I started writing this post in late November 2014,
and just couldn’t face finishing it before now.
For my fortieth birthday, I had always planned an amazing day. An amazing weekend, actually.
- A rural campground, with huts and a central hall
- A treasure hunt
- A dance party
- A decorated table for all of my presents
- Handpainted sign posts
- A giant scrabble board on the grass
- A camp fire
- Lamb on a spit
- Fairylights adorning all the trees
- Crusty rolls made on site
- A decadent brunch the next morning, brimming with eggs, bacon & chocolate milkshakes
- Handmade Thank You gifts for everyone
It was to be a whimsical and fun spectacle, that whenever one of my guests thought of it it would involuntarily make them smile.
But I could not make it happen. It’s true I was in no financial situation to be able to create my dream 40th, but that aside – I was at the beginning of a downward spiral of self-doubt, a bout of Depression that would last over four years, and, a period of my life where I would not even know who I was. I didn’t know it at the time, but my fortieth birthday was the beginning of the loss of my identity.
I was to become utterly lost.
I had recently been approached by a local man for a physical relationship. Although I was quite clear that I was not interested in a purely physical relationship with a man as I now knew that I deserved to be with a respectful and loving partner, he pursued me with some vigour. So he made a small amount of effort spend time with me and my boys; sitting with me as I watered my front lawn, sharing a beer on my front verandah, or sharing a dirty martini and funny stories late at night as we both suffered from insomnia.
Then one blistering January afternoon, I was sitting in my little Beep Beep (car) with the air conditioner on absolutely full bore. My north-facing fibro house had turned into an oven on this 40*+ summer day and my trusty car was my only form of respite. It was so hot even my scalp was sweating!
Without warning the passenger door of my car opened and there was said gentleman, and he proceeded to inform me that he no longer wanted to spend any time with me as although he believed that he was no longer in love with his estranged wife (and mother of his four children) who had cheated on him and then thrown him out of his home, he was in fact not ready to pursue another relationship yet. Unless it was a purely physical one.
With that, he left.
And I sat in my Beep Beep and cried, hot salty tears. I cried because I had finally been strong enough to insist on what I believed I deserved and had missed out. I cried because I was hot in all the wrong ways. I cried because I was lonely, and broke and desperate for someone to love. A friend or a partner or family.
And I had noone.
And so the months ticked by from January to May. As my 40th drew closer, I discouraged any attempt by my few friends to have a party for me. I didn’t want to celebrate a birthday that brought me no real joy. I was not happy in life and didn’t want to pretend otherwise for others. However one of my friends thought my protestations to be false and truly believed that I should have a birthday. It was a milestone and I deserved a party.
So she went through my phone and found some contact numbers and organised a lunch for me.
A week before my birthday a box arrived from Sydney. A box I knew was from my ‘best friend’. A friend that I had been close to since we were 16. Twenty four years of our lives. We had survived our teens, and our twenties, and overseas adventures together, despite following very different paths and ending up in very different situations. I didn’t open my box on the morning of my birthday, as would have been my normal practice. I love surprises and I love being spoiled.
You see the morning of my fortieth was taken up by the needs of my Mother, who had insisted on coming down from Perth to see me on my birthday. Without giving away any of her confidences, I can only say that our relationship was hard work. For me anyway.
I finally had saved the money to have my car serviced (my present to myself – Happy 40th, Pia!) and had already fielded a phone call from my best Friend in Sydney. She mentioned a number of times that she was not flying over for a surprise visit and so I was not to expect it. I know that this sounds spectacularly weird, but it seems she was convinced that this was what I would have expected of her her. She had only a month prior, returned to work after twelve months maternity leave due to the birth of her second daughter. I didn’t for a minute contemplate that she would come to see me for my birthday. It just didn’t occur to me.
And so by 10am, I had fielded a couple of phone calls and seen to my Mother’s needs, and I had dropped my car to the auto electrician with a list of my car’s needs – and now finally I was in the shower. I was finally alone.
Until my Mum barged in and said that the auto electrician had rung and had asked if I really needed everything done, in particular one small but annoying task – to which she informed me that she had told them not to bother. The task was number one on my list that I had left with them. A task that had needed attention for three years and now I could finally afford to pay to get completed.
And so I emerged from my shower, dejected and full of dread for the day ahead. I hadn’t even dried my hair when my first birthday guest arrived. Bearing a gift from the local $2 shop that she informed me reminded her of our discussions of saving our pennies for a trip to the French countryside – a cardboard box with a picture of the Eiffel Tower. She then told me I need to get my glad rags on, as she was taking me out for a birthday lunch.
The town where I live is seaside and has the most wonderful beaches. Long white beaches where my dog(s) can romp. Deep blue sea that is rarely flat or still. Every now and again you can see a seal or dolphin fins. There is of course the obligatory seaside restaurants, which is where my birthday event was to take place. Waiting for me at the allotted table were two more friends one of whom looked like she was ready to throw a glass of water over the other – I was soon to learn why.
Why do some people complain so much
about their lives, like husbands, children, jobs, homes, pets
– when all they have to do is make change?
Why do people insist on being unhappy?
Now when do you think the real fun and games with my Mum began? Can you guess? I’m going to boring and tell you . . . the games begun as soon as the waitress arrived at our table and asked “would anyone like to order a drink?”. Well! Did she what!?!
But first, FIRST she had to (HAD TO) say . . . .
“Ooh I’d love a drink. But I don’t think I’m allowed to.
Am I allowed Pia?
Am I allowed to have a drink?”
So I spent the next two hours making polite conversation while every nerve, every sinew and every vessel in my body was SCREAMING for me to run away. To get away and be by myself. But I stayed.
I tried drink a revolting cocktail put in front of me, and I ate a meal I could not taste and I accepted two more gifts that were purchased by well meaning friends that in fact did not suit me or meet any of my needs.
My Mum spoke fondly of the gift she was giving me – the gift she ‘gives’ me every birthday and every Christmas – a promise to take me shopping for something that I need or want. Whatever that may be, and something I usually don’t receive. It’s been that way for over twenty years.
I’m told that it’s the thought that counts.
So the excruciating ordeal came to an end, with a jolly invitation from my Mother to everyone at the table to come back to my house to have some birthday cake. With a promise to all that the birthday cake, was in fact my favourite dessert. Finally, something I may actually like on my birthday – as my favourite dessert is pavlova with strawberries and cream. Yum! Anyone who has ever met me knows how much I LOVE pavlova.
So home we headed to my fibro shack to sing the obligatory song and enjoy the sugary goodness of my favourite dessert. God I was salivating all the way. We gathered in the front room, that was actually the largest part of my shop, and Mum brought in a white bakery box. The box was opened, candles stuck in and lit and then the song was sung. All the while my heart was turning to stone.
In the box was a cake with lots of cream and chocolate spindles – I had no idea what it was,
but it was not a pavlova.
My Mum then proudly instructed me to cut everyone a piece. So I did. With every cut and every serve my heart sank further and further down my body, heading to the bottom of my belly. God I wish this day would end. Then one of my friend’s piped up with a compliment to my Mum for the delicious Black Forest Cake, and asked me the last time I had had one. I had managed to this point to just cut, serve and keep my mouth shut. So when presented with the situation where I had to either lie or tell the truth and I genuinely did not have enough energy left to lie. So I told the truth.
“I hate Black Forest Cake, because it has fruit in it (cherries).
It’s actually my sister, S2’s, favourite dessert”
Now, my Mum has a particular talent for being dramatic and to ensure that she stays the centre of attention, especially with a few drinks under her belt. She has the knack for acting the part of martyr. We’re talking BAFTA quality acting! So despite the disappointment being my own, it was in fact my Mum who put her head in her hands and exclaimed loudly “I’m so stupid” “I can’t do anything right” “I’ve ruined everything!” Each proclamation was also embellished with “tsk” and “ugh”.
Such drama – over a cake.
An hour later, everyone bar my Mum has left and it is time to collect my car, minus the most important work, and try to salvage some sort of joy from the day. Or am I being ambitious? Despite my little house only having one bedroom, I manage to avoid my Mum for the better part of the evening, and she takes herself off to bed with more profuse apologies for the cake (’cause I really want to relive that moment!).
And I finally get a chance to open the box from Sydney. The contents of which, requires a blog post all of it’s own.
And thus – my 40th Birthday was over.