My birthday is on the 21st of July, a Saturday. I’m dreading it. I usually love my birthday and I celebrate it for about a week. But now I’m stuck on not knowing how I’m supposed to celebrate my life after nearly dying.
For my eighteenth birthday I threw a Moulin Rouge party. My mom hired two party planners and they cooked a three course French meal. They also covered our sun room in a black tent and redecorated the table with a red tablecloth, white serviettes and gold cutlery. I wore a maroon corset and my mom was my pimp in a tux. Once my friends arrived, there was an abundance of fishnet-stocking-clad legs and cleavage. Mackenzie gave a speech that made me cry. There were also two very embarrassed topless teenage boys who were our waiters. I ate my caviar and drank my champagne while wearing long, black silk gloves.
That was a great night. But now my life feels so… bland. I feel like my life is the life of a loser. I don’t go anywhere or do anything. I just sit and feel sad and sorry for myself. I look on my computer screen and see friends travelling, getting married, basically just living.
A week before my birthday I’m doing grocery shopping when I have this thought, “I’m so fucking tired of feeling sorry for myself.”
I put down the cheap cheddar cheese and walk towards the party section. When I get there a mom is helping a small boy choose candles. I clear my throat and they move away so that I can grab a “Happy Birthday” banner.
At home on my bed, I cut the banner into four pieces, each one shouting, “Happy Birthday!” I stick one on the mirror in the lounge, one on the fridge, another in the upstairs hallway and the final one in the bathroom so that you have to see it when you do your business.
On Wednesday night, Jessica, Ashley, Mackenzie and I go for sushi. It’s a sunny evening so we go directly after work. We tell the manager it’s my birthday and I get a free dessert.
“But, you’re still Michelle,” Jessica insists when I try to explain to her how I’ve changed. People try very hard to hold onto the old me, but I’m not that person anymore and I’m not even sure who this new person is.
“I’m not, Jess,” I look into her innocent face, “I’m not that person at all. Rape defines every part of me and I don’t know how to explain it or why, but I can’t even ride the lift at work without being scared that someone is going to rape me in the ten floors it takes to get upstairs. It’s there, all the time.”
Tears stream down her face. It’s the first time she’s cried about it in front of me. Sometimes I worry about how my rape affected her.
Jessica, Mackenzie and I then go to &Union to drink beer and listen to the band. They make such an effort to make me feel loved. Mackenzie gives me a CD of music and even bakes brownies for me. Their love makes me solid. It makes me real.
As I walk to my car after work on the Friday, my breath starts to get shallow. My black leather boots crunch the dried leaves and small brown stones on the dirt road as I walk through the parking lot.
My heart is inside of my head, slamming against it.
I can’t breathe. I lean against a silver Honda and try to gulp the air, but instead yellow, green and red spots fly in front of my eyes. As I heave and gulp, spit flies out of my mouth and falls onto the ground in long strands.
Great. A panic attack. After a couple of minutes, I slowly make my way to my car, open the door, and collapse into the seat.
I take out my phone.
“Mom… I can’t… breathe.”
“Okay, I want you to put your head onto your arms and down onto the steering wheel. Then you need to count your breaths. You are okay.”
Finally, she calms me down.
As I walk through the sliding door my phone beeps.
“Sorry I can’t make it tonight friend. Have the best night and happy birthday!”
She’s the third person to cancel. That leaves me, Ashley, Jessica, Mackenzie and Julia. My body shakes as I walk to my room.
“Hey Michy!” Jessica says.
I shake my head and close the door. When I’m alone I just sit and stare at the wall. I had really needed people to show up tonight.
When Mackenzie gets home, she knocks on my door.
“Come sit in the lounge with us while we get ready.” Mackenzie makes me sit on the floor in front of her so that she can give me a massage. Her strong hands push and knead into my tired back. Jessica hands me a glass of red wine which I slowly sip as it loosens the knot in my stomach.
We walk into Sidewalk Café where couples and small groups of friends are laughing over heaped plates and glasses of wine. The fireplace is lit and there are succulents placed all over the restaurant. The wooden chairs and tables are close together, so we have to squeeze to get to our table. When we all sit down there are two empty chairs that we have to ask the waiter to take away.
I eat a pepper steak and we talk about everyone’s jobs. There are a lot of awkward pauses.
When we get to The Dubliner, my body is loose with alcohol. The live rock band plays too loudly for us to talk, so we dance in a circle on the packed dance floor. I walk to the bar by myself to get a shot.