. S. soil. You had even left my mom, my brother and me in the Philippines for six months while you earned enough money to get an apartment for our family.

Seventeen dollars and a dream.

And pride. You made sure to pay back the money you borrowed to come to the U.S. You paid it back with interest, unasked.

We were a typical struggling immigrant family. But your dream and determination and hard-work paid off. By the time you had retired, you were Vice-President of an international heavy industries engineering firm.

Everything you set out to accomplish, everything that you said you would do, you did it, and you did it with pride and excellence.

I am so proud of you.

 

Time flies quickly. Too quickly. And you and I have wasted so much of that time being angry at one another. For a long time, we did not even speak to each other.

It’s mostly my fault. You were angry with me because I did not listen to you, and consequently, I have made devastating decisions. I know I have failed you. But mostly, I have failed myself, and that is what disappoints you the most.

But even when you were angry with me, you were always there for me, in your own way. Tough love. You were the epitome of tough love. But you did still love me.

I only wish that I had listened to you more. Talked with you more. Laughed with you more.

The thing is, it’s not too late.

I will see you soon, Papá. I love you. Happy Birthday.

33

“Lost love is still love. It takes a different form, that’s all. You can’t see their smile or bring them food or tousle their hair or move them around a dance floor. But when those senses weaken, another heightens. Memory. Memory becomes your partner. You nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it.”

“Did you ever wonder? Why people gather when others die? Why people feel they should? It is because the human spirit knows, deep down, that all lives intersect. That death doesn’t just take someone, it misses someone else, and in the small distance between being taken and being missed, lives are changed.” ~ The Five People You Meet in Heaven

My sister would have been 33 this past Sunday.

Although it has been over ten years since she passed away, I still miss her so much. Her presence is always missed during the holidays, but it is in the everyday moments and occurrences when I find that I miss her the most.

I miss her sweet smile and her contagious laughter. I miss the animated way she would tell us about her day. I miss those early mornings when she would sneak into my room and crawl into bed next to me after a night of sneaking out and she would tell me about her adventures. I miss how she was the worst at making cookies, but how she would try anyway. I miss how she would laugh at how bad her cookies were. I miss how she and I would just break out into a dance in our bedroom whenever we both heard a song that we liked. I miss how she and I would go out to 7-11 in the middle of the night just to get a cup of hot chocolate and a pack of gum and a magazine.

I miss so many things about her. I hate that she was supposed to have become 33 this past Sunday, but that she died when she was 22. I hate that she never had the chance to get married or have a child. I hate that she wanted so badly to live, but that she did not. I hate that she is not around to live the life that she wanted. I hate that she never got the chance.

Happy Birthday, Alanna. I hope you got a big, fancy cake and lots of presents up there in Heaven, and that whatever wish you have came true.