This post is generously sponsored by a Friend of The Toast.
Hold a balloon. Don’t think about how you are one year closer to death. Keep holding the balloon. Eyes on that balloon. Let go of the balloon. Watch it disappear slowly, rising like a soul into the abyss — as you never will, because you are an atheist.
Call your uncle and aunt back. Tell them you are fine. Everything is fine.
Suddenly there are people in your house. You did not say they could enter.
Sea creatures swim past you in a capitalist haze: plates, streamers, goodie bags. Yes, your home has, for the moment, turned into an aquarium, despite your explicit request for a dinosaur theme. You say nothing to Mother and Father.
Feel that you are wearing a foreign object atop your head. Marvel at the things we can get used to, the things we accept because others before us have accepted them, no matter how little sense they make. It is like a tiny dunce cap. Is that the point of it, to be made a dunce?
The Birthday Song
A prayer to Americana, the words echo in our collective psyche: Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Let all your questions erode with the repetition, as they might in warm water.
“Blow out the candles,” they order. “Make a wish.” And yet you all know that wishes don’t come true, at least not by the ordinance of candles. There are eight of them, one for every year of your life. The baby stares at you. You were once a baby. Smile at her before she catches on to the hollowness of adulthood. “Blow out the candles for me,” you demand of the one who still believes in wishes. The charade satisfies everyone.
Cut a piece of your dolphin-shaped cake. Watch it crumble onto your plate just as the ruins of Ancient Rome crumble over in Italy. You’ve still never been to Europe. Maybe you will never go.
Open the pre-written cards. Read them.
Tear a corner of the paper and pull until it’s ripped halfway across the box. Pause. What is another object to add to the pile? We fill our hearts with material goods, and still our hearts are empty. Like water displaced by a pebble thrown into a lake, the discontent rises with each gift placed in your hands. You leave the box unopened in the corner of your closet. You will send a thank-you note to Grandma for the Legos anyway.
The noise reminds you of birthdays past. Has it been so long? O the Places You’ll Go. Where were you supposed to be by now? How many candies have you tried, how many blanket forts have you architected? The party favor unclenches its fist and screams.
After everyone has gone, the floor will be littered with debris fallen as if from a disintegrating rainbow. How long by comparison does it take for you to explode and float to the ground? Only an instant. One moment of joy begets a multitude of sorrows. And so the ritual will continue: Oh Father, my Father, like Sisyphus, with a vacuum in place of a boulder. You will watch him wrestle with impermanence, attempt to suck the humanity out of his carpet. Shoes off, Kelsie, it is said at the front door. And for what? Your life will never be clean, as long as you are human. But for now, there is the party.
The seal hangs before you, complete with a papier-mâché beach ball balanced on its nose. Someone will hand you a club and ask you to smash it apart. Someone who did not think this through. You cast your father a sidelong look. Would that it were a pterodactyl, a brontosaurus even. You have already lost. Accept the blindfold. Accept the bat. Accept the darkness all around you. Where are you? What are your goals? What comes next? We swing and we swing and we swing. Life is all a gamble.