I stick seven candles into a single-layer carrot cake, light them and begin walking from the kitchen to the living room. I start singing. When I reach the part of “Happy Birthday” where I’m supposed to say his name, I dip slightly to the side, pause, and call him Mr. President instead. By this time, I’ve had three or four glasses of red wine, and I am celebrating more than a Wednesday night will allow without at least a few regrets the next morning. But this is the first birthday of his we’re spending together. So, Mr. President it is.
Two weeks before, I stand in the party supplies aisle at Walmart, squinting at a variety of blue wrapping paper. There is a navy blue option with stripes. There is a turquoise option with colored dots. Then there is just plain blue. I pick up both the navy and turquoise, head to the register, and then turn back to get two packs of turquoise instead. The turquoise is much more me than it his him, but I opt for it anyway. I go home and sit on the floor to wrap an audio technica turntable, a pair of bookshelf speakers and four albums on vinyl. The Blue Album by Weezer, 36 Chambers by Wu-Tang Clan, Crack the Sky by Mastodon, and Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino by Arctic Monkeys. I put the wrapped gifts in a box underneath my desk and store them until his birthday.
The way I spent August 8, 2018 was never quite how I imagined. Actually, I’m not quite sure I ever considered just how I would spend August 8, but a carrot cake and drunken rendition of Happy Birthday were probably not it. In fact, falling in love and, later, learning how to stand firmly in it was not how I imagined I would spend the greater fraction of 2018. The story I told myself about my womanhood was one rooted in being alone for some time, prioritizing a career and autonomy over much of anything else. Somewhere buried in my gut, I believed that women who chose to go at it alone sans partner or children were somehow stronger. Sharper. More fortified. I wanted to be one of those women. Or so I thought.
But love and fear are both red hot fires. They spark us and send us in directions we never quite fathomed. I now realize that fear is the red hot fire that set off my steps for most of my twenties. Fear of never being good enough. Fear of being too much for someone or becoming too little with them. Fear of being seen for exactly who I am underneath the veneer and someone abandoning me because of it. Fear of never being met halfway on the bridge. Fear of one life with one person never happening for me. Fear of becoming a woman who would be defined too narrowly by the lopsided mathematics of marriage plus child(ren) equals joy. Fear of falling in love and losing myself. Fear of my creativity drying up in some well, never to be nurtured again. These fears became both the prologue and prose of the story I told myself about love and its ripple effect. In every narrative I penned, love was only ever a losing game, a subtraction that would chop away at my core inch by inch. If I could somehow escape that longing for love and settle into the idea of being alone indefinitely, I could just keep floating somewhere right above my fears.
But, love - real, grounded, firmly entrenched love - has only given my story new shape and definition. It has forced me to look at the future with a more focused lens. It has required me to take stock of the woman I am, and the woman I want to become. It has revealed some of my shattered pieces and the need to soften some of my unnecessarily sharp edges. It has pushed me to ask myself hard questions and welcome respite in not always knowing the answers. I now know that love - when it is healthy and when it is right - is an additive force. It only expands your core, inch by inch.
Cheryl Strayed wrote, “Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore.” And maybe that is where I am now, unstitching the threads I once wove together in favor of this new, bright, unexpected mosaic. Maybe I am here to undo the story I told myself over the span of my twenties in favor of writing the story that’s now unfolding.