I hate my birthday, which each year comes around with a reliable regularity that pisses me off. I know I am growing older with the years. A party to celebrate that fact seems pointless -and cruel. If people really want to celebrate “life,” why don’t they just high-five each other every time they manage to cross the street without being run over?
Of course, everyone just wants a party, which is understandable -I guess -but the celebrations are always so grim, with a tinge of desperation, as if being “grim” isn’t flavor enough: Everyone standing around, clutching a drink in one hand, and a plate of cake in the other -and, frankly, cake and beer don’t go together. Cake doesn’t really go with anything, except milk, and milk definitely doesn’t go with a night of partying, unless -you know -dairy really “does it” for you, whatever “it” is.
I grimace. The thought of partying with a glass of milk in a sea of vodka makes my stomach flinch. What sort of sick twist would be into that? I shudder, but it’s okay. There is a pleasant chill in the air, and anyone looking would have just seen me shiver. Fine.
I hate being watched all the time. There is never anywhere to go that someone doesn’t know:
“NO PRIVACY; NO SECRETS.”
The slogan is slapped up everywhere, but it is such bullshit. Transparency is such a big joke, but it is a joke being played on us -the politicians and the big businessmen, (and it is always men), still do whatever they want, with impunity and almost no oversight.
I look up, worried that perhaps someone can see my thoughts. I know that day is coming soon, and I resent it in advance. It’s all anyone seems capable of talking about:
“ALL ACCOUNTABLE; ALL THE TIME.”
Another bullshit slogan. We huddled masses will dutifully be implanted, but the wealthy will likely hijack their feeds for a pittance from someone needy -just like they do now whenever they need to not be on camera. Not that anyone seems really to care. The resultant scandals are always too delicious, and everyone is too hungry and too stupid to realize that the scandals are just like the candy for the fat kid: We, the idiot huddled masses, are the fat kid, and we are all standing over the Halloween sugar trough, too dumb to stop eating long enough to lift our heavy, cow-like heads and look around.
I pause on the sidewalk, suddenly remembering that -once again -I cannot remember how old I am supposed to be. This is no joke -I really cannot remember. I shove my hands deep inside the pockets of my nondescript grey trenchcoat and continue walking. Pausing on the street too long is never a good idea.
I think back to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, a now blacklisted book, which had brilliantly and presciently posited a future wherein each year was sponsored by a particular brand -so, rather than the year 2012, for example, it could have been “The Year of the Aldo’s Hypo-Allergenic Vanishing Tampon,” which was, in fact, a product that had been pretty big “for the ladies” toward the latter end of that year. The notion of a year being sponsored and thus branded for a “feminine sanitary product” cracked me up. Of course, that’s not what happened.
It is individuals who are sponsored now, a development I find deeply embarrassing. It makes for long, painful introductions at cocktail parties -and things can be particularly awkward when a particular item or brand has gone defunct or has been yanked off the market. Of course, my name is still the most humiliating thing, though I am secretly and intensely proud of it. I have a real name, goddammit, not sponsored by anyone (but me), and no amount of corporate cajolement is going to convince me to change it. I am me, and I will always be me.
Having a personal name marks me clearly as a passive dissident, or, at the very least, “ages” me, however old I really am. The years now are marked off so oddly, (at least IMHO), that I have difficulty marking the time, which is why I thus struggle to recall my actual age. I know we are currently in the 5th Year of Your Romney-Palin, but beyond that, I have never been able to keep a handle on my personal Cycle, which is how everyone really marks their years. I’ve always been outside of time; I have always, somehow, been a little bit wrong.
When I should have been married, I was turning down proposals -and even left one hopeful at the altar (oops). When I should have been finishing school, I was mired in personal tragedy and too busy trying to die to deal with life. When I should have been having a baby... well, I wasn’t married, was I?
The only thing I have managed to do on time, (I like to joke), is my Birth year. Beyond that, I don’t really know. There is a Point in the personal Cycle for every year of life; each one is a milestone of some sort, and everyone is expected to “achieve” them. For girls, there is Menses, (always whispered about -so as not to gross out the boys, of course), and Estrus, (also always whispered about -so everyone can pretend their parents don’t know, of course). For boys and girls, there is Graduation, (minor and major), and Marriage, and Children. and, of course, Death.
There are many other Points between, but Death is the Point in my personal Cycle I look forward to the most. It is not the Point in my personal Cycle that I am trying to reckon, though. Instead, while I don’t do this every year, sometimes, I do try to figure out the years I have in cumulative. Everyone now lives their lives so much in the present, the past has become completely unanchored from us -even for me.
I think of it sometimes, (the past, I mean), as this essentialized “thing” that has broken off from the rest of us... and thus escaped:
Where was I yesterday?
Answer(s the Past): What does it matter, if you can’t remember? Where are you now?
Where am I, indeed?
I look up, the world hazy through my smudged sunglass lenses. I am almost home. There is only so long I can hesitate on the street outside, (before I begin to look suspicious, I mean). Slowly, I push the door open, dreading the inevitable “surprise” party that will be waiting for me.
Someone hands me a slice of cake, and a drink. I try to contain my grimace with a smile. I can be pretty convincing when I try. The small talk is reliably enervating, and I bother not at all to remember the names. I was never very good at it, and now that everyone is merely an avatar for some product, I am even less motivated; I merely register the faces.
It takes me a moment, but the realization finally slices through my boredom: There is only women here. I do have male friends. Had some jealous female “friend” of mine seen fit to not invite any of them? Being a single and therefore “dangerous” female does have its drawbacks, I suppose. Same-sex parties such as this is one of them. I try to mask my sigh with a large swig of “party punch,” but we both fail -the punch is not that good and my grimace is fairly obvious.
My girlfriend, (Quinoa Face Mask -no, I am not kidding), sits down on the sofa beside me. There is a look of concern plastered on her face. I can feel the impending lecture that is about to fall from her lips even before she opens her mouth. Her hand falls gently on my forearm; I brace myself for the disappointment.
“This is your Baby year, Anya,” she smiles at me. The other women in the room smile at me. I squint my eyes into what I imagine is my most winning smile. I want to punch each and every single one of them. in the face.
“Ooh,” I twitter blithely, “but I’m not married...” I let my voice trail off. I cannot bring myself to say her “name.” aloud.
“Anya.” She leans in; her hand on my forearm feels like an assault. It is the look of sympathy in her eyes -in all the eyes in the room -that I want to punch out. “It is time.”
I grit my teeth. I sincerely thought I had managed to escape this particular Point in my personal Cycle. I hate these Points: How much of my Cycle is mine if half the crap on it is stuff I didn’t and don’t want to do? And, why do other women care so much? My life is mine, dammit.
My girlfriend, (she of the unfortunate name, which always prompts me to wonder what it must be like, having one’s life tied to the success or failure of a particular product or company), is flipping through the “pages” of a digital book. Even with the scant glance that I give it, I can see that it is a “datebook,” literally. Pictures of boys, (with equally unfortunate names), flip by with every press of her finger. I realize, as each potential candidate flashes before my eyes, that she plans to set me up with one of these boys, and probably more, today... at my birthday party.
Her finger pauses and then stops over a candidate she seems to find particularly fetching. Maybe she wishes she were married to him, instead of the rather vacant man she is stuck with calling her husband now. She holds the datebook up to me, but my eyes glaze over. Gently, with the same hand that is holding the unwanted slice of cake, I push the book away.
Almost in slow motion, the cake slides off the small plate. Quinoa Face Mask tries to jerk the digital book away from the cake’s line of fire, but she does so by jumping up, which is silly, because this then puts her directly in the cake’s line of fire. The slice of cake smashes into her, ruining, with a bright splotch of frosting and cake, her perfect white lace dress, which looks too “wedding” to me anyway. I am glad the dress is ruined, but I exclaim:
“Ooh... [can’t say her name aloud, no way] ...your poor dress!”
She glares at me, her lips firmly pressed together in a thin, angry line. It is as though she thinks I smashed the cake into her on purpose. I make a face. At least it wasn’t the whole cake. Everyone glares at me. I am fairly certain I have successfully managed to nip the party early. I try to save my gleeful smiles for later.
Peppermint Body Cream, [ugh], stays to help me clean up. I can’t stand that she always smells like... well... Peppermint Body Cream. I also cannot stand that she is standing in my kitchen, somehow always in my way, the way a dog or a child under-foot would also be. I do not need her help to clean up the surprise birthday party that I did not want.
“You need to marry, Anya, and you need to have a child, before it is too late.”
I also do not need life advice from someone who reeks of cheap candy dish candy. I pause before considering my response, but not that long, not really:
“Women are the worst cabal.” [Her eyes widen in horror, but I continue, unabated.] “This is the same attitude that allowed FGM to carry on for centuries, even into the modern era.” [Now her eyes are so wide, I wait for them to pop out of her skull.]
“How dare you!” she sputters.
“There is no single life template -life is not one size fits all,” I interrupt her, “and, that aside, I don’t see this same pressure being applied to men, by men. If anything, it is always women going about, not minding their own business -be it a man’s life, or a woman’s.” [Her eyes are a little bit wild. I am not at all certain she has heard a single word I’ve said.]
“Female... genital... circumcision!” [Now I am certain she’s not hearing me. I’m actually impressed she manages to spit the word “genital” out. I had no idea her vocabulary had such... biological depth.] “You’re comparing marriage, and babies -babies! -to that... that... barbaric...”
“Yes,” I nod, “it was women who propagated that practice, just like you -my friends -are trying to force marriage, and children, on me. And, why? Because I am the only one who is not married? with children? Because someone pulled you aside and said your life would not be complete unless you did these things? I am willing to bet that it was not a man who pulled you aside. I bet...” I hold up my hand, to stave off her interruption, “...I bet it was a woman. Hm?”
[She shook her head from side to side, her eyes frantic to make her point.] “If... if you let men have their way-”
“-because men are wild animals, of course, and we women are the civilized ones,” I interject, with a roll of my eyes. I am tired of that old trope. It is the same reasoning that allows men to rape women, yet somehow everything is always the woman’s fault.
“-men will not take any responsibility. And then who will take care of you? And your babies?”
“You know what I mean!” She is practically screeching. In my long, narrow galley kitchen, we are really too close together for my comfort. I calmly cross my arms in front of me, giving me a very necessary feeling of barrier between us.
“You’re so busy, running around, trying to force other women to do what you think men want. You know what? I am willing to bet most men don’t care.”
“Yes, that’s right.” She finally leans back, and crosses her arms too. “Men will have fun with you; they will play with you -but they won’t marry you.”
“Who wants to be married again?” I narrow my eyes and cock my head to one side, which is sure to piss her off. She presses her lips together, and there it is again -that thin, angry line. I suddenly realize, with a quick glance at her ring hand, that she is not married, which is odd, given how old (I think) she is. Rather than responding, she actually lets me have the last word, though the door slamming behind her when she leaves is word enough at last.