Have you heard of a golden birthday? It’s the year when your age and birthdate are the same number.
This year I turned 28 on the 28th. It has not been quite what I expected.
Numbers have always held special meaning to me, and birthdays have always been widely celebrated in my family. In elementary school I taped a lined notebook sheet of paper to my wall listing the years that Big Things happened.
2003: Sixteen, I could drive.
2005: Eighteen, I could vote.
But I assigned odd importance to other numbers, too. Sometimes they were self-defining, like how 2006 would be my last year of being a teenager and 2007 the first year of my twenties.
Others were silly--in 2010 I would turn 23, Michael Jordan’s jersey number. Don’t underestimate the power of Chicago’s fandom in the ‘90s; twenty-three mattered.
In your youth, all the years and numbers are Big Things. But as a girl writing out my future, the pang of aging already crept into my heart. Some years weren’t going to be milestones; some years are only Steve Kerr’s jersey number or worse, nothing at all.
Young Me worried that Future, Grown-Up Me wouldn’t care about silly things like golden birthdays when those later years eventually arrived. What if Future Me became too serious and busy trying to be “cool?” Even scarier, what if I grew up to be boring?
Young Me resolved that if my golden birthday arrived and Future Me did something to properly honor it, then I turned out okay. I pinned all my hopes to that date in the far-off year of 2015 as proof that Big Things could still happen, that we can make them so, that we choose what is important to us.
And suddenly, in the blink of an eye, 2015 and my golden birthday arrived. My best friend since kindergarten gave me a card at my party. She was there with my family, friends, family friends, and some party crashers, all of us gilded from head to toe. We had fake gold tattoos.
We downed too many Goldschlager shots. We danced to Kanye’s “Gold Digger.” We ate giant 6-foot deli sandwiches that had nothing to do with the theme -- but are my favorite and it was my party and I do what I want.
In the card, she wrote, “I hope the rest of your dreams come true, too.” I cried.
After the party, after the cleanup, my boyfriend of four years and I headed home. I felt so awake, so alive, so energized that I couldn’t help but line up all my birthday cards on our kitchen counter. There was barely enough space to hold them all.
Around the time I finished arranging them and returned to the bedroom was when my boyfriend became angry. At the party I had let my brother’s friend take off his shirt, spray his torso in gold glitter, don a gold bowtie, and carry me around the party while I thanked everyone for coming. That was inappropriate, he said. That was disrespectful, he said. That was trashy, he said.
He said other things, too, and I left to cry alone in the kitchen.
It was fine, I told myself. At four in the morning, it was well past my golden birthday and no longer my day. The magic was over; it was time for him to take center stage again.
Then I looked up. There it was, the counter that was overflowing with words of love and support from everyone I cared about. I am so loved, I thought. Look at all these people who love me, who did everything they could to make me feel special on this silly day. These are my people. Not the man who locked me out of the bedroom just now. Not the man who tried his best but failed to take my golden away. That’s not for taking.
Leading up to it, I expected that my golden year would be spent making wedding plans. Instead, I am moving from guest bedroom to guest bedroom of those birthday card authors.
But it’s okay, because I’m okay. Young Me should never have worried. I am working to make the rest of my dreams come true. I am happy. I have yet to be bored with myself. I plan on soaking up all the golden wisdom this year has to offer, and soon enough I’ll look forward to celebrating my thirtieth birthday.
And three years later the going really gets good, because then I will be 33, Scottie Pippen’s number.