Happy Birthday

by jkatejohnston

29 July 2014

Dear Max,

Enzo and I went on a one-night camping trip last night. After we got the tent set up, he went for a walk by himself around the loop of campsites, map in hand. I hated that. When he finally came back about ten minutes later I asked him how it went, and he said grownup asked him if he was lost and he said, “I have a map.” Later he mentioned that he didn’t exactly get lost, but he did come to a puzzling part.

He wanted to take a shower because it took quarters. He insisted that he could go by himself, and I insisted on coming with him. Once we got the quarters in and the water adjusted, he told me to leave, and he would come back to the campsite by himself. It was about a five-minute walk away by a series of what seemed to be very non-intuitive pathways.

“Go on! I’m a young man!” I left the shower room but skulked around the outside of the bathroom. I heard him whistling in his tuneless way, then a pause and a bit of song and then “Duncan!” And whenever someone walked by “Occupied! Occupied!” After a few minutes, he came out clothed but still very wet. He saw me and just lifted his arms in a kind of hopeless shrug.

“I’m going, I’m going,” I said and started to walk ahead down the path. He let me get ahead and then pounded after me.

“When you see a big streak entering the camp, that’s me.”

In the morning we woke up in the quiet dark and he whispered, “Now it’s your birthday.” Later, when we got up and I wanted to take a sunrise hike, he got into a cranky patch. “I’m never going camping again. Let’s just get going and beat the traffic.” He perked up a bit on the hike and then started up again when we were breaking camp and I asked him to pull up the tent stakes and break down the poles. “I think I might have to break all your birthday presents,” and later, “I am just not a person who likes to camp. At all.”

I went to the bathroom and dumpster, leaving him at the mostly broken down campsite with his face to a tree trunk, picking at the bark and starting to cry. I couldn’t tell if he was fighting back years or trying to generate them. I came back and finished loading the car and then sat him down for a talk. I don’t remember what I said, but neither one of us seemed too impressed by it.

A few miles down the road, a voice from the backseat, “Does my face still look cranky?” I could tell by his voice that it was starting not to.

Back at the Tahoe house: flowers on the table, samosas and naan and garlic-artichoke dip and blackberries and good baguette and sheep’s milk cheese that was both locally made and French (as Enzo would say: Wa-la!) all from the Farmer’s Market that Teresa walked to since we had the car.

Eating and opening my presents: a shrinky-dink Buddhist temple, a shrinky-dink fish, and a light catcher made of melted crayons to put in my window at work.

Then Teresa and Enzo went on a secret outing, and I wrote this, sitting up on the high porch at the Tahoe house, which I can’t even believe we’re lucky enough to be able to use, and they just came home with a nice pink box full of white chocolate raspberry cake.

I love my birthday.


Next morning: I forgot to mention that I’m forty-six. Though it’s bad luck to say it, I’m planning to live a hell of a long time, so this seems like around the halfway mark. But time passes so differently when you’re older that counting years doesn’t really make sense. I’m glad I’m alive now. So there.