A Guest Post: The Birthday Party
When a writer first decides to publicly share her work, it is, by definition, a scary, nerve-racking, hand-wringing, stomach-wrenching event.
My friend, who wrote the words below, whose stomach is currently in knots and fits, is a talented, gracious woman. I am honored to know her, and, honored to share her insightful, tender words with you here, today.
The Birthday Party
I am rushing to get there. I am late because this is a night that I work late. I didn’t schedule appointments as far into the night as I often do on Thursdays because I am trying to be more social, though it will be a loss of income, that we really cannot afford. Since our move to the suburbs 3 years ago, I had not created the social circle that I had hoped. I was still grieving for Manhattan. The last 18 months have been very hard, post partum depression crippled me after the birth of my daughter Isabelle and the city that I love most was attacked and people that I love died. I was trying to get back to having fun.
When I arrive it is clear that the party is in full swing. Women surround the big island in the kitchen and fill the plush couches in the family room and living room. There are more people then I expected. I throw my coat in the guest bedroom and walk quietly into the kitchen. I am hoping not to be seen, well, sort of. I deposit my purse in the corner with many other purses of beautiful, soft leather.
The birthday girl is surrounded by perfectly coiffed women with iron straight hair; on the island in front of everyone is the biggest tray of sushi I have ever seen. Meticulously crafted rolls, gorgeous colored sashimi and sushi pieces fill the plate. Everyone eats from it, but the amount of food on the plate does not seem to be getting smaller. Peaking out from under the mass quantities of fish are the colors of a tremendous tray. It looks familiar, I realize I had seen it recently in Oprah’s new magazine in the column called My Favorite Things. I was surprised that Oprah would include a tray that costs $600.00 in this list. Wasn’t her theme song, I’m Every Woman?
I join the crowd and help myself to some sushi. “Hey,” the birthday girl says to me. I smile and walk around the island to give her a birthday hug.
“Sorry I am late.”
There are no stools left, so I balance my sushi on one hand while I try to hold my chopsticks and water in the other. It is hard to get comfortable. Chopsticks win, I put the water down, then notice there is wine at the other end of the island. I commit to get some as soon as I finish my sushi. I try to tune into the conversation. I think I hear the words Port Charles, but I am sure I do not, so I just keep listening in hopes that I can somehow join in. “Well, I tape it everyday and watch it after I get my kid’s to bed. Shawn is annoyed that I don’t come sit with him when he comes in from work, but I tell him he cannot compete with General Hospital.” Twilight Zone music is playing in my head. Are they talking about General Hospital the soap opera?? I am sure I misheard. “…well, you know they are bringing Luke and Laura back…” Now I know I heard correctly. I am stunned. All of these women are taping General Hospital and watching it? I’m so busy trying to balance work and kids, pay attention to my husband, and wishing I could fit in, I wonder how they have the time. And General Hospital, no less? I am so judgemental, who am I to comment on what people do in their spare time? I decide I am a bitch and I try to transport myself back to 1981, when in 7th grade I could have told you anything about Luke and Laura. I cannot.
My eyes wander around the kitchen, it is stunning, the appliances gleaming with perfectly polished stainless steel. The marble countertop has a dull finish, more earthy. The colors white, blue and gray spill together. It looks a bit like clouds on an overcast beach day. The huge, stainless refrigerator has no magnets, no calendars, no alphabet letters. I wonder where the hostess puts her kid’s artwork. I don’t see any, anywhere. In fact, I see no evidence that children live here. Where are they now? I wonder. I begin to think about my formica countertops. They seemed fine until today. I am calculating if we could afford to replace our countertops. I have just started my own business, my earnings barely pay my rent. I wish I had a different house. Why couldn’t we afford more, we work so hard?
I am getting irritated. I could be home now with my husband and young children. My second child is 18 months and she is a handful to put to bed. Is this worth not being there? A group of women have now moved on to discuss a show called Survivor. I have not heard of it, but apparently a group meets weekly in each other’s homes to watch this show. In fact, they are taping it now because it is on as we speak, and they have all gotten babysitters for tomorrow night so that they can catch up on what they missed tonight. Someone mentions that her husband is annoyed that she is going out two nights in a row. “I’m so psyched that I don’t need to feign a headache again. He will be asleep by the time I get home.” Many people are nodding. I still want to have sex with my husband, I decide I am immature, acting like a newlywed. Something is wrong with me.
Don’t they want to kiss their kids goodnight? I am completely over-involved in my kids’ lives, I decide. This is why I am have no real social life here. I wonder if I will be interested in Survivor. Will I like that more then reading Walter the Farting Dog to my almost 4 year old? The book is so funny, and my son’s laughter fills my heart with such joy. It is just one night I think, and I think of joining the Survivor group. Then I realize I will miss my husband. I am too dependent on him I decide. I should expand my circle.
I head to the bathroom, not because I need to go, but because I need to escape. I realize my childhood companions are with me. Loneliness has settled in its familiar spot, a lump in my throat and self criticism has wrapped itself around it’s favorite part of me, my heart. When I go into the bathroom I see a tremendous window treatment. The extra fabric pools on the floor and as I move towards the toilet, I am afraid I will step on it. I didn’t even know people had fancy window treatments in bathrooms.
When I come out of the bathroom, I see the hostess and thank her for the party and comment that she must have done so much to prepare. “Oh, no,” she says, “I ordered everything in. I don’t cook.” I only saw the sushi, I look around and see that there is much more food, filling up fancy serving platters. I wonder where she got the food, did she platter it herself or take it to be plattered?
I tell her how beautiful the fabric is in the bathroom and that I have never seen such a beautiful window treatment in a bathroom. She smiles, “yea, yea, it is stunning, raw silk. I originally wanted to do a simple shade from Home Depot but my decorator told me that she will not work with anyone who buys from Home Depot, that her houses must represent the finest. So, that is what we got.” I smile. I am embarrassed for her and thinking of the paper shades we bought at our hardware store. Her decorator would be mortified that she has even invited me to her party. I wish I was invisible, I feel invisible.
I wander back to the kitchen and see that the space is empty. A woman I had not seen before is cleaning up. I begin to help. “No, no,” she says, “go join your friends, this is my job.” They are not my friends, I think to myself. I wonder how this woman views us, the birthday party guests. I watch her go into the family room, where everyone is around the television, and ask the hostess what to do with the left over sushi. I see that the platter from which I took my sushi is still half full and there is another platter covered with Saran Wrap, untouched. “Throw it out” says the hostess. “You cannot eat sushi the next day.” The woman in the kitchen comes back and dumps all of the sushi in the garbage. Orange, red, white fall over each other. I feel physically ill. My husband would have loved some, I would have taken some for lunch tomorrow. There is a homeless shelter downtown. Would this woman have wanted to take some home?
My eyes begin to search the room for someplace to go, to rest, to feel safe. They fall upon the corner where varied colored leathers fill the space. The purses or pocketbooks, I have been told is the word that is used here in the northeast. The colors are like a painting, but some of the imaginery canvas is interrupted by words like Prada, Balenciaga, Gucci, and the letters D and G. I have no idea what D and G is or stands for. Are those the owner’s initials? I see my pleather bag tucked on top. I was so thrilled when the guy on 51st and 5th let me have it for $25, instead of $30. “Special for you”, he said, and I did feel special, for a second, even though I know that the same bag yesterday was $20 and he was letting people have it for $15. My bag stands out from the others. The old Sesame street song plays in my head, “one of these things just doesn’t belong here, one of these things just isn’t the same.” Through my eyes, I see it is my bag, in my heart, I know it is me.