Saturday, November 19, 2005

Happy Birthday to Me!

My 25th Birthday was last month. I told few people about it here because I still didn’t know everyone very well, and I didn’t want a ‘pity’ party—a nice gesture, but always awkward for all. Actually, I didn’t want any kind of party. Had I been at home, my family would’ve forced me into spending the day with them, but as I wasn’t, I was looking forward to a peaceful evening alone.
After class, I went home, got dressed up, and went to dinner at an Afghani restaurant. I had an amazing meal with cocktails and dessert (22.50 euros!), and headed home. A couple people had remembered the occasion and had taped a homemade card on my door. Cute and sincere, it was nice to be remembered. Later, all of the Americans showed up with a grocery store cake they had rushed out to get. They were stunned I actually considered spending my birthday alone—without cake, without candles, and without them. The biggest crime of all: eating in a restaurant by myself!
They convinced me to go out dancing with them, and I spent the next 4 hours in some basement night club killing my lungs with second-hand smoke and sweating out all of the alcohol consumed earlier in the evening. It was a stereotypical European club with monotonous house music and creepy guys who like to bump and grind and wear trashy gold jewelry. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN! I am not a club kid, but I had a blast—we all did, and I will always remember my 25th as spent with American strangers in a foreign country, an Afghan meal, followed by clubbing eurostyle.

Warning: the following is meant to make you laugh-- after years of repression, I find these stories funny. Laugh with me.

The reason I hate my birthday—or rather, would like to spend the rest of them alone:
I have had very few birthdays that haven’t ended in some kind of trauma.
At 9 years old, weeks before were spent picking out the perfect decorations*: teal, pink, lavender, and light blue unicorns with polka dots and stripes. I had matching invitations, favor bags (with slap bracelets, scrunchies, ect., and gift certificates to MacDonald’s in them), plates, cups, table cloth, signs, even the cake had a unicorn on it (my mom also bought me a teal and hot pink outfit with unicorns—including hair pins and socks). This was to be the best, coolest party ever. Three nights before my party, she got drunk and trashed my room. Apparently, I was a spoiled child who didn’t take care of my things and didn’t deserve them. She told me if I didn’t clean up the mess before my birthday there would be no party. There was no party. My parents got me a drafting board, charcoals, and some art books. My mom’s best friend (a cheap consolation to my own who was not allowed to come) got me a sweater or something equally lame.
And so began the trauma that is October 13th.
The next year, I changed schools. Because my birthday was so early in the school year (and I was still working on meeting new friends), we decided to postpone the party, and have a Halloween/birthday celebration. Once again, the decorations were perfect, my parents went all out and turned our downstairs family room into a haunted house. Costumes were mandatory, and I was a very cool witch with green face, a very goth dress and hat—even boots. I invited 20 girls—from the old school and the new one, and all RSVP’ed. 4 showed up. I was heart broken.
Age 11. My parents split during the summer and were in the beginning stages of what became a very dirty, bloody divorce that would last longer than my adolescence. My frenemies were all there. At this point, I was hanging with the right crowd; we were all much to cool for…everything. I decided to serve brownies à la mode—which was waaay cooler than cake, and opted out on the sleepover—which was so 3rd grade. My dad showed up; only for a few moments, but in that time managed to make both myself and my mother hysterical. My friends were horrified—mine were the first parents to divorce—but not the last. MMMWWWWAAAAHHHAAAAHHAAAA!!!!!
Age 12. My father was, at this point, not welcome in the house, and had to take me out to celebrate my birthday. He took me to a bar where he had a beer and ordered me a sandwich. I kept telling him this was not where I wanted to spend my birthday dinner. It was, afterall, supposed to be my choice. He got mad at me for complaining and made me cry…in front of everyone at the bar (I have gotten to a point where I refuse to eat out with him alone anymore—this happened more than once during my childhood, and several times in my adult life).
Age 13. My father was living with his former mistress—now just plain old girlfriend, and we celebrated my birthday and one of her son’s at the same time. I celebrated with my mother and my two sisters in a very different way. They (all older than I) thought that this day was too important for cake and ice cream, so they rented a limo, made reservations at the nicest restaurant in town, and took me out. I woke up the next morning soaked in blood. I was now…ahem, a woman.
14 and 15. I spent quiet (and very separate) evenings with my mom, and dad.
Age16. No spectacular sweet 16 for me. My mom treated my sister and me to one of our favorite restaurants. She tried to surprise me by inviting some of my friends from school. Unfortunately, she didn’t invite anyone I genuinely liked, and I spent most of the rest of the meal in the bathroom avoiding ‘friends.’ My dad gave me a check. We weren’t really talking at this point. My sister got a car for her sweet 16 two years earlier, I got a ski jacket.
Age 17. I just gave up and asked my mom to forget about a party or celebration of any kind. We had a nice, quiet dinner at home. Dad took me out to dinner and made me cry—much to the horror of our waitress, by telling me that I was ruining his marriage and he didn’t want me to come over to his house anymore. Nevermind the fact that his whore of a gold-digging wife was fucking everything she could lure into her bedroom. I will never go back to that restaurant. Ever.
Age 18. A ray of hope. I woke up late that day, and after being told I would fail my class if I was ever late again, I raced to school. My 3 best friends had filled my car with balloons, confetti, toilet paper, and little presents. The exterior was even worse. As excited as I was to have fallen victim to such a prank, my very well known car had to sit like that in the school’s parking lot all day…okay, I loved all of the attention it brought, and several other friends had remembered my birthday and greeted me with presents. My mom took me to our favorite Greek place and I blew out a candle in a piece of baklava. Dad was out of town. Best birthday ever.
Age 21. Completely dry. Same Greek restaurant. Celebrated with family as all of my friends were off at college. Mom and Dad (now speaking amicably to one another), one of my sisters, an aunt, and two close family friends proceeded to get ‘can’t recognize my own car’ drunk and I played designated driver. Not bad, just not what I had always envisioned my 21st would be.
From there, things sort of mellowed out: I have all but stopped celebrating. It’s not that I am unhappy about being born, or that I don’t like presents (let’s get this straight, my sentiments regarding presents are quite the contrary. QUITE!). It’s just that I have learned from experience, that it’s not meant to be. *sigh *
I realize, in writing all of this out, I sound like a spoiled princess. The truth is, the story of my birthday has become legend amongst my friends. In a dark way, these anecdotes—especially the first, are hysterical.

*If somewhere out there, those decorations still exist, I would buy any and all that I could and use them to celebrate my 26th.
**Note: Unicorn Decorations pictured in no way reflect just how cool mine were.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Depression and Self Loathing in Caen

Tonight, I am sitting alone in my room. Sure, I am tired, but, more than anything, I am just unhappy. I cried on my way home from Auvergne—not because I was so sad to be leaving, although, it was a wonderful time, but because I am really, really unhappy in Caen. I feel trapped and completely out of control here. I have reverted to a self—an old self that I thought I had matured out of, that no longer existed inside me. I find myself to be negative, cruel, and when in a bad mood, I completely isolate myself. There is a girl* here, who, having no social grace whatsoever, grates on my nerves in a way no one ever has. I am able to co-exist with her because I must, but the fact that she thinks we are the best of friends (I am one of two that can stand to converse with her), and that I must do everything with her (she is in all of my classes, and insists on eating all meals together): I am dying a slow and painful death inside. She is toxic, and yet, only one of several problems in my life right now.
I am in a mood. I have been listening to Radiohead for several hours now, and my balcony door is wide open—letting in the frigid, coastal wind (the one thing I can feel at the moment). I should be working on homework; I failed a test this week, and have a large paper and presentation due next, but I… I am in a mood.
Someone, please, leave me a note, a comment to cheer me up, intrigue and fascinate me—or perhaps put things in perspective letting me know how little I really have to complain about (I am partial to dirty jokes).
Where is my therapist when I need her?

10 pts. for movie title and character, 20 pts. for name of actor who should’ve won best supporting Oscar for his role in this film.
“People who speak in metaphors oughta shampoo my crotch.”

* She is named after a Duran Duran song. 10 pts. to whoever guesses correctly

Ahhh, Vacation

I am in Auvergne, again at the house of mes amis Parisiens. It is All Saints Day weekend (no Halloween celebration for me), and I have no school on Tuesday; so naturally, I skipped my classes on Friday and today (Monday).
I took a train from Caen to Paris, and then hitched a ride with the family to Auvergne (the house is near the city of Issoire). The cast of regulars is all here: grandmother, several aunts and uncles, cousins, friends from town, and it’s nice to be among them all again.
I arrived late Friday night (dinner at 11:30), and Saturday was spent at the market, then taking photos of the fall foliage. We were joined for dinner by Giles and Muriel (more cousins), who have a vacation home a few villages away. They invited me to stay the night at their house, and participate in the Ballade d’Auvergne the next day (Sunday).
The Ballade d’Auvergne isn’t any kind of oral lament or celebration of the region—it’s a walk—or what I thought would be a walk. Ballade in French is a kind of a promenade: a sightseeing promenade. I was under the impression this ballade was a guided walking tour of the surrounding villages, with wine tasting and a traditional lunch following. Here is why I was confused: I was told that there would be “beaucoup du vent (pronounced vehn)” or a lot of wind—but I heard “beaucoup du vin (pronounced vihn)”—or a lot of wine. I had planned on leisurely strolling the countryside, making casual conversation with others, and taking some fun pictures. But this ballad wasn’t even a walking tour of the surrounding villages. It was a full on 10-mile + nature hike in the mountains, mud, and even across pastures. With cows. My little promenade was, in fact, an adventure trail. I did not discover this until, after one kilometer, the trail veered off the road and onto a small path, over a bridge-less creek, and up the face of a rock wall.
To prepare me for this tribulation, I was told I would need a good pair of shoes (my now worn and beaten Pumas: check), a windbreaker (light-weight gortex jacket: check), and layers, as it can get cold in the higher elevations (t-shirt, fleece: check). I was not warned, however, that I would need hiking boots, wool socks as my feet would invariably become soaked, or a water bottle (again, I was looking forward to a day of wine tasting) and small provisions for energy (I had skipped breakfast).
My ass got kicked. I should have taken heed when I saw everyone at registration with backpacks, boots, and walking sticks. People where actually doing stretches and warming up as I sat drinking cider and taking pictures.
I started off at 9:15 a.m. at a brisk pace; I was walking alone and didn’t want to be the last one to finish—it wasn’t a race, but that would’ve been just too humiliating. I made it to the first checkpoint in an hour. Not bad, but there were 5 checkpoints—best hurry if I want to make it in before 3 p.m. The next few were relatively close together, but the terrain was tough and each took at least one 40 minutes to get to. The volunteers at each stop marked down that I made it, offered me a dried prune or fig, and asked me, with a regard filled half with pity, half with confusion, “Vous êtes toute seul?” (you’re all alone?).
The final stretch was the roughest. It began with a steep descent down a paved road (tears were actually forming on my kneecaps), and then up an equally steep hill (funny how that works), through a small village where people where lined on the side of the road as if the Tour de France was making its way through main street, then off the beaten, across yet another pasture, and into the woods. Once clear of the forest, I saw the village of St. Etienne (the starting and finish line) and almost began to cry.
This had not been my idea of a leisure stroll. I was sprained and scratched and bleeding, had tasted no wine, and actually been deceived into paying money to play. I arrived. There was no prize, no title of prestige; no one had even really recognized that the American had made it back. Giles and Muriel (two organizers of the event) weren’t even there to say “Job well done.” And when I did search them out, all they said was how glad they were it wasn’t raining, and how lucky I was to be in Auvergne for such an event (apparently, it only happens once each year. Apparently, they have never done it).
Lunch was beef Bourgogne, local cheese, apple tart, and apple cider. No wine.
I called my friends to let them know I was finished and that they could come to retrieve me as planned. They said they had just sat down to eat, but would be by when finished. No problem. Giles and Muriel are super, and volunteered to show me the village of St. Etienne. 20 people live in St. Etienne. There is one street and a handful of driveways, a small café, a church that has no priest—and therefore, no congregants, and a school which doubles as town hall. We were finished in 20 minutes. My friends, I would later find out, received visitors and had forgotten me. I spent most of the afternoon and early evening helping Giles and Muriel prepare for a dinner party to which I had not been invited. They were not put-out by my presence—on the contrary, I think they enjoyed having me, but I felt a little like my parents had forgotten to pick me up after basketball practice (which happened a lot during the divorce and took me to kind of a bad place. I don’t want to talk about it…).
Ahhh, vacation.

10 pts. for character:
"Look kids, there's Big Ben, Parliment"