It’s my birthday. According to the calendar I am turning 35. A daunting number? No, not in my world. I wear it proudly as a badge if not on my heart then on my sleeve. I’ve been served breakfast by my lovely children and my wonderful husband. I love them so much. To the point I now know what really matters. Not money, or self promoted updates on Facebook, nor my own trials and tribulations. Only them. I linger on those words like they are exquisite caramels melting in a morning dry mouth.
A few weeks ago – a friend, who like me – also had her birthday (nearing fourty). I called her late one evening as she was preparing her administration whilst her two daughters had a sleep-over party turning her house inadvertently into a zoo. Like so many evenings, she spent them in solitude…well not exactly an entirely correct observation as she kept herself as her only company, And I think she was fond of that. I guess that is something we all learn to cherish when perils are awaiting us.
Her husband called and sms’d about a deal he had just made. She was happy for him. At least I think so, as she had complained how little she saw of him and his job was more of a friend and lover than she was. But they were married, and the epithet of wife could not so easily be taken away from her. Or at least that was how she rationalised her life.
As we were talking she was receiving frantic text messages from her partner. Eventually she excused herself that she had to take care of a situation. A situation I had little experience dealing with myself. But where knowledge repressed the little understanding I had for the matter, my empathy took over. I told her to call me back when she had time. She never did.
I waited the whole day, knowing it was her birthday (she’s a few years older than myself). Towards the evening, when the clouds parted for a setting sun, I took up the courage and dialled her number. It took several rings, and I was just about to hang up when I heard her familiar voice on the other end.
“How was your birthday?” I asked. “Did everything work out yesterday?”
“No” was her simple reply. She seemed tired, but not from the exhaustion one would feel after a long day in the name of celebration. It was something else. Apathy?
“What happened?” I queried, trying not push and probe too much with the result she would clam up (she’d done it many times before).
“John was drunk. He kept calling me, talking strangely. And then there were the texts…” She trailed off, and for a moment there was a pregnant pause as I was waiting for her to come back on where she ended. But she didn’t. She started to cry. And the worst thing when someone cries down the telephone is that the tears never reach the receiver, They hit us, only by their echo and from our perceptiveness, and so we do know they exist. And yet we cannot not qualm them. Because we cannot hold the person most needing our love.
“Patricia, I am here for you.” I said eventually. Not knowing really what to say, but it seemed like something I should be saying given the circumstances.
She snuffled, and I could hear her drying her tears. Maybe on some piece of garment she was wearing at the time.
“It was so embarrassing…” she started. I went to his office to check on him… to get him home. I just wanted him home. I had been thinking about him all evening, devoted to his stacks of admin. And yet when I came…” Again a pause, but she picked it up again quickly.
“As I neared the building he came out and just as he saw me he slipped. He sprained his ankle. So I tried to get him home before the rain and before the children would wonder why we were gone for so long. But he kept telling me – rambling more like it – that he slipped because of me.” She paused before resuming “I apologised, but I don’t think he took notice, I tried to help him, offered to call a doctor or at least a taxi to get him home but he refused. He looked so angry, and well… I had to steel my nerves not to let it impact me.”
“I got him out of the building, the alarm on and we walked slowly towards home. We only got as far as to a lamp post and he wanted to keep his foot there. I can imagine. It must have felt cold to the touch. He told me to leave him if I didn’t have the patience to wait, but I was too concerned for his wellbeing. So I pushed him those final yards. It only made him more angry as he took my wrist and bended my arm. I screamed. A neighbour from the area opened his door and within minutes two police cars had rolled up. Eventually things calmed down. I went to my younger daughter’s room who was sleeping with her sister and slept there for the night.”
“We didn’t speak to eachother all day. He says I am lying. And I should tell “my truth” to him. But what truth? I have started to make up truths just for the sake of it. Yesterday I was a former prostitute that I had failed to mentioned. Tomorrow I will have been lingering in the arms of men whilst he’s been on business…”
“Why do you say these things?” I asked, my hearth thumping. She took some time before she replied. “Because it’s the only way I can hurt myself. Even hurt doesn’t hurt any longer.” Her last line was so sad, and whatever had lodged itself in my heart now travelled up the airways until I felt I could hardly breath.
“Are you ok now?” I eventually asked.
“Yes, yes of course. Really I got to go.”
We said our goodbyes and that was it. I called her a week later but she pretended as our conversation never had taken place. I said it was ok, but I’m here for her. I hope she know this….if she reads it.
Instead it’s my own birthday. One with laughter. As I woke up, before anyone else did, I could hear my little son babbling to himself. It was the sweetest of presents. I feel so happy. So blessed