I turn 30 this coming year.
In preparation for the big event next February, I’ve started by looking back. Some birthdays are more important than others, after all, and the last big one for me was 21.
And it seems that, following a rather dignified 21st, my birthdays have gotten steadily less majestic each year.
My memory gets spotty in places, but – lucky me – the internet preserves even the most embarrassing conversation with my exes in digital amber. I put my gloves on, digging through encrusted emails and ancient Facebook photos to remember some of the dustier years.
Here’s what I’ve turned up.
21: I was studying abroad in Valencia, Spain, and my mom came and whisked me away to Paris. We had lunch overlooking the Eiffel tower. There was champagne and a cheese cart. Amazing. Thanks mom.
22: My last year of college. I forced my friends into playing Mafia, and I made a tres leches cake with far too much booze. After the cake, there’s a big blank spot, then my memory cuts back in as I’m climbing out a window to streak across campus through an inch of snow.
23: I was living the bohemian life in Bangkok, and I don’t remember a damn thing, so I can only conclude that there were probably several buckets involved.
24: My first year living in Madrid. The second time I forced friends to play Mafia. This bunch dressed up like gangsters, a clear sign that at least my taste in people was improving.
25: Second year in Madrid. Went to Retiro Park with a small batch of friends and a tupperware full of artichoke dip. They paid a busker with a saxophone to play me Feliz Cumpleaños.
26: Third year in Madrid. Bit of an existential crisis. I was dating a man twice my age, and I realized it was probably the last time I’d ever do so without it being extra weird.
I think the two of us drank too much Lambrusco and played cards together in his moldy attic apartment while listening to Fleetwood Mac on my birthday. It was actually kind of lovely. Let no one say I was a sugar baby.
27: I’d moved to Barcelona the previous autumn. Thick post-breakup depression – not with the 50-year-old, with someone else. I keep busy.
There are no photos from this period. I had to do a search for all emails that occurred during this date range, and it looks like I might have planned some kind of drinks with co-workers. I have no recollection of this. Guess everyone was busy that night.
At least my grandma sent me a “happy birthday” message. Thanks Mama.
28: There are significantly more emails from this year. I found a small thread with family wherein I sent them one of my trademark sideways-smile photos from dinner with my boyfriend. He took me out somewhere fancypants, I attempted to slick my overgrown hipster haircut into some kind of chic, and he snapped photo after photo on his iPhone while telling me, “No, not like that. Relax. Relax. Now smile for real.”
Oh yeah, and I tagged myself onto this party the following night. Three other women were holding it as like this joint thing. Um, I guess I kind of knew them – we had a lot of mutual friends, anyway. But I didn’t do any publicity for it, so no one attending had any idea that it was also my birthday.
I drank red wine straight from a bottle I purchased at a corner store, danced to that hey-boy-hey-girl song with a couple attractive strangers, and then shelled out a couple hundred euros to pay my share of the event.
29: Went back to visit Madrid with best friend and new boy (see: keeping busy). Saw some old friends to reassure myself that they were still my friends. Realized they had probably never been my friends. Returned home on the train with the flames of burning bridges licking at my wake. Felt surprisingly okay.
And this coming February, I’ll hit the next big one.
Thirty. The next one that matters, one of those biggies with a zero on the end. The one where you can no longer count yourself in the beloved realm of the twenty-somethings. Where questions about when you’re going to have children and conversations about biological clocks become par for the course. Where you can no longer pretend to be kind of a kid anymore, where adulthood reigns supreme.
So, I’d better celebrate. And I plan on smiling for real.