May. 21st, 2011

Prompt: If you could spend your birthday doing anything you wanted, waht would it be and why?

My birthday has come and gone for as long as I can remember with barely any meaningful recognition. Sure, I've had my name on a cake on a bulletin board at school and been classroom leader of the day (also known as teacher's pet), but I've never had a real party. Elementary school was the best simply because that was when you were allowed to still be a child. Teachers still had treasure boxes and were attempting to trick you into thinking leadership and responsibilities were a privilege. Once you hit middle school, you are treated like a child who is too old to have fun. It is as if a switch is flipped and suddenly you no longer need time to run around outside or time to play with your toys. I have yet to understand that mentality. Of course, I had so little that I held onto everything that I could for as long as possible.

I remember when I was eight the teacher's aide in my class took pity on me and brought in a cake and a present for me. She could not understand how someone could have a child and not do something for their birthday. I had been at that school since I was 4 and the staff had gossiped about me since my mother died the summer after I turned five. My teachers had managed to be oblivious or apathetic to the fact that children are aware of adult things probably before they can talk. I knew what was said about me and I knew I was powerless to change it. Some pitied me, some argued that I just put on a good show at school and must be a terror at home. As third grade wore on, I began to act out. Any arm-chair psychologist would have realized that inevitability, but the teachers and staff just continued to chatter on.

Did I mention arm-chair psychology? The classroom aide, Ms. Callaghan was a student of psychology. She had taken an interest in me, probably because my situation and behavior was so 'textbook' to her. Weeks before my birthday, she started prepping me. She asked me about previous birthdays and what I would want if I could have anything at the toy store. She slowly gathered her information and I began to hope against hope that I just might have a good birthday for the first time I could remember. I had told her that I didn't like chocolate, that sugar icing is better than whipped, and that I would loved to have something new to wear like all the other kids on their birthdays - just once.

Any seasoned movie lover would be able to see what is coming. I was turning 9 and hadn't seen a movie since I went to see Song of the South with my mom.

My birthday fell on a school day as it so frequently does. I was early as usual, my step-dad always got rid of me as soon as he could. Ms. Callaghan was there early, too, and appeared to have been waiting for me. She smiled and waved me over and gave me a bag, telling me to hurry to the bathroom and change before the rest of the kids got there. I hurried and changed into the outfit - a trendy top with new jeans and brand name sneakers. On some level I knew this was a bad idea, but I exited the bathroom, shoving my old clothes into my backpack. I waited in the auditorium in my classroom's designated space as I did every morning. This morning was different, though, because I was wearing their clothes. The clothes the popular kids wore.

Kids from other classes began to trickle in slowly. One of my classmates showed up and did a double take - like in the movies! I smiled and then heard two words that I can still hear in my head to this day: Charity Case. My day quickly went downhill from there. The cake I got was a Charity Cake. "Yummy cake, Bechira! Good thing Ms. Callaghan brought you a pity cake, huh?" When my step-dad came to pick me up, it only got worse. He demanded to know what I was wearing and flew into a rage. When we got home, I was beaten the worst I had been in awhile and I never saw the clothes again.

I was not able to go back to school until the next following week.

Now I am very grateful there are no birthday balloons on classroom walls and that "my day" can pass without much attention. My ideal birthday is now spent hidden away in my room with a good book while my step-dad has hopefully temporarily forgotten my existence. Maybe topped off with finding a dollar on the ground for some white cheddar popcorn out of the machine at school. Now that's a good day.

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Bechira Sullivan

May 2011

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