I had never wanted a party. I was lucky to have been born in August when school was out. It was impossible to hand out invitations, a true blessing. It didn’t bother me when I learned about other kids having parties to which I had not been asked to attend. After all, since I had no friends, who would I talk to?
One year my younger sister wanted a party. Unlike me, she had friends who would come. And they did, bearing prettily-wrapped gifts. They played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, musical chairs and relay races of various kinds. They watched expectantly as my sister blew out all the candles on her cake and then devoured their slices drowning in vanilla ice cream.
She sat like a queen surrounded by her subjects as she opened her gifts. If she liked it, she’d blush with excitement and hold it aloft for all to admire. If she didn’t, she dropped it to the floor at her feet.
She was six years old.
Because my sister had a party, my mother decided I had to have one as well. My birthday is four days after my sister’s, which would place a huge burden on my family in terms of time and money. I didn’t want a party, but it did not deter my mother. She tried to make things equal, or at least pretended to make things equal. They never were and I knew it.
My mother revered my sister. She placed her on a pedestal that I never had a chance to climb. Celebrating my sister’s birthday was an important event that involved days of planning. Everything stopped on her day. There was no yard work, no housework, no spending time alone. All focus was on my sister.
So when the PARTY was confirmed, I think my mother felt guilty for not having one for me. Anyway, I was having one despite my loudly voiced opinion.
To get ready, my mother bought juvenile-designed cards. I recall a clown with balloons. I was thirteen, too old for clowns.
She made me sign them then ride my bike around the neighborhood delivering them to girls who never talked to me. Few opened the door when I knocked. The two who did looked at me like I was insane. They were right.
My mother bought princess cut-outs that she made me hang in our windows. I was humiliated. No thirteen-year-old would ever tape up cardboard princesses on a bedroom wall, let alone in a window for all to see.
I don’t remember anything about the food or the cake, but we played the exact same games that my sister’s friends played. Teenagers don’t pin things on donkeys or run around chairs. They listen to music and talk.
My mother made me wear my best dress, something way too fluffy for a birthday party. She plastered my hair into an old-fashioned style piled up on my head, the spray so heavy that not a single strand would come loose in a tornado. I knew that I was inappropriately dressed and that if anyone did come, they wouldn’t look like me. There was nothing I could do about it.
The clock crept toward the given hour. I stared out the window, hoping that no one would come. Then I’d wish that someone would come. I’d sit down on the couch, thinking that if I didn’t look, someone would come. Then I’d look, hoping to jinx the party.
When I girl from down the street knocked on the door, my heart sank. There really was going to be a party. Two more came.
My mother went into hyper-mode, telling us where to go and what to do. I spoke only when I had to, moved when I had to, blew out the candles when told and attempted to eat some cake without throwing up.
The gifts matched the juvenile invitations. I recall a coloring book and crayons, a picture book and some paper dolls, all things that my six-year-old sister loved.
I would like to share that time flew by, but it didn’t. It’s possible that it only lasted two hours, but it felt like four. There was no joy, not from me and not from the girls who came. It was an exercise only, a pretend party.
Perhaps this is why I’ve never liked parties for myself. I enjoy celebrating the milestones in others’ lives, but not my own. I love buying gifts for others and watching them open them. I like being with others, watching the joy in their faces and listening to what they have to say, as long as I am not expected to speak up.
Is that one disastrous party to blame? Probably. But maybe not. Maybe I’m just not a party person.
What is amazing is that an event that took place sixty-two years ago impacted how I still feel about parties today.