Hey, did I mention that today is my birthday? I haven’t? Well, it is!
Thirty-six. Wow. So I’m definitely in my mid to late thirties now. That’s okay. I don’t mind. It’s better than being a teenager again. Writing young adult stuff puts me in my teen side a lot. Sometimes it’s not fun, but sometimes it is. Today is a time for something fun.
In 1988, I was fifteen going on sixteen, and I kept on hearing “Sweet sixteen” Sixteen. It’s such a mythological age. Sixteen candles, you’re sixteen, you’re beautiful and you’re mine. Images of deb balls, Molly Ringwald uttering “They forgot my fucking birthday” in Sixteen Candles. When soap opera characters get aged, especially girls, what age are they? Sixteen.
I wanted a party, yet I was shy and I didn’t really want to plan the party, I just wanted the party. I wanted a surprise party. But it didn’t look like I was going to get one that year. I was sad, and it looked like everyone forgot my birthday.
My mother finally told me that birthdays are what you make of them. If you depend on everyone else to make you happy on that one day, boy are you going to be miserable. She was right of course.
So that weekend I treated myself. I drank Classic Cokes and Shirley Temples. I read the canon of V.C. Andrews. It must’ve been a law that all girls had to read at least one V.C. Andrews novel at Ygnacio Valley High School. What was it? The gothic undertones? The young heroine always fighting evil? The incest that always, always popped up in her books? You got me.
On my birthday, I woke up happy. I was going to have a good day no matter what. My mother made me breakfast and I read the Sunday paper. “Hey, do you want to go somewhere for a couple of hours?” she offered. “I’ll give you forty dollars and you could go shopping.” I jumped at the chance.
Off to the Sunvalley mall. The mall back then was the only place where there was a bookstore and record store nearby. We didn’t have Borders or Barnes and Noble back then, let me tell you. I bought yet another V.C. Andrews book, and I bought a Larry McMurtry novel called Moving On. I ate Chinese food and I felt so happy.
Mom picked me up and told me she was going to buy me a cake from Safeway. We drove up to our townhouse and I remember hearing my footsteps as they walked up to the house, and then I opened the door, suddenly realizing wait a sec, why is the door open?
And then I heard about fifteen people yelling “SURPRISE!!!!!!!!!”
Meranda my best friend arranged a surprise party with my family and a couple of friends of mine from school. I couldn’t stop laughing. It was amazing and so beautiful.
We put on hats and I don’t remember what I received for gifts, but I was so amazed that it happened; I got a surprise party after all. The Monkees played on the stereo, and we ate cake and ice cream. Later we watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Sixteen Candles. Okay, I didn’t get Jake Ryan, but I was so happy.
Twenty birthdays have passed since that one. Some birthdays have been fantastic, some well, have been pretty bad. One thing has not changed: when I wake up, I have a feeling of absolute wonder, that, in Stephen Sondheim’s words, I’m still here. I’m so lucky.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries