“Did I make it?”
Without looking at the clock I know it is precisely 11:59pm on the dot. Years ago- when we were happier- he’d decided that he wanted to be the last person to tell me happy birthday every year, ostensibly because it would mean we were together to close out the day. I’d forgotten, as I tend to do when the details of shared traditions no longer suit me. But I remember now.
“You made it.”
“Happy birthday, La.” I can hear his smile through the phone and despite myself I can feel me returning it. “How was your day?”
“Lazy. And quiet.”
“You could probably use some of those days, but I’m sure you’re not happy about it.”
“I’ve had better birthdays.”
“So, what would make this birthday better?”
I don’t have the words for what I want. I am not entirely sure how to describe what it’s like to spend your birthday marooned on an island of just you, far away from all the places you’d rather celebrate and the people you’d rather celebrate with. Almost every day between my last birthday and this one, I have simultaneously felt more like myself and more like there is no country for me in my own life. And I don’t know how to explain any of that.
“I just… want something to spark.”
That’s all I got.
We talk about nothing. I ask about his family, he gently ribs me about never meeting mine. We laugh and share work war stories and make drinks and watch a TV show, him talking too much and me getting irritated with his steady stream of commentary, as usual. We flirt shamelessly, quick quips and searing supposition charging the air with electricity. I’d forgotten how fun even that could be; the game of trying to out-flirt someone, a slinky pas de deux to see who can be wittier, filthier. (Me. Always me.) My phone almost dies. Then his phone almost dies. I walk laps through my apartment. He sends pictures of the new artwork in the living room. I settle into the couch. He slips something so slick, so sexy into the conversation I have to sit back up straight.
He yawns quietly, and I know that even though he is working from home like so many other people, he is probably also still getting up every morning at 5am because he is a sociopath, as all morning people are.
“You should sleep.”
“I’m not sleepy.”
“You are such a fucking toddler. Stop fighting sleep.”
“What do you always say? ‘You are not the boss of me’?”
“Well, that is obviously a lie.”
We dissolve into sleepy giggles at the world’s dumbest inside joke.
“Your gift is on its way. I’m sorry it’s late.”
“You’re never late.”
“I know. I got caught slipping this year.”
“Is ‘slipping’ her real name or just what you call her?”
“You are such an asshole,” he responds, laughing. “I’m sorry your birthday sucked.”
“I bet when we talk next year, it’ll be better.”
“That’s the dream.”
We’ve run out of things to say, but the silence is a warm blanket on a winter night. We sit in it awhile, each of us going wherever we go when we’re feeling pensive.
“Talk to you in December for my birthday?”
Laughing I say, “You got it.”
“It’s a date. Happy birthday, baby.”
After we hang up, the silence makes the air ache. For once I decide not to avoid it, to sit in it, even my breathing quieting to not disturb it.
There are quiet years, the years that make you remember who and where you’ve been and never want to be again. And there are years that feel like a celebration of who and what you’ve built. I consider myself infinitely lucky that I’ve had more of the latter.
Happy New (La) Year, y’all.