Today is November 8, and it is my birthday.
Every time the doorbell rings, I feel a twinge of excitement: my guests are arriving! Ding dong! Meh — it’s the girls, sisters, from down the street, and I’m not as excited to see them because I really hadn’t wanted to invite them at all. But my mom said I had to invite every girl in the second grade class or none at all. And since the total number of girls in my rural Pennsylvania public school class is only seven, any female siblings were also invited.
We finish musical chairs and pass the parcel; everyone’s had a turn pinning a paper tail on a paper donkey. Now we’re seated at the table, waiting to be served cake and ice cream. Whitney says, “My mom said when I was born, I only weighed two pounds. I fit in the palm of her hand and she called me a little peanut!” Inwardly, I roll my eyes and think this can’t possibly be true; Whitney is the youngest in her family, the baby, and a perpetual exaggerator and storyteller. But I also feel a sense of dread: I don’t want anyone else to join in this conversation about being born.
“But you’re not extra small now,” I say. “And you’re good at sports. How was basketball practice yesterday?” My ploy doesn’t work. I’m ignored. And then…
“Where were you born?” Tara asks. I feel sick to my stomach and want to hide under the table. I look at her face and get the feeling that she’s just seized the perfect opportunity to ask me the question she’s been wanting to know the answer to since she moved here a few months before. My cheeks are turning hot, and I will my mom to have some catastrophe with the cake so that she doesn’t walk in to this embarrassing interaction.
“Altoona Hospital,” I say quietly. This is where almost everyone else in our farm community was born, so I try to make it my story too, but I know that everyone else knows this is a lie and a feeble attempt to be normal.
“No she wasn’t!” Allison says. Suddenly, I’m not even a part of the discussion at my own birthday party, in my own house. I’m now the subject of everyone else’s words. I can’t move, can barely breathe — only my eyes dart from speaker to speaker. Allison goes on, “She came here on an airplane. Her mom told my mom they got her at the airport.”
“From China!” Dawn adds.
“No, Japan, right?” Dawn’s sister Darice looks at me. Then my mom walks in with the cake, all eight candles blazing, singing Happy Birthday. As I wonder whether she’s overheard any of this humiliating interaction, the girls join in singing, completely forgetting the last few minutes, for which I’m relieved but also angry: how dare you people talk about me like I’m not even here (at my own party!) like I’m an object, not a person!
Then I think, But if I came from an airplane, then I am a kind-of thing; I’m not a full person at all. I came from a machine.
“Blow them out!” someone yells.
“Are you crying?” Whitney asks loudly. “Hey, she’s crying!”
My mom says, “Oh, she’s just happy you’re all here.” At that, I sense she knows the real reason I’m crying and that she’s covering for me. I feel a warm rush of thankfulness toward her, which makes me say, “Yeah, thanks for coming!” because, well, I guess that’s what a “one hundred percent” person would do.