It’s Not My Birthday
by Penny Tailsup
We don’t remember birthdays anymore.
The technology “remembers” for us.
Some of us barely know our own phone numbers, let alone the birthday of everyone on our friend’s list. Thank goodness for social media, right?
By some unspoken agreement, we play along. We pretend we’re good friends who remember everyone’s birthday. In return, we get the same courtesy; a bare minimum… a ‘happy birthday’ on our Facebook page once a year.
Today, Facebook wished me a happy birthday. So did everyone on my friend’s list.
Nice, right? Except it’s not my birthday. It wasn’t my birthday yesterday either, or the day before, or the day before that.
Doesn’t matter though; the technology “remembered” and “reminded”. This would all be well and good, if not for the fact that everyone believes it. Every day. Every time.
The first time it happened, I laughed it off. Facebook had my birthday wrong, that’s a first world problem if I’d ever heard one. In fact, it was kind of nice. My profile page was flooded with all kinds of positivity and well-wishing.
I didn’t have time to answer each message, but I made a post thanking everyone and letting them know it wasn’t actually my birthday. I figured things would sort themselves out from there. More errant ‘happy birthdays’ trickled in, but I was too busy to check and respond to each one.
It didn’t end with Facebook though. Word travels, apparently. When I got to work, my co-workers ambushed me with a cake and sang the Happy Birthday song. I was embarrassed and felt too awkward to interrupt or correct them.
Luther sent a bouquet of roses. A tidy of pile of presents waited for me in my office chair. This was about the time I thought it was a prank. Even when it was my birthday, I didn’t usually get this much attention.
Assuming my boyfriend was the mastermind, I smiled. I’d expect a prank on April Fools’ Day, I wouldn’t expect it on the first of May. Well played.I decided I’d just go with it; who would say no to a day of cake and presents, anyway?
When I got home, the “prank” continued to play out. My family and friends popped out from behind furniture. They sang Happy Birthday; Luther leaned down for a kiss, and my mother came out of the kitchen with a confetti cake.
“How did you get everyone to play along?” I asked Luther, red-faced but happy. He smiled, apparently pretending not to know what I meant.
“It’s your birthday. Why wouldn’t they?” Oh okay. So it’s going to be like that. I laughed, hugged everyone and enjoyed the party. The last time I’d enjoyed my birthday, I’d been having a pizza party at Chuck E. Cheese. That was a couple decades ago.
All was well, until the next day.
Facebook wished me a happy birthday. So did my friends list. I got to work, and my co-workers crowded around my desk with a sheet cake and sang happy birthday.
“I don’t think I can eat another piece of cake.” I told Debbie politely as she shoved a paper plate towards me. She laughed.
“Oh, honey. It’s your birthday! Besides, it gives us an excuse to eat cake too.” she dismissed my refusal, shoving the cake at me again. I took it reluctantly, setting it down on my desk. Everyone stared at me while I smiled awkwardly.
“Thank you, everyone. Luther will love to hear about this later.”
They continued to stare at me, holding plates of cake and waiting expectantly. I stared back.
“Go on, dear.” Debbie said. “Have the first bite, you don’t want us to feel fat do you?” no one else said anything, silently agreeing. I picked up the plastic fork, cutting off a tiny sliver of cake and having a small nibble. Only then did my co-workers disperse, heading back to their respective desks.
Luther sent another bouquet of flowers. I set the vase of begonias down beside the roses from the day before. I had to rearrange my desk to make room.
When I got home, once again my friends and family jumped out. Mom came out of the kitchen with a chocolate cake. Luther wrapped his arms around me and guided me towards the table, topped with colorful wrapped boxes. More cake, more presents, more Happy Birthday song.
“This is a bit much.” I told Luther, uncomfortable.
“What do you mean?” he asked, “Nothing is too much on your birthday!” I shook my head. I didn’t want to be a jerk about it, but he’d pushed it too far. Having two “birthdays” in a row couldn’t have been cheap. How much was he spending to pull this off? How had he convinced everyone to play along not just once, but twice?
“What’s wrong?” he asked, concerned. “You don’t like surprise parties?” my fingers were digging into my temple as tension tightened my face. My friends and family were all there, they didn’t sit at the table. They stood there, watching me, waiting with smiles on their expectant faces.
“… We’ll talk later.” I told him. He nodded, and selected a present from the pile. He handed it to me, I stared down at it. The room was suddenly very quiet; when I looked up, everyone was still staring. The smiles began to look a little strained.
“Thank you everyone.” I said slowly. “You didn’t have to.” I didn’t know what else to say. I unwrapped the present, a handmade scarf. My initials were stitched carefully, and the tassels were my favorite color. Actual thought went into this gift. I forced myself to relax, and made sure my thank yous were genuine as I opened each gift. I was overreacting. This whole thing was incredibly thoughtful, I wasn’t sure why something felt wrong.
When the party ended, I cornered Luther. Apparently he was an amazing actor, because he looked genuinely confused when I asked him to let this be the last “birthday”.
“I’m not sure what I did wrong, Felicity. I’m sorry.” he seemed so sincere. I shook my head.
“I know you didn’t mean anything mean. It’s a very nice prank.” I said, “I’m just not comfortable with so much attention, and I don’t want you to waste money.”
“I don’t think it’s a waste at all. It’s ok to let yourself be spoiled every now and then.” he countered, “I’ll consult you first next year. Deal?” I nodded, relieved.
“Yes. Thank you. I’m sorry for making a big deal about it.” we exchanged a few kisses, and he stayed the night. He was still there in the morning when I got the message again.
Happy Birthday from Facebook, and all of my friends. Well. He hadn’t had time to cancel it, right? Annoyed, I shook him awake.
“Luther, can you call off the hounds?” I tried to act lighthearted about it, but I could feel my brows furrowing. He blinked sleepily at me, then sat up and opened his arms for a hug.
“Happy Birthday, Felicity!”
“Enough with that!” I shoved a pillow at him, storming into the bathroom to shower and get ready for work. He attempted to serenade me with the birthday song as I hastily buttered some toast and bounced out the door. I wasn’t having any of it.
At work, my co-workers closed in around me with a cookie cake. They sang the birthday song. They wouldn’t leave until I took a bite of cookie cake.
Luther sent another bouquet of flowers. Marigolds. I rearranged my desk to fit them next to the roses and begonias, it took all my self-control not to throw them in the trash. I loved Luther, but he’d turned what I’d thought was a wholesome prank into something infuriating.
When I got home, it was just Luther. Oh good, no party. When he came closer for a kiss, I turned my face away. I was still mad.
“This isn’t funny.” I told him.
“I thought you wanted a more private party this year?” he said, looking confused again. “I didn’t know you were so against celebrating your birthday.”
“I’m not. But it’s not my birthday.”
“Of course it is.” he said. His expression became stony, he stared at me.
“I can prove it’s not.” a cold lump formed in my throat. His expectant look… his crossed arms and tight smile seemed almost threatening. Luther didn’t say anything as I reached into my purse, opened my wallet, and drew out my drivers’ license. I thrust it towards him, but he didn’t take it. I threw it at him, watching it bounce off his chest, but he didn’t move.
I stomped over to retrieve it, picking it up. I read my birthday off the card. “See, it says March third…” no. That wasn’t right. He’d somehow swapped out my license with a fake one? It wasn’t my birthday.
“Yeah. March third. It’s March third.” his tone became playful. “Did you forget your own birthday, silly?”
Ignoring me, he started to sing ‘Happy Birthday’. When I walked away, he followed me. I could only get him to leave after eating a bite of cake and opening his present– a ruby necklace.
This kept happening, different days with the same basic patterns. A happy birthday from Facebook, cake with co-workers, flowers and a party after work.
Today is the 22nd birthday I’ve had since this started. I’ve just about given up trying to convince everyone that they’re wrong. Every time I argue or resist, people get this really cold look on their face. They stand there with strained smiles until I play along again.
This isn’t a prank. I don’t know what this is. I’m scared. Everyone really seems to believe it’s my birthday.
Maybe it’s just the stress, but I swear to god… the fine lines of my face have deepened into wrinkles. Every day I wake up with more grey hairs. My whole body hurts. No one seems to notice that something is wrong.
I’m at work right now. Even while I’m typing this, my co-workers are singing the birthday song. Their voices are low and quiet, eyes fixed on me. I haven’t touched the cake. If I don’t play along, they will stand there and sing until I do.
Who would have thought this song could be so ominous. It’s beginning to feel like a threat. I don’t know how many of these birthdays I can survive.
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday dear Felicity
Happy Birthday to you
…and many more.