I have an amazing guest post from my name twin, Sarah Ockler. She is the author of Twenty Boy Summer and Fixing Deliliah Hannaford. I also got to have dinner with her and Khy, while I was in New York. So, here is a sweet birthday story from her...
Birthdays are usually a time of celebration, especially when you're a teen and birthdays are still associated with milestones like getting a driver's license and buying your own tickets for an R-rated movie. :-) But some birthdays don't come with cake and confetti. Sometimes, turning another year older brings a day marked with reflection, worry, and maybe even loneliness.
For me, turning eighteen was like that. I was excited that I could finally vote and be considered an "adult" (because back then I thought being an adult was much cooler than it actually is), but the truth is, my life was a red hot mess. After a series of unfortunate incidents during the summer after high school graduation, I was on extremely fragile terms with my mother, and I wasn't even speaking to my father. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I'd just shipped off to college into a dorm room with three other girls who were 1) sophomores, 2) complete strangers, and 3) already best friends with one another. My own best friend was still in high school, and she and I were currently on the "hating each other" side of our regularly scheduled "hating each other / being inseparable soul mates" cycle. My other friends were spread out all over the place. And my non-boyfriend was pretty much... well, just what you'd expect from a non-boyfriend. I didn't know my assigned roommates at all, and though they seemed nice enough, I was just too shy and scared to be sociable. In the week since we'd all squeezed our lives into a dorm room the approximate size of a minivan, I'd done everything I could to avoid being home.
So there I was on my eighteenth birthday, finally out of high school and into college, my whole academic career ahead of me, my whole future wide open... and I'd never felt so lonely in all my life.
My parents lived less than an hour away, so my family decided to get together at my uncle's place to celebrate my birthday. I was already dreading the whole thing because I was kind of too old for birthday parties -- I mean, I knew there wouldn't be a Care Bear cake or a clown making balloon animals or hot dogs on the grill or anything else I loved about previous parties. To further complicated things, I was still struggling to figure out where I belonged after leaving home, and my dad and I were each still busy pretending the other didn't exist. The last thing I wanted to do was pass the hours of my first grown-up birthday with some forced family fun where everyone put on party hats and pretended like everything was just dandy when it soooo wasn't. It was like the anti-dandy, actually.
I also didn't want to hole up in my dorm room all day, and I didn't have anywhere else to go. So I accepted the family invite and struggled through the dandy-less birthday party at my uncle's, which went down pretty much as expected. I don't even remember whether we had cake, and if there was singing, it was certainly flat. The whole thing made me sadder than I already was. I remember leaving, walking out to my car and thinking, who *are* these people, and where do I fit in? Do I fit in anywhere? Does it get any better than this? What is the POINT?
I dragged myself back home to the dorms, which I'd taken to calling "home" even though it didn't really feel that way. As I climbed the stairs to my floor, carrying a few sad birthday cards and hastily-bought presents under my arm, I tried to think of a way I could sneak in unnoticed. I didn't want to tell my roommates where I was, or that my family seemed to be falling apart, or even that it was my birthday in the first place. I just wanted to stash the cards under my bed and crawl into the blankets and wish the whole day away.
When I got into my room, I set my stuff down and headed for my desk, thinking I could lose myself in a mountain of homework. But there, on top of all my books, was a cake. "Happy Birthday, Sarah!" it said, bright pink letters on white frosting. There were helium balloons tied to my chair. And from the other end of the room, my three total stranger roommates smiled and wished me a happy day.
I never asked how they found out about my birthday. It didn't matter. It only mattered that with that one simple gesture, they made me feel at home on a day when I thought I had no place to call home anymore. Soon after, things got better with my family. Dad and I started talking again. I found my groove at school. Ditched the non-boyfriend. Got a job. Started figuring things out. I won't say that the cake changed my life, but it definitely changed my eighteenth birthday. And it gave me a second chance -- a new perspective on things. Sometimes, that's all we need.
A little extra cake never hurts, either. :-)
To Zoe and Sarah, my hair twin and my name twin, whether this birthday is a loud and happy celebration or a time of quiet reflection, I hope it's a special day for each of you. Happy birthday, my friends.