I tell this story every year. It’s a tradition for my birthday, which is June 15. And it has the horrible benefit of actually being true.
On June 15 of an undisclosed year, I turned 21 years old. Until that date, I had never had a single sip of alcohol (this seems crazy to me now, but Rice is not a party school and well, I was always a little bit of a goody two shoes.) Because it was my twenty-first birthday, my boyfriend promised a nice evening out with friends and because it was the first birthday I could legally drink, drinks would be had. The boyfriend promised he would take care of everything. All I had to do was show up, look pretty, and have a great evening.
After work, I drove to the salon where I got fabulized, did a quick round of shopping at the Galleria, and hurried home to get dressed. I had bought a short black dress with fringe on the hem, and new strappy black heels for the occasion. I looked pistol hot and was ready for fun. At 7pm, the boyfriend hadn’t shown up or called so I called him.
“I need ten more minutes,” he said.
I always tried to be a good girlfriend, so my instinct was to say no problem and chill out. I reapplied lipstick and fluffed my hair. By 7:30, there was still not a peep. I called him again. “Hey, what’s up? It’s my night, come on!”
“I’m still working,” he said. “I just need a few more minutes.”
I took a deep breath to cool my jets. It was still early. But I didn’t know what time reservations were, or what time my friends had been told to meet. It might be a situation where I could show up and go on with her celebration and wait for the boyfriend to show up. When I called him – again – at 9pm, he said he had forgotten to invite anyone. “So don’t worry about that.” But, he would be out of there soon. And he promised, he would call a few of them on the way home and they could still have the great evening. By this time, I was upset. It was my birthday. All my birthdays sucked, why did he have to make this one suck too? And he had forgotten to invite anyone? This was just bad; he had obviously forgotten or didn’t care that it was my birthday, and now that he knew, he wasn’t going to change his course. I was ticked, but still trying to salvage the situation.
Hours passed. By 11pm, I had succumbed to the birthday sobs. I called him nearly hysterical. “I only have an hour left of my birthday. Are you coming?”
“I can’t leave yet.”
At that moment, I felt utterly ridiculous in my fancy dress and expensive black strappy heels. I felt like it was symbolic of my whole life: that I was always waiting for things that would never come. For the party that would never happen. “What the fuck? Why can’t you just take me out to dinner, like you promised?” I hated the whine in my voice, but I also hated the fact that he could not be relied upon to even pretend he cared about my birthday.
“We’re still working.”
I hung up. I stood very still, hurting with rejection, trying to decide what to do. It was supposed to be a special birthday. Other people had nice birthdays, why couldn’t I? Why was it so goddamn much to ask that my goddamn boyfriend take me out to dinner on her goddamn twenty-first birthday? This was bullshit. That’s what this was. Bull. Shit. No fucking way.
Without considering the consequences or considering anything other than the fact that it was my birthday and goddamn it, that had to mean something, I jumped in the Porsche and screamed at 90 miles per hour up Memorial Drive to the Enron building, and into the Allen Center Garage. I spotted his car and parked beside it. I swiped my card and went up to the floor where I knew he was working.
There, surrounded by about fifteen other people, was the asshole boyfriend, deeply engaged in work.
I stood in the doorway, in my black fringe dress and strappy black heels, trembling with fury, a magenta shade of Pissed Off. The others looked up. He looked up when he realized the room had hushed. Energy shivered in the air, like the last three seconds before a bomb detonates in a very confined area.
“It’s my birthday,” I said, struggling to keep my voice level. I was looking at the asshole boyfriend, but everyone felt addressed. “Are you going to do anything?”
The asshole boyfriend did not know what to do. Pacify the crazy girlfriend – who actually had a legitimate claim on his time, since it was my birthday, or continue working? The others in the room had gone dead silent, staring at each other in embarrassed pain, trying to figure out just what the hell was happening.
The jerk boyfriend stood up and grabbed my upper arm like you’d grab the arm of a temper-tantrum throwing three year old, lifting me up to my tiptoes as he pulled me into the corridor. “Go home,” he growled. His rage was barely contained; the glitter in his eyes was like liquid death.
I burst into tears. “It’s my birthday.”
He walked back into the room.
I left the building and sat in her car and wept. It was now after midnight. My whole birthday had gone without any notice at all. Nobody cared. It was obvious to me now that I would not stay with him. If he’d only said he was working on something and couldn’t come home, I’d have gone out with my girlfriends and never given it another thought. But the fact that he specifically told me to let him handle it ensured that I didn’t even have that choice. Everything felt ruined: my birthday and the fact that the scales had been removed from my eyes about the asshole boyfriend.
I drove to a liquor store and bought, at random, some rum. “What do people drink with this?” I asked the clerk.
“Coke,” he said, so I bought a Coke.
At home, I mixed the coke and the rum. It smelled sweet, like something you’d have at a carnival. I took my first sip of alcohol. It was sweet and rich and golden. Barely tasted the alcohol at all.
I was trippin-balls drunk before the first one was finished. After the second one, I fell asleep on the sofa, still in my fringe dress and strappy sandals.
When the asshole boyfriend came home, he didn’t wake me. When he left in the morning, he didn’t wake me. I finally stirred around noon when somebody rang the doorbell.
I stumbled to the door to see a flower delivery person. He handed me two dozen long-stem red beauty roses. The card said, “Happy Birthday, from the team at Enron.”
They were the only ones who had acted with any grace and kindness – and I’m including myself in that statement. That was my only present or acknowledgement that year, and it was priceless. I left the boyfriend, but I still have the card somewhere.