saying happy birthday

At 16 I changed my birthday on Facebook

To see who’d remember my real one

Everyone deleted me as a prank

And then re-added me on my real birthday 

I felt forgotten

Then remembered 

Then loved

But that moment I felt forgotten

Really fucking sucked

****

I can barely muster up the nerve for anyone to celebrate my birthday

Didn’t have a party until I was 20

because I don’t believe anyone ever could remember it

Much less care

Each year every well-wish shocks me

As if I make a mark

****

And I was afraid this year you forgot mine 

Like you did last year 

when you changed your profile pic

And announced Obama’s leaving office

And I watched and waited, for maybe you to say anything 

But you couldn’t be bothered that day 

Like you couldn’t to say goodbye or good luck

To a girl you’d shared a bed with

Right before the old year died and the new one began

Without a trace of you

****

You didn’t forget this year though.

I think?

I wasn’t sure, because I’ve hung onto the past

And I was noticing you still couldn’t look me in the eye when you talk

But you slapped the money down, a lot a lot, as if it were no big deal

as if the past were gone

And I smiled through my fear it wasn’t gone

because the place was a big deal

The conversation was a big deal

The tender look when I could see your eyes was a big deal

it was, to me, that I was not forgotten only for one night 

I tried to hug you goodbye enough to convey

This all was a big deal

I miss you and I want you to stay

is that a big deal

I love you and I want you to matter

Until it’s your birthday too 

And we can play again

is that a big deal

I feared as I asked, casually

to see you

You didn’t

you were busy

you forgot to care

too busy to keep going after starting

I felt forgotten anyway

****

So I pretended I forgot you back.

on that day

Even if it was a lie

****

On your birthday

I paced and paced

I bit my lip

Out the plane ride back home

Looked out the window

Painted a picture in my mind of my dream gift 

showing up to that diner like that night

Dressed in white and green again

Breathless, you

Again, a big smile

laughing because I’m cute

A hug

A hand on a knee

A dinner on me this time

walking down the street arm in arm like old times

A night to remember

A sweet letter

a sequel I crave

****

None of it happened

Instead, I threw money at your cause

angrily that I couldn’t do more

There, I said

I guess I was kind enough 

In a way that doesn’t make me feel pathetic and forgotten 

Where I remember you but not enough to be ashamed and embarrassed

At how much more I care

It was a lie to act as if that was enough

Because to me it wasn’t enough 

to show anything short of how seriously I take your birthday

How seriously I take You

I still have an unsent letter

A soliloquy about your worth

That would’ve made a nice present

If I could’ve handed it to you in person

And guaranteed you needed it

I tore it up

Even if I still remember what I could’ve said

****

I’m sorry I didn’t say happy birthday 

I’m sorry

In a country where thinking can be done as I ride trains through distant lands

This is the memory that rises to the surface 

This is the memory that burns in me, almost 6 months later

I wanted you to have a happy birthday

Even if the day was happy even without me

I hope it was

On your birthday 

The day that was actually so special to ME

I couldn’t do shit

I couldn’t pretend I had the right

****

I had to pretend it was another ordinary day 

Even though my mind was screaming it was YOUR day

YOUR day

From start to finish

Did you know I marked it on my calendar 

A day that had been marked for a long time for months

A day I couldn’t forget even if I wanted to

A day though, that sadly fell exactly a week before a test each year to see who cares

And who doesn’t

A day where I’d typed something up but couldn’t bring myself to press send 

Because all the other messages I’d sent had been ignored 

despite my longing 

I don’t want you to think for one second I ever have forgotten you, ever could’ve forgotten how special you are

Ever could have not felt my heart sting at the thought of you feeling even a little less happy and wanting to add to it

But scared at how hurt I’d be

****

I decide to go to an event

an event I bet you expected no one to come to

Just to see you

I don’t say a word

Hoping to surprise you

Not sure if it’s pleasant or unpleasant

I replay another fantasy

trying to be optimistic

of you saying thank you for coming

of maybe getting a drink after

of maybe getting to hug you

and this time you don’t let me go

****

A “birthday post” emerges on social media the day of

maybe it was supposed to heal

instead it wreaks havoc

The words sound familiar

But they accompany people that aren’t me in the pictures 

I cower, because I don’t know if this is a message for me

or if this is wishful thinking

Maybe I shouldn’t go there

Maybe he’s not thanking me

Maybe I’m not needed

Maybe this isn’t about me 

Maybe none of it ever is

maybe he likes me but not enough for it to all matter

Maybe people can’t be trusted

I go

****

to this place — I want to see you

but you seem in no state to be happy to see me

I feel pain, but not mine

Your pain

as you tell the room you’re not perfect

to everyone except me, more now

I stand in stunned helplessness at how much I love

i see you

i see her too

****

I stutter

You stare

You don’t apologize

You don’t care?

you say thank you

but I don’t know if you’re grateful

you’re gonna go

You turn away

WAIT

You leave

I pace around campus

I cry 

I don’t know

I whimper

i’m slipping into fear

I call

You reject

I call again

You reject

does this mean fuck off??

I cry

you never call back

I never got to say

I love you

or…

or happy.

happy birthday

****

I find out

You had a party and didn’t invite me

I scream

I know there’s pictures; I stop looking at places you could post them

Everyone there getting to celebrate

you probably drunkenly smiling with your arms around other girls

Not me though

I’m not there

I’m not anywhere

But

I can’t give up because I care

and that’s the curse that hurts

I cry

I can’t give up

I cry

off the rooftops in pain

Pain at feeling so much like I want to give you the world

but also pain at the idea that you don’t care if I’m in your life

even after going to such lengths to be kind to me on my day. 

How does that make any sense? 

Why would I be denied the opportunity

to show you any favor or love back?

****

But sometimes in my dreams

I replay that moment 

I heard you didn’t believe you could be happy 

And I hold that dear fear close to me

And I pray one or both of us can overcome that destiny

happy

****

But 

Maybe it’s useless

I whimper when I’m sad

But I pray when I’m strong

That destiny is a Sham

And free will can prevail

I want a damn apology 

So I can have the right to apologize back

****

happy

happy

happy birthday

i want to believe I’m a positive force

but WHAT IF

WHAT IF you’re fucking lying

because I’m not in your life

and that detail might render that phrase worth less

****

Why do I care? Because something in me says maybe next year I will be

a positive supportive force

actually in your life

not just in your life, like the wind barely tangible

but an actual solid object, like a rock

and I think my lesson here is to trust

until I hear the truth

even if my fear screams every day to let go

i was born to love

and be brave

like I wasn’t brave on your birthday

and I have the free will to keep choosing to care

in case it’s all just a misunderstanding

in case it’s not too late to say happy

happy

happy

happy

I hang on and pray, wailing, that maybe next year i’ll get to have the right

to Hug you, in bed, and say

happy

happy

happy—

But I am not, not now.

****

Nevertheless I’m sorry I didn’t say happy birthday

 

__You could break my heart in two
But when it heals, it beats for you
I know it’s forward, but it’s true__

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