My birthday is coming up, and for many years, it brought with it a sense of excitement. The crisp smell of autumn leaves, one of my grandma's angel food cakes, and birthday surprises. Presents!
I still remember some of the birthday gifts that excited me most: Once, my grandparents sent me a five-dollar bill in my card, which I used to buy a six-pack of soda, because my mother only rarely let me have soda, and certainly never bought it in glorious six-packs. When I was ten, my aunt gave me the soundtrack to Grease. I still have that double-record set in my garage. And so on.
I also remember the things I didn't get - most importantly, a Barbie Dream House - you know the one, with the elevator that you could put Barbie on and then turn a hand crank to take her to the top floor. I didn't have Barbie dolls because my mother thought that Barbie symbolized the kind of materialistic, superficial woman that she didn't want me to be when I grew up*. I wanted one in the worst way, and for the longest time, but I never got it.
As an adult, I tried to compensate for this grave shortcoming by buying my own daughter Barbie dolls, but oddly, as an adult, they seemed a little less enticing and a little more - well, crappy. The Dream House no longer has an elevator and it's made, inevitably, entirely of pink plastic. Emma was decidedly uninterested so instead I overcompensated by buying her American Girl stuff, dignifying each purchase by reminding myself that, after all, they're "educational.*"
There was something else I always wanted, but never really admitted to myself that I did: A birthday card from my father. Or maybe a phone call. I don't think I even allowed my subconscious to hope for as much as a gift - although one year, about 15 years ago, I found a note on my door from UPS that they were attempting to deliver a package that required a signature, and the ZIP code was from the Los Angeles area, his last known place of residence. Every day for a week I raced home from work to try to catch the UPS man, and after a few days of missing him and coming home only to Attempted Delivery Notices, my anxiety reached a fever pitch. I called a friend and cried. And she told me that the package was from her: She had sent me a gourmet chocolate pizza, and there she was apologizing for upsetting me so much with this very expensive and thoughtful gift.
I wish I could tell you it was delicious, but that's not the part I remember.
This year is different. One of the emails my father sent me included a copy of his US Social Security card, issued shortly after my birth, with my full name and birthday written in the margin. I wasn't sure he even knew what my birthday was, but he did, and I asked him for the thing I wanted: Please remember my birthday.
I want a card, from my father, on my birthday.
He has mentioned a couple of times that, having missed 40 birthdays of mine, he has a lot of catching up to do, and at first I got excited about this: I'm getting presents! Maybe I'll get an iPad! or a car in the driveway with a big red bow like in the movies! Or ... or ...
So this week, a box showed up on my doorstep, with a gift inside, neatly wrapped by the nice people at Amazon, with a card. I put it on the table and looked at it. I put it on my desk and looked at it. Emma asked if we could open it; I said No.
A bouquet of flowers arrived a couple of days later from my father, and I put leaned the still-wrapped gift against it, like part of the display.
When you've wished and hoped for something your whole life, and then it actually arrives, the thing itself can easily be a disappointment - like Barbie's dream house, whose elevator (according to my friends who had one) didn't really work and which obviously hasn't improved over time. And since I don't want to be disappointed, I don't want to open the box.
I got the thing I always wanted, and here it is: A box, neatly wrapped, with a card on it that reads "Happy Birthday Jessica."
*They come with books that she doesn't read, because they're boring.