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  • Robin Kastengren

Once Upon a Time, I Also Had a Birthday Party

And nobody came. It was my 8th birthday and it was the first time my mom said I could have a party and invite friends. I didn’t have any; we just moved in. But I had two people from school to invite and a million aunts and cousins. I was hopeful. I sat in the front yard for about 4 hours crying until my mom told me to come inside to cry so the neighbors wouldn’t think she didn’t love me. I was pretty sure they already knew so I stayed put.

One person came because she felt bad that her kids couldn’t come. She gave me a hug in the front yard and told me to go inside because those assholes don’t deserve to know they made me sad. Cry inside the house so they know how strong you are and they’ll leave you alone when you’re outside the house. I did go in the house with her because at least that made sense.

She gave me a pink duffle bag for my 8th birthday. I tried to use it for school but it was round and books were square and I couldn’t make it work. I kept the bag in my room and I would use it to hide things in plain sight like a real spy. I don’t have the whole bag anymore, but I do have part of the zipper. I keep it in the the box of things I’ve added to my whole life to prove I exist outside of my head.

I wanted her kids to come to the party, but I was kinda glad they didn’t because I couldn’t ever keep up with their fun no matter how much I wanted to. They picked on me for it, but weren’t mean that I can remember.

They hated when I played Red Light Green Light, for example, because I STILL couldn’t get the rules right and ruined the game. When they would get frustrated trying to explain for at least the tenth time that day that red means stop and green means go, they would call me names like r****d.

At my house, my mom would make them stop saying the word but not make them be nice. At their house, their scary dad would come out of the Cave Garage and start pushing THEM around to make them leave me alone. Then his scary mustache turned into a nice one, he would wink at me, and tell me to “go in the house and tell Linda I sad to give you something nice, ya retard.” Then he’d go back in the Cave Garage and I’d get a snack.

I’d also get a little visit in the nice cool house with the fat dog that farts. How nice to have someone have tea and a smoke while they listen to me babble and eat snacks.

And the other kids got to have a nice game! That part is important, too. It let them be who they needed to be in that moment and play the world’s easiest game to burn off some steam.

When they all finally came in the house, there were no hard feelings and ALL of the kids would get shooed back out of the house, with a freeze pop if we were lucky. And all of us would play something that I could keep up with like Barbies or Beauty Shop or House. Together.

There’s a difference between being intimidated by someone and being afraid of them. I didn’t know how to verbalize the difference, but I always knew I was “afraid” of my uncle. Still, I wasn’t ever afraid to be in the same room as him. In fact, things worked better for me a little bit whenever he was around. And bonus points if my aunt was around to give me snacks and listen to me babble for ten minutes. It was the exact opposite of being in my own house anyway and I was 100% afraid of my dad and at least 70% afraid of my mom.

Fast forward to the 8th of April of this year. I’m still pretty convinced I’m a ghost. The kids keep telling me they don’t care if I’m a ghost as long as I’m not the mean kind. Eric said pretty much the same thing. I asked Robbie what I could do for his birthday since I’m in a bit of a state and can’t pull together the kind of birthday he’s used to. He said he’d like an ice cream cake and for his grandma to come and for his aunt to bring her son and guacamole.

I did my best, pal. The ice cream cake was a disaster on the outside, but we ate it with gusto! As for the rest? Well. We talked about that at the mailbox yesterday. And on her way out of my house 36 years ago, my aunt said to make sure I eat all the cake so those assholes don’t get any and I gave the same advice to my boy.

Oh, and one more thing: the reason why none of my other aunts or cousins came to my 8th birthday is because she wouldn’t invite them. The party would be “too big” for "just me" and she wouldn’t give me their phone numbers so I could invite them myself. I wanted them to come because I knew they wouldn’t make it hard for her. They would bring food and love and help clean up after and then go home so we could sleep.

Must be nice.

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