So, I turned thirty-six last Thursday, and my birthday was just fine — good, even. This has not always been the case. I try to keep my expectations in check, knowing it’s often been a day of great disappointment, and that even if goes well, I’ll probably somehow find myself in tears at some point during the day. Everyone wants to feel special on their birthday, but let’s face it, we go through certain phases in life where we’re more special than others — to ourselves or others — and there’s no guarantee others will recognize our unique glimmer year in, year out — leaving us suspended in our own stagnant, uncelebrated specialness. And even if we are recognized on our birthday, there’s no guarantee it won’t be unintentionally sabotaged by someone who thoroughly appreciates the magic that is you, so much so that they fuck it right up with their good intentions.

I remember one birthday, my then-boyfriend wanted to reserve the evening with me to make me an amazing meal and romance me up real good — nothin’ wrong with that. But he didn’t hang out with my friends, and they wanted their Stri time, too. And, of course, I wanted both. I was flattered to be in high demand, but I ended up having to juggle, soothe, and ultimately disappoint both my b-friend and my friends. They made it about them, and I ended up in tears — growing pains, I s’pose.

Other years, other then-boyfriends didn’t have their shit together enough to give me a present, or had to rely on me to pick up the birthday dinner bill, so they felt emasculated, and naturally, took it out on me.

One year, a then-b-friend gave me probably the worst gift I’ve ever received. I know men don’t always know the exact taste of their significant other, and it’s (kind-of) the thought that counts, blah, blah, blah. But what made this particular gift so offensive was how close-yet-far-away he was to hitting the mark. First, there was a pair of awful wedge sandals. Just disgusting. So bad, I can’t even remember what they looked like — I’ve blocked them out. They were very wrong, but it was an attempt, and they were shoes, and they were from Ross (as is most of my wardrobe and home furnishings), so I appreciated the gesture. I wish he’d left it at that — some ugly-ass shoes I’d wear a time or two to hide how much I hated them.

The next gift was from one of my favorite shops on the island (I lived in Honolulu at the time), so when he busted out a bag from there, I was impressed — especially after those fugly sandals. First there was a pen — certainly a pertinent tool for a writer, so theoretically, it should’ve been fine, and it was fine, just not very me. It was one of those Merlin-looking, hand-molded pieces — more suited to my  early adolescent hippy taste than my twenty-nine year old taste — mostly because it was a mushroom. When I unwrapped it, he said, “Oh, that’s not the one I thought I picked.” I soon learned why he might have been distracted by that add-on.

The piece de resistance was one of those wooden carvings of bodies that you can find in any incense-smellin’ import shops. I actually like those carvings — not as much as I did in my teens and early-twenties, but still, plenty of the many carvings at the shop would’ve delighted me. But the one he chose…I had never seen this particular version before, and I haven’t since…oh, God.

It was the form of a woman — with a pronounced high ponytail — getting fucked while standing against a wall. It would’ve been hilarious were it a gag gift, but it was not. He was proud of himself — not in a ‘look at what a great gift I gave you kind of way’ — in a look at how much fun I had giving you this gift. I mean, he was in the right store, for God’s sake, and had knowingly gone AWOL to give himself a laugh, leaving me with the most tasteless wood-carving of a ponytailed, well-laid woman ever. I still regret not burning that monstrosity in a cleansing ritual after we broke up. I mean, really…how did that not happen?

Last year, B_ and I were falling madly for one another when my birthday hit, and he celebrated me fully. Rarely have I felt so appreciated by anyone in my life, and never have I felt so honored by a significant other. Keep posted for details about how he made me feel like a gift to behold, and I still haven’t even told you about our first kiss, or our first official date, so those deets are soon to come in upcoming articles, too.

Even though we’re no longer a couple, B_ and I celebrated my thirty-sixth birthday together last Thursday. And even though the evening didn’t hold a candle to last year’s birthday, it shed light our unique friendship — illuminating how far we’ve come, how much can happen in a year, and how capable we are of Breaking Up Like Cult-Classic Superstars.

And at the end of the evening, at home by myself, I cried the good cry. Growing pains, I guess.