My Favorite Days: 15th Birthday
April 21, 2009 § 3 Comments
Here’s a fun little feature I want to do as I continue to evolve and develop my blog. In an effort to tell more stories about my friends and family, to encourage myself to write again, to write every day, and to make sure that the people I love and treasure know that I love and treasure them, I want to tell you about some of the favorite days of my life.
I am a birthday person. I love celebrating birthdays, birthday presents, birthday cakes, birthday surprises…birthdays. The WORD birthday makes me smell frosting. I love the mingled smell of sicky sweet frosting and freshly extinguished candles. It’s one of those very unique smells like “bag of halloween candy” and “mom gets dressed up” that I carry with me in a sensory scrapbook. I love birthday surprises most of all; be it a pony tied up in the garage or a brown paper package from Grandma on the front porch, they’re both great because of THE SURPRISE. The existence of something you never expected.
So it’s easy to see why My Fifteenth Birthday is definitely one of my favorite days.
As I have previously stated in this blog, I was not … a superstar in school. I wasn’t the worst of the nerds, but I wasn’t popular either. I was one of those people who fit like a middlemost gear, one tooth reaching out to the smart kids, one tooth reaching out to the arty drama folks, one tooth reaching out to the bizarre, long gypsy skirts and poetry group, one tooth reaching out to the kids I knew from elementary school. I was never fully integrated into any single clique, just floated like a free radical from place to place. No roots.
I turned fifteen my sophomore year, in the midst of an artists in residence program in our English/Arts department. A woman came in from New York to teach us the ritual and the history of Japanese Noh Theatre. It was announced that our school’s Fall production would be, in fact, a Noh play (Noh Show?) in full costume, with the dances and songs and all that. We had auditions a few days before my birthday and I was not too jazzed up because I was just a sophomore, and you know how high school theatre goes, the seniors get the biggest parts, then the juniors, then they kind of fill in the rest. A freshman phenom might get a cool character part but that was never me. I never get to be a phenom. I wanted to play the lead character Sotoba (evil queen of everything) with all of my heart and soul. But two vastly popular, wonderful seniors stood in my way. And so I waited….all day…for the rehearsal after school.
At lunch the boy I had a giant crush on but was as unattainable as Zack Morris came over to talk to me. He wasn’t the quarterback of the football team, or the romantic literature type, or the brooding guy with a motorcycle. What he was was the Zany-Class-Clown-Prankster-Artist-Oddball who could basically burn the school down and everyone, including the firemen would just chuckle and say “THAT JONAH!” He was Ferris Bueller before it was cool to pretend to be Ferris Bueller. He was everything I ever wanted to be or be near: the center of the universe, funny, popular, man of all seasons that made life just a little more bizarre. He swooped over to my table and sat down uninvited, smiling broadly. As we talked, I told hm it was my birthday. Why, I’ll never know. First of all, I couldn’t even believe he was talking to me. Why? I was mousy, ascot wearing drama nerd with braces and poorly feathered hair. What made him stop and talk to me? Did he have pity on me? The matchstick girl with the gimp leg? Whatever the case, I was in heaven. Before I could truly make a fool of myself in front of him, he got up and left. My heart had risen, floated, swelled and now burst into a puddle at my feet. Then I heard a booming voice from the back of the cafeteria.
“TODAY IS JESSICA’S BIRTHDAY AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO SING TO HER YOU HEAR ME?”
There he was, standing on top of a folding table while teachers, security guards, lunch ladies,nerds,dweebs,bloods,cryps,jocks, all fell silent, turning their eyes to the red faced girl in brown cordouroy eating a Buddig Turkey sandwich in the corner. He counted to three and I sat agog while two hundred people who didn’t know me from Adam sang happy birthday to Jessica at the top of their lungs. To cap it off, Jonah ran and dove on top of a rolling garbage can, belly surfing down the center aisle of the cafeteria yelling HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESSICA! before crashing spectacularly into a table, sending food everywhere and cooler heads dragged him out to give him a talking to.
The rest of the day was a haze, with people smiling and nodding at me in the hallways, my association with this town demi-god giving me some sort of new instant status, the beautiful and the rich wondering if perhaps I was worth acknowledging as a human being after all! My association with Jonah lasted a few months more, a very chaste and innocent “going out” that didn’t actually involve going anywhere, but made me feel like a celebrity for the first time in my life. He then met Rachel who stole his heart and they had some meaningless fling that lasted a little over ten years or so. pfft.
After school, I skipped down the hall to drama club, eager to learn what sort of role I’d be getting in the Noh play, hoping for something elaborately costumed, something masked and interesting, anything but the ‘CHORUS’. What I found was that when you have an artist in residence, they don’t know the hierarchy. They don’t know that Molly Always Gets the Lead. They don’t know if you’re a hopeless nerd or not. And so they read off the cast list and lo and behold, on my fifteenth birthday, I was graced with the lead in the school play, Sotoba, Evil Queen of Everything…with her very own dance of madness- an elaborate choreography of fans and masks that I adored. I got to train with a Jo stick and fight my evil husband. It wasn’t your ordinary school play, and weeks after that fateful cast announcement, as I stood backstage preparing to put on my mask, tying my hair back in black ribbons, configuring the complicated sash on my robes, I remember thinking “I could do this all my life. I love how I feel right now”, and my love of acting was born, having gestated for years in the back of my mind.
That evening after rehearsal, I walked home from school in the crisp Autumn air, the sky a jewel like purple and blue, the moon rising on the horizon in front of me, and I found myself smiling so hard that I ached. I had never looked forward to growing up. I loved the safety of childhood, the womb of mommy and daddy and sister around the kitchen table in our four bedroom house. I loved the freedom, the fun, the play of childhood that I never saw adults enjoying. But that day, my fifteenth birthday, I felt the first pangs of ambition, the rush of color to the cheeks that comes with new love, I experienced the thrill of an audience, the joy of success that follows hard work. I saw what is great about being grown up.
And yet I ran home, following the smell of a fresh crackling fire, the golden glow that poured from the windows, anxious to get back to childhood for just a little while longer.