Barring technical malfunction, this column will be posted minutes after the clock strikes 12, ushering in my 25th birthday. Several friends offered to take me drinking, but I already RSVP’d for a party put on by one of our friendly competitors. Hopefully, I’ll be busy enough between my normal duties and this evening’s festivities that I won’t have time to dwell on it.
Not to sound like Henry Higgins, but I am not a dour man, really. Catch me at the right hour and you might even call me pleasant. But you wouldn’t know that if you met me close to October 1 of any given year. I’m a birthday-phobic or, to be only slightly hyperbolic, a birthday hater.
Birthdays, for birthday haters, are like the Fourth of July for dogs: a time when the whole world conspires to give you a crashing headache. My powers of observation, normally focused outward, turn in like daggers, and I get suddenly and sickeningly introspective. It’s usually a bad scene all around; one year, I spent much of the night wandering aimlessly through a parking lot.
This utter loathing of one’s date of birth is hardly a new phenomenon. When I was in college working toward a degree in religious studies, I remember the shock of familiarity that registered when I read the opening to the third chapter of Job:
“Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night which said, ‘A man-child is conceived.’
Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it.
Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it.”
My first reaction was, You can do that?! Clearly this was a man with birthday issues but he was also put forward as the exemplar of virtue and piety. None was more righteous in all the world, it was said. And yet, there he was, cursing the day of his birth.
I know root causes are all the rage, but I can’t explain my hatred of birthdays. As a child I liked them well enough. The cake, the candles, the presents — it was all good, or at least tolerable. I don’t have any clown horror stories that would explain this phobia. I never failed to get some present that I really, really wanted. As my teen years wore on, I simply, inexplicably, grew to hate them.
Plenty of friends have tried armchair psychoanalysis, with less than convincing results. The most common diagnosis of my birthday blues is that it’s the one day a year when I come face to face with my own mortality: I see my life marching forward unto death. More likely, it was the one day a year that everyone turned their attention to me, and so I likewise learned to focus my attention inward, and increasingly I didn’t like what I saw.
Then there is matter of this specific birthday. I’ve always thought that you’re young and dumb until 25, but then what? Short of some Solomonic bequest, I’m likely to remain roughly the same Bumpkin I was at 19 for some time now. Granted, I know a bit more nowadays, and I have a better sense of how to carry myself, but these seem, at best, changes on the margin.
Sigh. The day has come. Sincere thanks are due to all who helped me make it this far. I hope I won’t let you down.
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