Birthday

Because this week it’s my birthday, I buy myself flowers. Not the white daisies my husband always bought, but something brighter. Midday, I take the car for a long drive, past an exit I have taken a dozen or so times but no longer do, and if it’s for no reason other than to look at trees, their half-turned colors as fall approaches, if it’s for no reason other than to listen to the rain on the windshield in the sudden storm, the flick flick flick of the wipers, if, during that drive I sing or cry or talk to myself, there’s no one to report it to, and for once I am okay with this. For now, at least for the moment, I’m no longer lonely.

On the drive, I think of a man I once kissed while standing in a parking lot, the one who, one night, drove with one hand on the wheel and the other on my thigh, how I liked his easy confidence and the way he wanted almost nothing from me that was hard to ascertain. He opened car doors for me and stood up each time I left the table, and for so for that one night I pretended to be somebody else, some other kind of girl, hair and makeup done, complete with dress. He wanted almost nothing from me, and so I think too of the man who wanted more than he was willing to give and even though I would have given him nearly everything, the one thing I couldn’t give up was my belief that I was worth something. That I was worth someone who’d give something equal in return.

When it is my birthday, I eat tacos for dinner, same as I did last year. Later, I sit on the patio in the moonlight alone, the lantern flickering, its uneven yellow light spilling out across the table. The other chair this year is empty, and if there is an ache in this, if there is not the joy of sitting across from him, staring at his face while he laughed at something I said, if there are not my hands in his hair, his face against mine, if there are not his hands on the small of my back, there is not the chaos of him either, and in this there is a kind of relief, bittersweet, like the aftertaste of medicine when swallowed, that thing that stings even as it soothes.

From the ghosts and silence of men I have loved, I reclaim this too. “Happy birthday” I say in the dark.

Here’s to another year.

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