Sunday, September 14, 2008

Birthdays come and birthdays go

I had a birthday last week.  It was the first one in six years that I'd been able to spend with family. The last five birthdays had been spent up in the arctic, with the "revolving-door" circle of friends that I had at that particular time, with strangers that grew to resemble family even more than actual blood relatives because in a transient small town such as Inuvik, people clung onto each other and intimacies flourished in a matter of months upon first meeting.

My first birthday up in Inuvik was within weeks of arriving there, within days of starting my brand-new teaching gig. One roommate baked me a big chocolate cake, and she and my other roommate chipped in to buy me a wall tile depicting drum-dancers against a night sky aglow with northern lights -- my first piece of northern art. Those wall tiles would later become an obssession; by the end of that school year, we had fourteen of them scattered around the living room wall. Those tiles moved with me to my second apartment in Inuvik, and when I finally took them down two months ago, wrapped them up in sweaters and stuffed them tightly in amongst my towels and linens, I felt sad and nostalgic. It was the wrapping up of my northern experience, of the most important chapter in my life to-date.

On a very different birthday, my last one up north -- a year and a week ago -- I was grieving the sudden loss of a friend. I hadn't felt like celebrating, but sorely needed someone to wish me a happy birthday all the same. It was the one year my parents had forgotten to send me a card or to call me, and I was steeping in a pool of shock and sorrow, mixed with an infinite dose of "aloneness." My boyfriend at the time was at work in another town, and he didn't even know it was my birthday. When he called, I tearfully begged him to wish me a happy birthday, which he dutifully obliged, but I felt unconsoled. Later that night, two friends in town took me out for a wonderful supper; I even had a slice of gooey chocolatey goodness adorned with a sparkler -- I was so embarrassed, but also comforted. My birthday had been salvaged after all.

This year, my birthday was low-key, with lunch at one of my favourite restaurants, a light, airy, heavenly sponge cake, and photos with the family around the table. One day, this birthday will meld into the other Vancouver birthdays I've had and will have. I'll flip open the family photo album, and may not even recognize the photo as marking the turning of a new page in my life, the return to Vancouver, home, after five years. And I absolutely love that: the lack of drama, the lack of fanfare, the quiet contentment. I don't feel older or wiser, but I have a feeling that this is going to be a wonderful year.


  1. Here's to a REALLY, REALLY WONDERFUL year ahead!!!

    (Happy Birthday!!!...sorry it is late!)

  2. Happy (late) Birthday. I hope you have a beautiful year ahead of you.

    Thank you for your kind words. That means so much to me.