Birthday mornings

Photo taken by myself in Paris, in spring 2011.

It is still dark outside. There is a mess in the kitchen. I walk in slowly, in order not to wake up my friend who is sleeping on an inflatable mattress in the living room. Holding a whiskey glass, since all the water glasses are dirty, I fill it with Seltzer from the fridge, fix myself a plate of smoked Gouda, olives and pickles, and grab a bottle of extra-strong pain-relief medicine. It's nothing out of the ordinary; I get strong ocular migraines whenever the temperature changes abruptly, as it has the whole week, from agreeably warm to arctic. Sleep deprivation probably didn't help much either, but today, I woke up naturally, at five in the morning but fully rested.

The kitchen, I said, is a mess, which is highly unusual in my home. It's become a bit of a night-time ritual for me to load the dishwasher and clean the stovetop and all the counters with anti-bacterial solution. The only times I don't do that is when I'm sick, or going through periods of depression when even lifting a finger seems too overwhelming. So the dirty dishes and pizza and Chinese take-out boxes pile up in the sink, on the counters, everywhere, more and more each day.

But the type of mess I woke up to today is a much, much happier one. It is my favourite, the only one that doesn't make me cringe with guilt and OCD-like disgust. Empty Champagne bottles rest on the counters, along with glasses, dishes, and other things that otherwise would be perfectly cleaned and put away exactly where they belong. It's the kind of mess that happens when you're celebrating something, and the sight of which makes you happy with reminiscences of the night before.

Yesterday afternoon, my friend arrived from New York for my birthday. I've picked her up from Downtown Bethesda and we came home carrying many bags of Trader Joe's groceries for the get-together I'm giving tonight with a few friends from work. I hadn't seen her since we were together in college in Paris; she's in fact the only person from NYU with whom I've maintained a long and solid friendship. For our very first meeting on the American continent (can you believe it? It feels like it's been only yesterday that I've shown up at her studio door in the residence we all lived in with a quatre fromages from La Pizza on Rue Saint-Maur, and a pint of overpriced Ben and Jerry's cookie dough ice cream. I remember these days fonder than ever, in spite of academic and other disappointments. I remember my nineteenth birthday in Paris, where a few people from NYU and outside of it were coming over to pre-game in my studio before we headed out to the Marais, and how, in my OCD habit to clean dishes with burning hot water, I finished it all and took a freezing shower (that's Parisian plumbing for you).

I use milestones such as my birthday to look back at the past and evaluate it. And this is, by far, the one where much has changed for the best. The past three years have been exhaustingly hectic. I survived depression. I eradicated toxic people from my life. I found myself forced to leave my family. I went through an abusive relationship and a sorrowful break-up. I survived the ensuing depression the second-time around.
And finally, I've got the life I've always hoped for. A home to call my very own, where I am at peace, a job I love but that still leaves me enough time and mental energy to pursue my true calling, writing. The most amazing friends one could possibly have. Even happier and healthier love prospects. My wonderful father. And, at last, an outlook towards the future that isn't in any way grim, depressing, or scary.

I head back into the kitchen to make myself coffee, and start mentally planning so that preparing the little party tonight won't be too stressful. This needs to thaw in the fridge, that needs to chill, the fresh herbs should be washed and then put into this futuristic orb-like herb preserver that is supposed to keep them for up to three weeks. And obviously, the dishwasher needs to be loaded, and the counters need to be wiped with anti-bacterial.

But the day hasn't even started. The sky is only beginning to get lighter, the birds in the many trees surrounding my building are chirping, announcing a new day. My friend still sleeps peacefully. I take my coffee back to my bedroom, where I'm hoping to catch my dad on Skype, since yesterday was too hectic for us to chat more than a few minutes on the phone while I was in the office.

It feels like one of my early birthdays, when I was a young child with no worries, waking up excitedly before everyone the day of her big birthday party.

Today, I'm feeling more fulfilled than I ever had.

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