A YEAR OF FIRSTS: Relearning How to Have a Happy Birthday
For 25 years, I celebrated every birthday with Julia. From age 3 to 28.
I would love to tell you about each of those birthdays. I sat down to chronicle them all here, but...
I can't do it.
Because when I start to list them all, the 6th birthday party where we both decided that we'd pretend to be the unicorns in Beauty in the Beast (NOTE: there are zero unicorns in Beauty in the Beast), the 9th birthday where she wore a Groucho Marx mask for most of the night, the 12th birthday at the beach in Coronado and the 21st birthday back at the beach in Coronado, or every thoughtful, uniquely-Julia and wow-she-gets-me gift she'd find months in advance (and that she'd text me about at random intervals beforehand, i.e.: "wait'll you see your birthday present this year," to which I'd text back, "Jewels. My birthday's in like 4 months," and she'd text back, "I know!!") — if I think about all that now, I lose it.
I always loved my birthday, in huge part because I knew that if all else failed, I could count on Jewels to sing "Happy Birthday" to me over the phone, and then tell me not to pick up when she called back so she could leave the exact same rendition on my voicemail.
My 29th birthday rolled around almost a month to the day after we lost her.
I didn't want to celebrate this year. I had this great plan to sleep for awhile... And that was pretty much it.
Before Molly (Julia's sister) and I flew back to Texas — after the darkest week of all our lives, home together in California — we made a plan for her to come visit me in Austin on August 7th: two days after my birthday, on the one month anniversary. I slogged through the workweek to get to that Friday, knowing that I would feel most at ease when I could stop pretending it was a "happy birthday," and could just be a blob on the sofa with Molls.
We went to dinner. It was great. Just being reunited with Molly made me feel a little like myself again. It started to feel like some version of happy wasn't totally impossible.
And then Molly said, "Hey, Sarah (Julia's other sister) wants to FaceTime." I was like, "Sure!" — figuring we'd FaceTime with her as soon as we got home. Instead, Molly held her iPhone at arm's length away from her face to get us both in the frame, in the middle of a pretty busy restaurant, by the way. I'm not going to lie: I felt a liiiittle self-conscious at first. Strangers were staring. But hey, how often do I get to see Sarah's face, right?
"I wish you were here," I told the tiny Sarah in the upper right hand of Molly's iPhone screen.
"Me too!" she said.
"Hey, what are you doing right now?" asked Molly.
"Oh, you know," said Sarah. "Just hanging out... AT THE AUSTIN AIRPORT."
Then, THIS HAPPENED:
We picked Sarah up. We went to karaoke. We SANG, even though I do not sing in public, reason being, I'm tone deaf. (To be fair, Sarah and Molly did all the audible singing, while I danced in the background. To be fair about the "to be fair," #ikeepdancing, right? Right!)
At some point, Sarah said we needed to stay out until 2am, and this made total sense to me. The karaoke bar closed at 2am! Of course we needed to stay out until 2am! We were in a spirit YES! and What Would Julia Do?? Julia would keep dancing until 2am.
About a half hour after we got home, my dog started barking like crazy at the front door. I peeked out the window, and saw a cab parked in my driveway.
"Why is there a cab in my driveway?"
"Wow, that's so weird!"
You may be saying to yourself that this is around the time you'd start to feel a little suspicious. But not me. I assumed that some drunk kid gave his cabdriver my address and I'd have to tell that drunk kid that he doesn't live in my house. (This has never happened before, but at 2:30am after a night of very spirited karaoke-ing, it felt like a highly probable scenario.)
I opened the door, and lo: THERE WAS KATIE Q (Julia's cousin), STANDING IN MY DOORWAY, WITH PINK PARTY HATS IN HER SUITCASE.
Cue, all the happy crying hugs:
We went tubing. We ate tacos. We sang more karaoke. We danced. A lot. We danced so much that my dog kinda freaked out. (I don't think she'd ever seen four girls laugh and cry and dance so hard all at once.)
It was on that visit that the vision for this website, and for the scholarship fund, began to crystallize in our minds. We set our sights on the big picture. We vowed to keep dancing.
And suddenly, the birthday I'd wanted to sleep through became the one I know I'll never forget.
Like Sarah described so perfectly in her post about Thanksgiving, it's all about making new traditions now. Reinventing how we mark yearly milestones doesn't mean replacing old memories, or trying not to think about them. It means celebrating anew, every time, and holding Julia close in our hearts while we're doing it. It means dancing the heck out of those days, because we can.
For me, the girls surprising me on my birthday marked a huge milestone in and of itself. They managed to make that day — the day that was always such a huge part of my lifelong friendship with Julia — feel new again. And that made me feel new again, too.