Her father kept asking what she’d done for her fiftieth birthday.
Finally she told him, “Nothing special.”
Her birthday had been weeks before her father started pestering her about what she’d done. She imagined he wanted to know if she’d spent time with her sister, and he hadn’t been invited.
Since she’d done nothing special, her father said, “We can still get together. I love to celebrate. Especially with you.”
From her half-century of living, she understand that was a lie to both of them. The toughest kind of lie – like a wood burl – a lie that someone truly believes. The same kind of lie she’d been dealing with her entire life. The kind of lie, at fifty, she was finally going to blow its candles out.
She understood it was a lie of trying to make amends. Like a guy returning your stolen fifty bucks a dollar at a time, over the course of years. And reluctantly giving back every petty cent of it. It was an act of penance her father accepted because he’d gotten caught stealing. It was the penance of a guilty conscience wishing to be saved, but, still, with little desire to save.
It had taken her fifty years to fully understand that difference between people. It had taken fifty years to understand it was an unbridgeable difference, lest one provide all the support while the other skips gleefully back and forth, savoring the desire of the other to support his gleeful, carefree skipping.
Now, at fifty, she understood how, when she was a kid, he should have wanted to give his daughter the joys of parties and toys just like all the other kids got. She understood how he should have wanted to give her the joy of birthday parties that even he got as a child. She understood how he could have at least given her parties, since he gave nothing else as a father. But he never gave it to her, neither fatherly warmth, comfort, attention nor parties. He only sent his daughter a card and a few dollars, though he never lived further away than across town.
She understood that he understood how, at fifty, she was old enough to know how despicable all that was. So there he was, trying to make amends with the dollar he was trying to hand over because he got caught stealing, not because he wanted to made a real amends.
So she said, “Well, thanks. But how about we celebrate next year.”
“But next year’s not special. Fifty is special. It’s sort of a milestone.”
Since he’d fucked most everything else up, he figured she might at least remember him trying to be a part of something special, like his daughter’s fiftieth birthday.
“Yes,” she said. “It might be special to some, but I look at it like arithmetic of any kind.”
“What do you mean?”
“Take a hundred dollars. If one hundred dollars is good, then one hundred and one is even better.”
He thought maybe this was her way of getting an extravagant 50 year birthday celebration every year. He was a bit envious he’d never conceived of it.
How clever but conniving, he thought.
Had he more wisdom and realized the implication of what he’d said about loving to celebrate, especially with his daughter, then the desire to celebrate every year like it was her fiftieth would have been as much a gift to him as to his daughter. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t anything he much wanted to do. Even celebrating her fiftieth was merely a capitulation to custom.
But, he told himself, if that’s what she wants for her fiftieth, then why not?
At least he was willing to admit to himself, sometimes, how she might deserve a little more than most, having received so little.
“Okay,” he said. “So when do we celebrate?”
“My fiftieth was a few weeks ago. It’s passed. So let’s wait until fifty-one.”
“That’s a while away,” he said.
“It’s my celebration,” she said. “How about we celebrate by my rules.”
“This is strange,” he said.
“The longer the wait, the sweeter the fruit,” she said. “Remember, if one hundred is good, then one hundred and one is even better.”
The following year, fifty-one came. Again, he forgot about it until weeks later. Once he remembered and gave her the same old line, she repeated her line too, only this time with the slight alteration of fifty-two.
And so it went for years and years. She understood the game could go on indefinitely until finally ending for one of them, at least. And to her father’s consternation, he never got to return the dollar out of the fifty he’d stolen. The dollar he so desperately needed to return in order to make amends.
What her father never understood was that, at fifty, she’d gifted herself the promise of giving herself what she deserved. She decided she deserved the gift of truth and honesty not only from herself but from anybody given the privilege of her attention. That was her gift to herself for her half-century of living. And she understood any celebration with her father was only something else in disguise. She was weary of all the decades of deception. She felt too old for pretending anymore. She wished there was a way of putting it in a box with a bow and wrapping paper. That way she could open it, then throw it in the trash or set it on fire. And if they could both accept that, it would be the greatest birthday celebration of all – even better than all the parties she missed out on as a little girl.