I’m really tempted to do a bit of over-sharing today, seeing as it’s my birthday on Saturday and that naturally leads to some soul-searching. But what picture to use? The obvious choice would be a childhood picture that shows what a cute little kid I was. A naughty dimpled smile, brown shining eyes and any-which-way hair. But, scanning through the recent pics I have here, my attention is drawn to this one. Birthday dinner, April 2005.
I was living in Joburg at the time and I was doing pretty well in my job, although I was secretly wanting to throw in the towel and go off and study again. I like this picture because it shows me having fun and, well, try as I might, I’ve not exactly been having a lot of that recently. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy all the reading and virtual interactions and the time spent with P and my family, but there’s been a definite tapering of fun over the past few months. The real social interactions have been drying up and as I start to worry about the end of my community service and the next stage in the job process, the anxiety is holding its own. Having fun, my stern internal voice seems to ask? Well just stop it. There’s serious stuff to be attended to here, such as this job application and your patients and the house and your mom’s health and such like.
But this picture also reminds me what it’s like to just celebrate your birthday. I’ve had 38 of those so far so I should have a lot of easily-accessible memories. But I tend to remember the disappointments more than the good times. Last year was fun – we went to Stardust where each waiter has to sing or dance or play a musical instrument. Our waiter did a pretty good turn on the tenor saxophone while another waitress who was actually an actress knocked us all dead (in a manner of speaking) with her belting rendition of “Be good to Mama” from the musical Chicago. I also remember it as a painful birthday because it was about this time that I finally accepted that my ex had moved on. Over’s skedover.
But let’s get back to the photo, shall we? It shows me in my favourite blue linen shirt (an old present from my sister) with my arm around a pretty girl in green tassles and a slightly anxious smile. No, she was not my girlfriend. She was a belly dancer at a Greek restaurant at Sandton Square. My face shows a mixture of tiredness, relief, embarrassment and delight. I’m being perhaps a little forward by putting my arm around the belly dancer? Um, it was only momentary and it was part of the fun as I recall. (Now I wonder what P would think. Would she be irritated, jealous, threatened, amused?) I think what I liked about the belly dancer, apart from her skill at dancing, was her smile and her energy. There’s something a little sad perhaps about how easily men are (emotionally) seduced by pretty girls. Did this girl represent the energy and enthusiasm which I felt was a bit lacking in my life at the time?
I also loved the fact that I got to break plates on my birthday and to forget the relationship troubles that I was having. I can’t remember if it was shortly after this that my girlfriend broke up with me for the last time. Perhaps it was. We had already discussed that I was planning to pursue my goal of doing a Master’s in Clinical Psychology, which would take me to Cape Town. She was in fact the one who encouraged me to go for it. I also remember that said girlfriend had been crying that day while I had spent the day playing in a Scrabble tournament. The Scrabble thing is a long story but my research manager at the time was a Scrabble champion and I got all inspired to play. (The crying is not relevant to this story. Not my doing as I recall. Really. But I also have a sinking suspicion that I should have been more supportive. Really.)
What I also like about this picture is that it captures the embarrassment and relief of being noticed and spoiled a bit on my birthday. I would quite happily spend the day avoiding people (all those so-called friends who won’t remember to wish me) but of course at the same time I’m really very grateful that anyone bothers at all. Because, and forgive the self-reflective angst here, as old and experienced as I am, there’s still a deep-down fear that people don’t actually care. I know that I’ve been had lots of love over my life (and I’ve been really spoiled) but somehow the childhood fears remain. I remember that my 10th birthday was the last one I celebrated with friends for a good few years. And my 21st? Let’s not even go there.
On Saturday I’ll be having a family breakfast at Kirstenbosch and then we’ll drive down to Betty’s to unpack furniture and spend the first full day in the new house. There’ll be walks on the beach, new books to read, sipping sundowners on the new deck with P. Spending the first night in the new house (admittedly without curtains). All it needs is a soundtrack. The first song that springs to mind? “This could be heaven” by Queen.
Here’s the photo: