This year on my birthday, the wind gusts while the sun beams through puffy, swift-moving clouds. The air outside is electric, and the cat dashes madly up the stairs and down, unsettled, agitated, racing after the fabric balls I chuck across the living room. Usually, she’s a lazy cat. I study my hands, because someone once told me you can tell a person’s age by looking at their hands. My hands are thirty-five today, nicked in places from playing rough with the cat. My wedding band sparkles on my left hand, originally placed there as an engagement ring by my husband three years ago. It was my birthday, the first day of our engagement, a beautiful biting sun-splintered day like today.
Some birthdays, I cry – missing my mother, never with me on my birthday now. I feel sad opening gifts alone, presents wrapped and mailed days ago and now smelling only faintly, if I bring my nose close, of my childhood house, my mother’s hands, our mountain town. Some birthdays, years ago, I’d get drunk. Some birthdays, I gazed at a foreign world: A crescent-shaped beach in southern India when I turned twenty-three, my friend Katie on the sand beside me, wiping beer from her mouth and passing me the bottle, laughing as palm trees creaked and swayed overhead. One birthday, a sweltering Nicaraguan town, pineapple juice sticky on my fingers, the rose-colored sky reflected in crooked cobbled streets. One birthday, I held my newly published book in my hands.
Some birthdays, it’s been too cold to go outside. One birthday, an ice storm. Childhood birthdays: Pool parties on freezing winter days. Floppy pieces of pizza on paper plates, and opening presents in front of other people.
I take my birthday too seriously, I think. I get all existential and dread the day. My cat doesn’t know her birthday at all. My husband guesses it’s Halloween, because of her calico coloring, and so we give her extra little treats every year on that holiday. On my husband’s birthday, he prefers to go into the woods with water and food and walk for hours and hours, miles and miles, speaking to no one. I haven’t seen my brother on his birthday for many, many years. For my dad’s birthday every September, my mom bakes a mocha-chocolate cake. Once, for her birthday when I was just a little girl, my dad bought my mom red roses, more roses than I’d ever seen at once, and he had me carry them out to her while she worked in the garden. He followed behind and presented her with a slim black box, a gold necklace inside, the same necklace she’s worn every day since. That birthday, my mom was the one to cry, wiping tears from her eyes with dirt-stained gloves.