Monday, 23 September 2013

A birthday surprise

Ranty emo-fest alert. If you are not in the mood for that, skip to the Determined Cat picture. That's where the good stuff starts.

I hate birthdays.

Or rather, I hate my birthday. At least I used to, until this year.

My birthday falls in the middle of the Summer. 
This normally meant that:

1. I was never able to just bring a cake to school.
2. Everyone always forgot about my birthday, because everyone was on holiday on that day.
3. Everyone, that is, except me.

My parents being artists, usually they worked more during the school holidays than during the school year. Yep, that means during my birthday too.
Also, in Sicily it is stupidly hot in August, so someone invented the rule that I couldn't have a birthday cake, because it was too hot to eat it.

Year after year, my birthday became worse and worse. It was okey-ish as a child, because I would get money from my grandparents which I usually managed to use to buy toys and stuff that I wanted.

But my teenage years were bad. I hated school. I hated being surrounded by rich, privileged kids who took their good luck for granted and didn't have a clue about what poverty ACTUALLY meant.
I had to go to their birthday parties and buy them presents, I had to see their friends organise special surprises for them, but I knew that no one would have done it for me.

My 18th birthday, which should have been the special one, was especially horrible. 
Nobody, and I mean not a single person, called me to wish me happy birthday. My three friends and I were going to go out in the evening, so I didn't expect them to call me, but even knowing that, the thought that not a single person remembered my 18th birthday was a bit sad. But then again, I had my 17th at the scout camp and nobody thought of getting me not even a stale cracker with a candle on it, so what did I expect, really? (it did get a tad better in the evening, I went out with my friends, drank my first whiskey, then later, when I joined my father's crew, had the first actual conversation in English with a Scottish sound technician. He asked me "Why do you think money will improve what you have?". But that's another story.)

My parents were skint (shocker), so there were no presents for me. My grandmother and I almost had a fight on the phone because she couldn't be bothered to come and visit me but wanted me to visit her (I lived in the middle of nowhere with no public transport, she had a car). The best part was that it didn't occur to my parents to explain to me that they didn't have money for my present, so they would have bought it later on when they got payed. They just expected me to understand without being told.

I stupidly waited for them to say something. I knew they had no money, but you never knew when they would be payed. Some cruel, stupid part of me still hoped that maybe they had been payed and managed to hide it from me to surprise me on my birthday.

I didn't want to ask, I wanted to hold onto that hope that at least someone wanted to surprise me on my birthday. Finally, I burst into tears. My father got angry, saying "How can you not realise that we haven't got any money?".

I love my dad, I really do. He is one the most intelligent and kind people you will ever meet. But there, he got it so wrong it is untrue. Now I understand how my brain works a bit better, I understand that, too, but I still think they were wrong. They should have told me. They could have bought a very small present, a tealight for crying out loud, and said that the real present would have come later. My mother could have drawn a card (she's an excellent, trained, artist, as well as an actress). I would have been happy with that. Hell, I would have been OVERJOYED with that, and probably kept the thing until today.

But no. 

Not even my parents understood me enough to go into any sort of trouble for me.
Well, my mother understood, but only after I cried, and told my father that I had every reason to be upset. After all, I didn't want an expensive present, just to be acknowledged on the day of my birthday.

But the damage was done.

After that day, I kept harbouring that secret hope that something special was going to happen on the next birthday, but at the same time I thought that I was never, ever going to find anyone who could be bothered to do anything special for me.

Kiwi was an interesting topic, in this respect. He used to shower me in presents, normally. I still have some of the things he gave me. But the presents didn't come from a place of generosity, of wanting to make the other person happy. He had an absolute contempt for women. Every time we had a fight, it was always "You, women", as if women are all the same. And for him, women are all materialistic c**** who want money, presents, faithfulness (i.e. controlling their partner) and children. That's it. And most of his presents had a double edge to them. If it was clothes it was because he didn't like the way I dressed. His normal expression when he would see me was usually one of disgust and criticism for something I was wearing.

For my birthday, one year he organised a trip to London. It was great. What was the reason? I wanted to move to England, and he wanted to show me that I didn't need to, that my English was already good enough and that I needed to go somewhere else instead. He wanted me to hate London. He failed spectacularly.

The last birthday I had when we were still together (and that is a massive simplification), he first called me, then told me he had forgotten my birthday. Laughing. Then said that he was joking. The stupid, hopeful part of me that still yearned for a little birthday surprise overtook me. He knew about my yearning. He saw weakness and used it, masterfully, gaslighting me, lying, making me hope, then quashing all my hopes and leaving me there, alone, cold inside and broken. 

It was my 23rd birthday and I cried for hours and hours.

All I wanted was someone to care enough to send me a card, even just an email (my brain didn't race so far as to think of a present in the mail).

My birthdays were not all bad. I mean, mostly what I did was cook a family dinner for everyone and get a couple of presents in the evening. I was usually not allowed to do what I wanted on the evening of my birthday because my relatives were busy on other days, so it had to be then or they would get offended.

I became really good at making homemade icecream and iced cakes. I made a couple on my birthday that were really cool.

I made this. Even the chocolate hearts to decorate it.

I also had birthdays in various places. Kiev, Liverpool, Salamanca are some examples.

My father's prophecy that I would be grateful my birthday was during the holidays once I started working proved itself wrong. I organised birthday cards and presents for everyone in my department (they all have their birthday during the school year), mentioned en passant that mine was in August, to which my lovely colleague said that they would do something for me before the holidays.
And obviously everyone forgot, and on the day before last, when the little, stupid, hopeful child in my head was expecting something, my (then) HoD decided to have one of her bad mood days and had a massive, random, and completely uncalled for go at me. Not my birthday, but tears nevertheless. 

This year, I decided it was the end of it. One, I decided I was going to take ownership of my holidays, and do what I wanted instead of just spending the entire six weeks in Sicily (which usually means staying in one room because I can't go anywhere on my own.).

I hadn't been to France to visit my friend from Liverpool in two years, so we both agreed that it was my turn to go and visit her. It transpired that my birthday was on a Saturday, and on the same days as the Interceltic Festival. She said she would plan something for it.

This post on here would not make sense if there wasn't a bit of faith in it now, would it?
TTTH happened just before I was due to leave for the first leg of my holidays, which was North Yorkshire.

Probably because of all the pain I was already in, I actually didn't think about my birthday at all until it was literally almost behind the corner. My lovely, adorable colleague, (the one that the year before had picked up the pieces after the HoD used me as an emotional punchball and to whom I finally confessed that I was also upset because nobody had thought about my birthday after I had organised all the others) this year made sure a card and a lovely present were there at the end of year departmental meal. She is awesome. I will miss her terribly next year when she will be retired.

I went to North Yorkshire and enjoyed myself very much. I cooked sushi for the villagers and coworkers, went walking on the Moor without hugging any sheep and helped milking and moving cows. Splendid times.

 North Yorkshire

Then I went to France.
I don't believe I spoke much about this friend before. In my old and now defunct blog I called her Souris, French for mouse, because she reminds me of the cute little mouse. She is an amazing person. She is kind, funny, very intelligent and extremely beautiful. We lived together in Liverpool for not even two months, but we both hold the whole experience just as dear in our hearts. This is a first. Usually I am there all excited about some heart-bonding moment and I try to recall it to have a laugh with the other person, only to be laughed AT and told or shown in no uncertain terms that they don't care. Not she. She cares.

She was the first person to actually take the time to send me a card for my birthday and Christmas. And to send me presents. I still have all of the cards and the presents (well, ok, one card got damaged, but that's it). I cried when I received the first parcel. Who am I kidding, I cry for every card and parcel. Tears of joy, though. It means something, something enormous to me, that there is someone who actually cares about me enough to be bothered to do that. It's not the material objects or cards. The words on the cards are dear to me, but it's not even that. It's the fact the she thought about me.
I'm not used to be thought of, I'm usually the one who thinks about the others and gets taken for granted. That someone would think of me makes me believe I am not such a horrible, unlovable person who only deserves to be used and abused, criticised, then thrown away.

So, anyway. I didn't really think much about my 28th birthday. I just determined to be happy no matter what, and did my best to drag myself, almost surreptitiously, out of the deepest hellish state I had ever experienced.

I was already much better when I went to North Yorkshire. By the time I got to France, Hell had already gone away and I had reached the conclusion I had explained in my previous post, that of not hiding in the SGI anymore.

So, I went. Souris, her boyfriend and I had a great time together. We made sushi, went out to play palet Breton, I managed to stroll around Nantes on my own without getting lost (below is a picture to prove it).

Then on Friday we went to Brittany to spend the weekend at her parents' house. And what a lovely house they had. I expected them to be lovely people, because of how lovely the daughter is (and the one son I knew), but the house was a surprise.

The day of my birthday she first took me to the Festival, where we listened to Celtic music, bought an unhealthy amount of saucisson and had lunch, and where she bought me a beautiful skirt.

Then we went to the beach. Did I ever say how much I love the sea? 
It's the only thing I miss living in London. If I move, when I move, it will be to live near the sea. If I'm near the sea I'm happy. If I'm near the sea on a hot day and I can bathe, I am the happiest person in the world. There are very few things I love more than swimming, so that in itself was a fantastic birthday present.

We went back to the house to rest, and while I was having a nap she baked me a gluten-free cake, which she later brought along when we went back to the festival with her friends.
We had a Galician dinner which was awesome. Cool moment in the Galician tent, where after Souris repeated the order for the third time to the waitress I finally had the idea of talking to her in Spanish. She was exhausted, and upon hearing her language she lighted up. We got served before the rude family who had actually arrived first. Allow me to quietly snigger.

She even brought candles for me! And I got another present, a really cool cigarette case.

That sort of care and attention is something anyone should be grateful for. But for me? It's worth so much more. It's the confirmation of all the work I've been doing to love myself, to accept myself for what I am and to determine that I deserve to be loved for what I am.

So, thank you to the most wonderful of friends, thank you for being part of my life, thank you for making a little girl's desire come true, and also for your third present ;).

 The beach. Me wearing the skirt. The Galician dinner. My birthday cake.

Now I don't hate birthdays anymore.

Did you have a similar frustrated desire that has haunted you since childhood?

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