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Happy Birthday To(o) Me!

During the only year I stayed in Antigua of the ten I lived in Guatemala, I bought a dress for a special dinner. The material puffed into a full skirt with blue and white flowers. I adored its neck line dropped into a short ‘v’ shape edged in burgundy that matched the underside of the skirt. In the dressing room of the boutique shop, I couldn’t zip the back up by myself, but I made the purchase anyway, convinced I would always have access to help.

I arrived to the dinner in the dress, but the boy I bought it for never did. The disappointed dress waited longer for another opportunity than I did for the boy to come around. A little over a year later, I scheduled a birthday lunch at a tourist resort and invited my closest friends. I wore the dress, and after much twisting and turning, I managed to zip it up myself. A sign, I told myself for my new year. I posed for new memories snapped in photos with tropical flora in the background. The next year, I carefully packed the same dress in the carry on bag that crossed the Atlantic and then the Mediterranean for my brother’s wedding in Tel Aviv. Family and friends noted they barely recognized me in salon prepared hair and that same dress splashed in strobe lights and candles. My brother pressed Henna ink into my palm and said he hoped I would get whatever I wanted most.

This week, I’m thirty nine. My birthday feels less and less like a holiday or a special day of the kind for which my dress was bought. I’m not old, but somehow those years are too long, too old to not know what I want. My dad wants to take me out. I try the dress on again. I don’t contort myself to zip it up. Even with the zipper half way closed, I can tell it isn’t right, no matter the fresh starts, new years, and memories. Since it’s my birthday that party skirt stamped in blue and white flowers can spin however I want. As a present to myself, I list other things that at second glance are not deficient, not, not what I want, but simply too much.

Kale and cucumbers spill out of colanders. “It’s not you, your garden is too fertile,” Dad says.

It may seem a small movement, my nod in assent, but it means I’m organized, I’m knowledgeable. The garden is too much for anyone.

Cover letters number more than twenty. “Other people, professional, smart, talented people. They’re going through this too,” René encourages.

It may seem nothing at all, but not clicking all her e-mails open to read forwarded job descriptions, means I know I am not for all things, but there are many opportunities for what I am. The job market is in fact a garden.

Eyes flutter open. Breath seems easy until I stand to change my clothes. “Achoo. Achoo. AchoOOO!” I brace my head between my hands and wait for a feverish, allergic sweat to pass.

I used to fit in the place where I was born. I didn’t have to fight, but now my body does against an environment split into dust it never noticed before. That means more than anything, more than watery eyes not to be mistaken for tears, more than the invading pollen that so many filter out in the invisible context around them, but made for them.

I seldom open the wine bottles Dad brings home, because I can’t think of a reason. . . Flecks rising in sunlight across the yard are nothing more than confetti. It’s my party. In the mirror, I tell a reflection, “My back muscles are more developed from my fitness regime. I’m too strong for this dress.”

Happy. What to do? Birthday. I have To(o) many choices to make. Me!

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