My birthday was at the start of the month; I’m 24 now. The years pass by and I live in memories.
I didn’t have a birthday cake this year; I had a dream that my godmother baked me three strawberry cakes, with the vintage style of pink and white frosting. I didn’t get to eat any before the dream ended.
My roommate made a lemon cake a couple days ago; the confectioners sugar had gone bad, had that must of fridge taste, and so we couldn’t have buttercream. He poured lemon curd over the top of it- a dense, stodgy cake.
My father’s birthday is the day before mine. He used to always say he thought that my mother held me in on purpose so we wouldn’t share a birthday. But we share our birthdays anyway.
My dad is the youngest child out of four. My aunt Donna is the second youngest. Dad’s favorite cake was strawberry (my favorite cake is strawberry). Donna’s favorite was German chocolate. Dad hates chocolate cake (I hate chocolate).
Every year my grandmother would mix their favorite cakes up, and he would have a chocolate cake on his birthday. Ever since he was a little kid. You’d think she’d get it right more as the years went on, but you know, sometimes memory is odd like that. Sometimes habits became engrained even when they’re wrong.
My grandmother died when I was sixteen. She went out to water the flowers in the backyard of the apartment in the early morning. She collapsed and had a stroke. I rode with her in the ambulance and sat with her in the emergency room. I was alone for hours, hours, and hours. I had to listen to the doctor tell me she wouldn’t wake back up. Even though I didn’t want to hear it, and I couldn’t understand what it was that I was hearing. My father couldn’t get to the hospital himself because we didn’t have a car and he had to find a ride.
If I said I could barely remember that summer, that it was just a haze, would anyone understand?
I’ve never allowed myself my own weakness. Even with it there in front of me, I could easily pretend none of my own feelings were real, or that they mattered. Without air conditioning or phone service, in that apartment, everything became a haze. I would sit in front of the fan without moving all day. I would write on the desktop computer my aunt had given me, without internet access. I can’t actually remember anything at all but that.
My friend Sam took me to the grocery store before our birthday. I told her, I’m going to make a big deal of this, I’m going to make it a surprise. I’m going to get my dad a chocolate cake because this is the first year we’ve been without Grandma. It’ll be our first year without a cake.
They didn’t have any chocolate cake but a mousse cake, which was a massive unwieldy lump of chocolate whipped cream on top on of a very small sponge (the actual baked cake part, for you who don’t obsessively watch baking shows). I wanted to have German chocolate, because then at least I could scrape off that coconut and caramel icing. But we don’t really always get what we want, do we.
I took it home and I called for my father, delighted.
“ Dad! Guess what! I brought you a surprise!” I probably said something or another like that. I remember he was sitting down in a ratty old armchair we had, facing the door, because he was reading the newspaper.
I took the top off of the little plastic thing the cake came in, as I walked across the room, and then I tripped over my own feet.
I tripped and the cake fell on the floor, all splat. I just sat there on my knees and stared at it. I don’t remember whether I actually cried or not, because in my heart I was crying. I was trying to salvage what I could of it off the floor and trying to apologize for dropping it, so maybe I wasn’t really crying. I think I hated myself more than anything else in the world in that moment. More than I usually did. I think at that moment I hated myself more than I had when I had checked myself into inpatient care. I just wanted to give my dad a fucking cake. A stupid, shitty, nasty, cheap cake that neither of us would like, that would sit around in our rundown dingy kitchen and get swarmed by fucking roaches or some shit. I was trying to do something I knew I couldn’t, I was trying to replace somebody I knew I couldn’t. But I couldn’t do anything else. So of course it would end the way it did, us trying to hurriedly scrub all the chocolate mousse off the floor before the dog licked it. Dad ate some of what I had managed to salvage- the cake at the bottom, and he tried to tell me it was good, and that he was happy I got him a cake. But of course it wasn’t good, you know? We both hate chocolate cake. I think he cried. That’s the thing, crying, crying is always really difficult to remember. I don’t want it at all. I think I reject it from my memory.
When I was a child, I think, no matter how loud I cried out, nobody ever listened to me outside of my home. So even though my dad and grandma were always there to listen, I eventually stopped crying and being vulnerable in front of them, too. I made myself forget how it was to feel. Even though I’ve always felt things very strongly. When those sad, pitiful feelings rose up inside of me, I learned to crush them with all my might. I won’t cry, I’d tell myself. When I was sad, I’d crush it. When I was in pain, I’d crush it. All the while bitterly assuring myself that there was no point in crying if no one was around to hear.
How many tries does it take for someone to learn to learn their actions are pointless? It must be a lot, right? But then the stupid thing with people is, you’ll always catch someone going, this time it’ll be different. This time they’ll listen. This time everything will be fixed. This time people will care about my birthday. I’ll get to go out to dinner and have a cake. I can dress up, and call my mom, and tell her, I’m sorry. I’m really serious about my gender transition now and so you’re just going to have to accept that like everybody else. This time maybe she’ll listen and be okay with it. How can I know if I don’t try? Even if nothing goes right, must I give up trying?
What will be left for me if I do?