When my husband asked how I wanted to celebrate my 27th birthday, I didn’t feel much like celebrating.
It’s not the number; birthdays have never really been about the numbers for me. Instead, I think of my birthday as a time for cake, presents, and lots of reflection. When I turned 25 — a whole quarter century — I wasn’t daunted; I had just begin planning my wedding and was two years through a three-year master’s degree program that I loved. I felt good about my life. This year, the wedding is over, graduation is long past, and I’m stuck in a fruitless six-month job search. This year … well, this year, I am not where I thought I would be.
But my husband convinced me that a party would be fun anyway. A chocofabulous party was an excellent excuse to use our new chocolate fountain and s’mores set. Who doesn’t love chocolate? Furthermore, I could focus on the party — on the anticipation of seeing farther-flung friends, on the fun of wearing shimmery purple eyeshadow and tortoiseshell Jessica Simpson heels.
The day before the party, I spent hours scrubbing our bathrooms, baking brownie-cheesecake bars, organizing the pile of scripts on my desk, winnowing the contents of the fridge to make room for strawberries and bottles of Riesling. I worried over tulip arrangements and the consistency of my chocolate icebox pie, and frankly, it was a relief from worrying over the outcome of my phone interview last week.
But all the while, even as I painted my nails, chopped bananas, and put out bowls of marshmallows for s’mores, I half-dreaded the inevitable “How’s the job search going?” and “What have you been up to, Jess?” Lately, the second those questions exit well-meaning mouths, I forget everything I’m happy about. All I can think of is my frustrating, demoralizing job search.
Our first guests arrive shortly after 8 p.m., bearing presents for the birthday girl. I gleefully receive a box of stationery, a gorgeous green necklace, earrings from Eastern Market, books, a bottle of Moet, an Amazon gift certificate. Everyone’s so generous! And everyone looks so pretty! Alissa has fabulous red pumps. Laura’s straightened her hair. Jenn has cute earrings. Liz is super-cute (not to mention adventurous, considering all the fondue) in a white skirt. We exchange compliments in the living room while my husband starts mixing drinks: rum and pineapple juice, vodka with cranberry, glasses of Pinot grigio and Malbec.
More guests arrive. Soon the animated chatter drowns out the party mix playlist from the iPod. People congregate by the fondue fountain, carefully skewering marshmallows and strawberries. Steph starts to make everyone pinky-orange bahamapolitans, an ingenious blend of vodka with cranberry and pineapple juices. Laughter and conversation flows. I talk with Deb about “Buffy” and revising her MFA playwriting thesis. Anne and I discuss art criticism and decorating on the cheap. Jenn tells me how hectic her life has been lately and suggests we catch up over dinner soon. I’m sore but exultant from my first-ever yoga class yesterday; I rave about it to anyone who will listen, even though picking up my cocktail from the coffee table still makes me wince a little.
And I do talk about the job search, a little. I tell Laura the details of my phone interview. Liz offers to put in a good word for me. But it’s just one topic among many. We talk more about Titus Andronicus, house-buying, massages, and the litter of feral inbred kittens that were born on my mom’s front porch.
The avalanche of leave-taking starts around midnight. We exchange hugs and thanks and see-you-soons. Four friends are spending the night, and Chris insists that we play a board game. I’m reluctant — there’s so much clean-up! blue martini glasses, chocolate-smudged red plastic plates and half-full Yuenglings litter all the available surfaces — but my husband insists that I just have fun. And I do.
We play until almost two in the morning, until we’re all sleepy, laughing about cats shaped like dirigibles. Chris won’t just give in and concede defeat to Tristan. I eventually abandon the game to play hostess, closing blinds and locating bedding. Before I go to bed, I open my last present: a thoughtful scrapbook of wedding-planning e-mails I sent Jill over the course of my engagement. I love it.
And I feel so lucky. I have the most wonderful friends. Isn’t that what life should be measured in? Laughter and good conversation and rosy, vodka-clouded memories? The people who love you, who want to celebrate your birthday, who make you feel interesting and successful just for being you, instead of for any particular achievement?
“It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to,” the song goes. But tonight, I don’t want to.