If there is one thing my family cannot abide by, it’s making one person feel particularly special. Birthdays are no exception. Every year, birthdays in our household got less and less extravagant until they were all but forgotten. My gifts from my parents have ranged from IOUs to a really sweet set of cancelled dinner plans.
Group holidays were more our style. With five kids between them, my mom and my stepdad didn’t have enough expendable emotion to shell out throughout the year so they decided to instead just save it all up for a few select holidays to make us all feel equally appreciated. Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day were days that everyone got a gift in our household.
Oh, did I mention that my birthday is on Valentine’s Day?
Having a birthday on Valentine’s has always been a total bust. After making the switch to public school, I found out the hard was that we were no longer required to buy Valentines for everyone in class. By which I mean I stopped getting Valentines.
Once I reached adolescence, I had to accept the grim truth that I would only be celebrating my birthday with my single friends from here on out. Have you ever been to a birthday outing where everyone is either too depressed and lonely to talk or on their phone trying to score some action at another location? One year, all my friends had girlfriends and so they couldn’t make it. Imagine a kid with glasses and braces, wearing a party hat, sitting in front of a cake that he made himself, silently sobbing as he sings “Happy Birthday to me…” Either that or I get to hang out with a bunch of “enlightened individuals” who only want to talk about what a sham Valentine’s Day is instead of how awesome I am and how lucky they are to be my friend.
Back at home, my siblings and I were always given the same gift on Valentine’s Day. These could be Wal-Mart gift cards, toothbrushes or even Razr scooters, but this usually depended on if a Democrat was in the White House or not.
On my 8th birthday, my mom and stepdad bought my stepbrothers and I each a booster pack of Pokémon cards. This was 1998, so Pokémon was all the rage. Across the country, millions of snot nosed brats were pushing their faces against windows of toy stores anxiously awaiting their chance to catch a small creature that looked and sounded like an autistic raptor-bird. Kids could have been playing marbles or sitting with their families by the radio listening to Hop-A-Long Cassidy or Pappy O’Daniel and the Light Crust Doughboys! Instead they were spending all their time and money investing in Japanese lightning rats. Makes you wonder who really won at Okinawa.
Anyway, our sweaty faces were aglow with treasonous excitement once we saw the Pokémon cards. One of the packs had Blastoise, one of my favorite Pokémon, on the wrapper. As I reached for it, I was surprised by my oldest stepbrother, Darby, pushing me out of his way. Darby, while bullheaded and mean, is the poet of our family and received a full ride scholarship to Seton Hall to study American poetry. He’s quite the wordsmith.
“Move it gaywad,” he said to me. I watched in horror, with tears welling up in my eyes, as my brother grabbed the pack I wanted and opened it in front of me. I was defeated and by 9 am, my birthday had already been ruined. My other stepbrother, Nathan, reached for his pack quite quickly and I was left with the booster pack that had the boring Pokéball on the wrapper. Nathan had to convince me to open my booster pack but I remember not even wanting to open the pack, lest even more disappointment came out of seeing my sure to be terrible cards.
But, ho ho dear readers! The universe was in my favor that morning for, you see, one of the cards was none other than the coveted holographic Charizard, rumored amongst patrons of the playground to be the rarest of all Pokémon cards! Yes indeed, I may not have gotten the booster pack that I wanted, but I definitely got the pack that I deserved. My birthday was starting to look up!
I went to school but left my card at home. It’d be foolish to bring a treasure like that to school. The year before, I had brought my collection of Space Jam figurines and one of them went missing. There was no way in hell that the students of St. James Episcopal School would be seeing this card.
Of course, no one believed me without physical proof but I didn’t care. I had finally had a great birthday. Even though I only had the card for about two weeks before it went missing.