There was nothing left of the sun in the sky except weak pearly light cast over the library parking lot. Still, it was bright enough to push sunglasses up on my nose.
“Let’s get dinner next week,” my brother called out to me. His girlfriend grinned and nodded.
“I hate my birthday,” I replied carelessly. My parents’ heads snapped up from the task of getting in their car. My brother smoothed everything over with a quip and the stems of wine we all had over dinner make us laugh rather than focus on the gravity of what I just admitted for the first time to the people who made my birthday possible.
I stretch my left arm out and my acupuncturist, Kay, places her middle finger in the flat-part of my forearm, right before it becomes my wrist. She murmurs rapidly at my body, pressing down gently like she’s dipping her finger in honey as she speaks, looking for a response. I’d think she was a witch-doctor if this wasn’t interspersed with very human moments, like when she has to remind herself out loud that her left is my right.
“What is it about your birthday you don’t like?” she asks me directly.
“Getting older. Feeling like I haven’t done enough with my life. Worrying I’m going to die alone.”
I called Angie on my drive home to talk business, but writing talk turns to pleasure, and she asks what I want to do for my birthday.
“I can’t even think about it,” I told her. “I don’t even want to.”
“What if you just pretended you were putting together something for a friend? You love celebrating everyone else.”
She was right.
After each fragment, Kay repeats the thought while pulsing her finger, waiting for a strong reaction from my body. Dying alone causes my arm to drop toward the ground like buttered toast.
“That’s it,” she says before murmuring again, this time feelings that might be associated with the worry. “Fear. Okay. So what is the fear behind dying alone? Why does it matter, what does it mean?”
“I guess that I’m unlikeable. That I’m not worthy of being loved. That I’ve been abandoned.”
These four minute sessions, after we discuss my weekly symptoms and before she pricks me like a live voodoo doll, are oddly intimate. My body reveals to her gnarled truths most counselors took years to unravel. It reminds me of sex, how you can be touching someone and they’re enjoying it and then BAM – you’ve hit the real place they hoped you’d find all along.
The drive was long enough to tune out Dear Sugar without realizing I was doing it.
What must my parents think, to have a daughter who didn’t like to celebrate being born, yet saw every day as a celebration of life? Were they hurt? Confused? Maybe they were nothing, and I couldn’t decide if that was better or worse.
Kay looks for the original event where I first felt abandoned. Not age 10, or 5, or 3, 2, 1, third trimester, second, or first.
“Conception?” she asks my body. “Yes.”
She turns her gaze back into my eyes. “So what happened at conception that made you feel abandoned?”
It’s the stalemate we always come to. She asks what happened at age two that made me feel guilty, or age one that made me feel unheard, or conception that made me feel unimportant or now abandoned. “First thought/best thought,” she says like it’s a poem.
I wasn’t there, my Western brain begs to tell her. I was in two pieces, still barely becoming one.
But the truth is, I was there. I know Kay is correct in one way or another. I’ve feared abandonment by the people I love for as long as I can remember – and probably before my memories (and maybe even myself) were made. I’ve feared I’m not smart enough to listen to, not pretty enough to look at, and not good enough for anyone to stick around. It’s a fight I’ve been fighting my entire life. For as long as I can remember, I haven’t believed in unconditional love, even though I’ve simultaneously given and sought it.
I’ve often wondered if I was a twin at some point, and not just in my astrological sign. Did all this fear of being alone (despite rather enjoying my own company) come from being separated from a person who was made of me, who was never supposed to leave?
Maybe it’s why I’ve been searching for a companion since I could form thoughts. Why I had imaginary boyfriends at national parks as a child, begged my mom for a younger sibling (or at least an exchange student), and continued to worry that every person who means something to me is going to leave.
This makes more sense than thinking my parents had abandoned the idea of my existence at the exact time I was beginning to be.
Saying I hated my birthday was perhaps the wrong way to put it.