I recently realized that this year, my birthday will once again fall on a Friday the 13th. I’ve always felt kind of oddly special that my birthday could be celebrated on the very same day that so many people dread. The very same day that people refuse to leave their homes for fear of accidents, injury and general bad luck is the same day that I get chocolate cake and presents. That contrast has always amused me for some strange twisted reason.
My “lucky number” has always been thirteen. Perhaps I gravitated toward it because my birthday is on the 13th, but also, it’s a misfit number that a lot of people love to hate. I’ve always had a soft spot for things that don’t quite belong. Thirteen has been like that for me. Not a perfect number, but at least it has been my own.
The first time my birthday fell on a Friday the 13th was in 1985. I was turning 10 years old and very thrilled about all of it.
“I don’t do birthday parties anymore” said my mother.
My sister took it upon herself to orchestrate a fabulous party for me.
I took on the task of delivering the invitations to my friends at school. My mom said that she would make a cake and my sister was responsible for the rest. M-M even drew up a schedule of events for the evening and had it all timed down to the minute. A bit over-zealous in my opinion, but that was her style.
Finally the day of the party arrived and M-M took charge. “Everyone line up in front of the raspberries!” she yelled from her place at the front of the yard, under the cherry trees.
“What time is it Mr Wolf?!” we chanted in unison, waiting for instructions from our leader.
This was a game that fancied pseudo-socialist ideologies. If our leader answered two o’clock, we would simultaneously take two steps forward. The collective was given the same information and required to respond in equal measure. Those of us with short legs almost never claimed the prize.
Then there was the game called “Mother May I?”. Exactly the same game as Mr. Wolf, but with a dictatorial twist. Socialist gaming taken to it’s extreme limits.
Lined up at the raspberries, again we chanted in unison “Mother May I?”
In this game, you would individually make your request to ‘Mother’. “Mother may I take three steps forward?”. Then, request made, one would await news from the dictator-mother to either grant your request or deny it. One’s fate in the game lay entirely in the hands of Mother. Whomever was favoured, whomever was outcast – all was revealed by the order of winners and losers.
Not my favourite game. Then again, the concept of seeking permission has always been troublesome for me.
These two games were very good selections for the girls that I had invited. Squeaky clean. No dirt, no mud, no sweat. Just the kind of game for girly-girls in white slacks and puffy blouses. A girl like Molly who had a Cabbage Patch Kid collection bigger than the toy store. Some of which had never even been taken out of their boxes, which I totally resented her for, of course.
“I’ll let you see my Cabbage Patch Kids, but you can’t touch them” Molly said when I was at her house one afternoon. In that moment, I vowed to hate those dolls with all my heart, mainly because I knew I would never be allowed to have one for my own. If I happened to get one for my birthday, well then obviously I reserved the right to change my mind.
Then there was Sonya who was so slight that she could hardly handle the weight of her own freckles. This was the girl who’s parents made her sit inside at recess so she wouldn’t dirty her “going out for dinner” clothes. Always the same outfit – white ruffly blouse under a thin vest, navy blue slacks and shiny black shoes with lace-edged socks. Washed and pressed, Sonya was a doll left in it’s package, displayed on the shelf.
These guests of mine were frail and pretty and not at all like my sister and I. We were mud-cake making, track running, scabby kneed, dirt between our toes, marble playing with the boys kind of girls. Jump in the neighbours pool instead of a bath girls. Hit you in the face with a snowball and laugh ’cause it looked funny kind of girls. We played like we meant it. As long as no one cried or died, all was well.
I think the party started to unravel about the time that the water balloons entered the scene. It was a simple game. Two people make up a team and stand facing each other, then toss the balloon filled with water, gradually taking steps farther and farther apart. Whichever team has their balloon the longest, wins!
Balloons in all colours of the rainbow were flying wildly through the air, the water precariously flinging around inside the thin rubber exterior. This game was one of my personal favourites. Involving skill, timing, challenge and that extra element that brings any game from good to great … FEAR! More precisely, fear of getting wet. Which was exactly what happened to Molly. When she stood there, shocked, soaked all the way from her pretty blouse down to her white slacks and shoes, I thought it was hilarious! Now we had ourselves a party!
Wet Molly didn’t see the humour in the situation. “This party is stupid. I’m going home”.
It was at this very moment that the coup took place.
Power shifted from one leader to another as M-M had unwittingly lost control and Molly was quickly emerging as the leader of the new rebel alliance. I suppose that every group, even school kids, like to be told what to do and actually feel more comfortable when there is a dictator-mother. Up until this pivotal moment, it had been M-M. Now, all eyes looked to Molly who’s height towered over the rest of us.
With her simple, concise statement – “this party is stupid” – it was the beginning of the end.
Not wanting to waste the chocolate cake, we scarfed it down, hastily opened a few presents (I got a giant ceramic hamburger coin bank!) and snapped a few photos. It took all of 30 minutes for the party to dissolve and each of the girls to be on their way home.
My best friend, Angela, the last one to leave, finally said “If everyone else is going, I’m going, too.” My dad drove her home in his green pick-up truck.
The party now officially over, quiet and solitude were two things that I needed most. I found a place on the back step of the house to sit alone. If my mom came out the back door, she would have found me there and I suppose that would have been okay. I secretly needed someone to comfort me. Someone to be sincere. Perhaps to sit beside me and rub my back. Tell me it’s not my fault and that all those girls are losers anyway.
Enter Rusty, my dad’s creepy friend. With the confident swagger of a sidewalk drunk and a head full of shockingly orange curly hair, Rusty was aptly named – for the hair or his raspy voice – just which I wasn’t sure. As with most creepy people, I kept my distance from Rusty. Call it a survival instinct. I had this gut feeling about him that I just couldn’t shake. Sitting on the back step of the house I didn’t hear Rusty walk up the path and didn’t notice him until he was standing right in front of me.
“Whatsa matter sweetie, have a bad day?”
“No, I’m fine.” (Go away!)
“I heard it’s your birthday, where’s the party?”
“Everybody went home.” (Stop asking me questions!)
“They all left already? Ooooh… why’d they leave so early?”
“I don’t know.” (You’re creepy! Go away!)
“Well, sweetie, you sure look sad … “
Having this fact pointed out to me, that I looked sad, made the tears come and I was overcome with emotion and rendered speechless as Rusty continued to stand there looking at me.
Rusty’s eyes flashed with an idea. “I’ll be right back, wait here.”
Relieved to be alone once again, I let the tears fall freely now. Worst. Birthday. Ever. It was Friday the 13th – no wonder it had all gone so wrong! A birthday is the one time in the year when a girl gets to make-believe that she is important. It’s a day to get noticed and spoiled. My birthday had been the opposite of all of these things. I sat there feeling unimportant, ripped off and very invisible.
Chocolate cake excepted, it had all gone wrong. Little did I know it was just about to get worse. What proceeded next is akin to “icing on the cake”, but in the polar opposite.
Rusty returned taking big, confident strides into our backyard. He had been gone for only 10 minutes and was holding a Canadian Tire bag wrapped around a box.
“Here”. He shoved the bag into my hands. “It’s for you. Open it.”
“What is it? A present?” (It just looks like a boring box in a bag.)
“Sure is! And I think you’re gonna love it!”
Reluctantly I pulled the unwrapped box out of the shopping bag. A big Cabbage Patch face stared back at me with the words “AM/FM radio” printed next to it.
I looked up.
There was Rusty, standing there watching me with great anticipation, a huge smile on his face. His eyebrows jumping up when he caught my eye. He was a man very pleased with himself. Rusty was beaming with self satisfaction.
I was falling apart in slow motion.
I silently pulled open the box which still had the price tag on it. I was quite accustomed to receiving gifts that were not always packed in their original boxes. Suspiciously, I pulled the tab at the back of the box, lifting the flaps on the top to reveal the truth. Rusty had just given me a brand new Cabbage Patch Kid AM/FM Radio for my Friday the 13th birthday.
I burst into tears.
Dumbfounded, Rusty leaned forward, rather close and put his hand on my shoulder to comfort me. I pulled away. Obviously.
I don’t at all blame my sister for the epic failure of the party that she planned for me. In fact, I think she did a pretty good job with the games and all. Also, I can’t point a finger at my mother. She certainly did her part and made her always-amazing chocolate bundt cake.
The person who dropped the ball was me.
A party is only ever as good as the quality of the guests and I was the one who had made the guest list, written and hand-delivered the invitations. These girls were, well, not my friends. Rather, they were the friends that I thought I should have.These girls had all the right stats. They were top-shelf, smart and popular, 2-parent-home-on-a-tree-lined street kind of girls. Statistically, I had lined up a solid team. Somehow that wasn’t enough. Or rather, it wasn’t enough for me. These girls who I hand picked to be my bosom buddies were a perfect match as long as you liked Cabbage Patch Kids, Michael Jackson, sticker collections and sleepovers with make-up and make-overs. Truth be told, I just didn’t fit into that scene. And I guess they didn’t fit into mine either. In the end, I suppose we could have all benefitted from a little more honesty on my part. It would have made for a better party.
I’ll never forget my Friday the 13th Birthday party from hell. It was heart-breaking and disappointing. It’s a story that I have kept in my back pocket for all of these years mainly because it confused me so much. When stories confuse me, I tend to not forget them, filing them away until resolution comes. For me and this story, it’s only taken 28 years to get to the root. Now, seeing it on a page/screen, viewing it from a fresh perspective, it’s all very clear to me now what went wrong at my party.
Here is what I’ve learned:
1) Choose your friends wisely. Be honest about who you are and who they are.
2) At times, it can be better to have no friends than the wrong friends.
3) Stay away from creepy people … especially if they come bearing gifts with pictures of Cabbage Patch Kids on the front.
The Cabbage Patch Kid radio sat unused on the dresser in my bedroom for about a month. Thanks to my Mennonite heritage, I was too frugal to throw it out and at the same time, too proud to bring myself to turn it on. Eventually, sometime in October, I plugged it in, turned it to FM and pressed the ‘On’ button.
Broken before it ever got used. Which is really quite tragic, but you have to admit, it’s kind of funny, too.