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Ghosts of Birthdays Past

Recently, I had a birthday. I never imagined being this age. The older I get, the less and less I have an image for what I thought I would be like. Is that normal? Even crazier, is that I don't think I could have ever imagined the life I have now, and I'm pretty imaginative. Seriously, though, I wouldn't have it any other way. Birthdays make one reflect though, and I've had this memory kicking around in my mind the last few weeks.

As a kid, every year for that special day, my sister brought balloons to school. I don't remember when it started, but regrettably, I do remember how it ended. Middle school, sixth grade. I know it was this grade because it was before I went full on surly grunge angsty girl. But, it was when I had already started to learn to be embarrassed by anything that was deemed remotely uncool by my classmates.

Around that time, I had stopped eating lunch. My mom and sister didn't know this. They still don't.  However, I very wisely had decided to simply have a Coke for lunch so I could lose weight. (Not wise or smart at all, but don't judge me I was 12). The thing was, I don't know when it happened, but while I was busy reading Sweet Vallet High and doing kid stuff outside, my girlfriends had suddenly become aware of the fact that they were, well, girls.

I mean I knew I was one, but I'd always been a bit more something. Green? I don't know. Evidence, such as Halloween that fall when I dressed up as a court jester with full face make-up and my bff dressed up as a sexy-ish kitten with a black leotard and tights, had begun to build a case that I was indeed missing something. In a world of pre-teens, I was still a kid.

So, I looked in the mirror and saw my chubby brown cheeks and decided I needed to be more like the other girls. Thin. Flirty. I hid my reading habit. I faked it, hoping I would make it. And, when my birthday came around that April, I had already started to assimilate. I don't know if I'd lost any weight, (I'm certain the Coke diet did not work) but at least I wasn't eating lunch with all the "dorky" kids.

In my focus to assimilate, I'd forgotten my sister's birthday tradition, so when I saw her smiling face walking through the campus, I panicked. I looked at the bright red can of Coke on the Formica table and felt as if it was a bright red fire alarm that would alert her that I had stopped eating lunch and then she would tell my mom. My thoughts gathered momentum like a tumbleweed in a Spring El Paso sandstorm.

Her face is burned in my memory. She had a little bounce in her step as the helium balloons knocked back and forth against each other and a grin that was as inflated as those balloons. My sister loved this birthday tradition because she got to see my little checks turn rosy with a combination of embarrassment and glee. I mean, who wouldn't? It was my birthday.

That is until she reached my table. I just stared at her as she smiled. I didn't know what to do. My eyes darted to the half-empty can of shiny Coke on the table and back to the kids with trays of chicken nuggets and crinkle fries on them. She was going to notice I didn't have lunch in front of me.  I don't know how long I stared at her, but the smile on her face was gone as quickly as if I'd stabbed one of those balloons with a scissor. She shoved them towards me and all but stalked away. My mouth hung open with words that never came.

                 "Who was that?" some kid asked.
                 "My sister," I mumbled the balloon strings warm in my clammy hand.

After school, I knew as soon as I saw my mom's face that "shit had hit the fan". (It is still one of her favorite phrases.) At that time, my sister worked at a Super Cuts in a strip mall off Lee Trevino. My mom took me straight there.

                 "You have to apologize to your sister, Yasmin."

That's all she said. No ifs, ands, or buts. So, I walked into Super Cuts and when the little bell on the door rang, my sister didn't look up from the client she was with. She was, in fact, in a posture I had never seen. Shoulders hunched. Face pinched. The corners of her mouth in a thin straight line. I didn't know what to do, so I walked toward her and hovered. I wanted her to see me and then I didn't. Because if she turned to look at me, then I would see the full consequences of my actions etched in pinched lines and frowns.

But, of course, she turned after what felt like ages. And when she did, my face crumbled, and I started to cry. I didn't know how to say I was sorry. That I hadn't been embarrassed by her, but afraid she would see how stupid I was becoming, so I just stood there tears running down my chubby cheeks. My sister hesitated, then hugged me. I mumbled a puny "I'm sorry" against her shoulder, and she nodded, but when she let me go, I didn't see the forgiveness I'd hoped for in her eyes.

That's the kind of things that happens when you're a kid right? That's how we learn how actions have a domino effect? Now, if you ask me why I've been thinking about this, I can't tell you. Maybe it's one of those, "If I could go back" fantasies. The older you get, the more one wishes they'd valued being young, because for real #adulting sucks.

There is no moral, and the gray hairs that have started to sprout have not made me wiser. However, random ghosts rear there heads now and again, and I have to remind myself, at least I gave myself plenty of writing material?


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