Thursday, September 30, 2010

These Gifts I Give Myself

There was only one thing I knew for certain that I wanted to do on my birthday: go out to breakfast.

It's my favorite meal of the day, and somehow I rarely get to eat it, my homemade morning meals leaning more towards later-day, lower calorie, unsweetened, ungreasy foods ever since I joined Weight Watchers in January. In the past, I've treated myself to a favorite sugary cereal (say, Peanut Butter Crunch) or basically an entire tube of Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls to kick off my birthday. But this year, attempting to stay on track, and although it would mean setting my alarm and getting up early on my birthday, I took myself out.

I ordered French toast, recalling the many birthdays of my childhood when my mother would cook whatever breakfast I wanted rather than pouring a bowl of cold cereal. I always had a hard time getting up then, too, and on the mornings of a hot birthday breakfast, I would get hollered at for dawdling in bed while the egg yolks hardened and the French toast overcooked or simply got cold.

Today, I dawdled in bed for as long as I could, arriving to Sanford's in Astoria a mere 15 minutes before their official breakfast hours ended. Instead of Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice, I drank decaf brewed coffee with a splash of skim milk and one Sweet and Low. Instead of struggling to cut crispy fried eggs with semi-solidified centers with a fork, I scooped runny poached eggs (liberally dosed with salt and pepper) with a spoon. And my French toast arrived hot and thick, splayed across a huge platter and topped with toasty turkey bacon.

And I ate it slowly, alone, checking my phone as the emails and text messages started to roll in, notifying me of Facebook wall posts from high school friends, former lovers, and guys who haven't bothered to call me back.

I lingered as long as I could there, in that booth built for four that I requested to sit in alone. A booth of three Greek men, meticulously ordering their espressos "thick," studied me from across the way, and appeared to be discussing me. I smiled and shrugged as I gestured for the check.

The rest of the day was as wide open and as shut tightly as it could be for me. There was nothing else I wanted to do, and yet there were a world of things I wished I could do. With the coming storm, a lack of funds, and nearly all of my friends at work, in school, or out of town, I faced the day ahead alone.

How would today be any different than any other day since I've moved to Queens? Or since I returned from my last trip to California?

I wished I could get my hair done in a salon today, but it would be unwise considering the high winds and humidity and the forecast's impending doom.

I wished I could get a manicure and pedicure at a nail salon today, but my toes still have not recovered from this summer's various hiking accidents, and I've had to sacrifice a fair amount of vanity in favor of buying groceries and paying the rent.

I wished I could get a job today.

I wished people would apologize today.

I wished my ex would pay me back the $1500 he borrowed from me six years ago today.

I wished for the people I care about who are far away today, so that I could hold them close, their love and affection being greater than any gift wrapped in shiny paper under a sticky bow.

But none of these wishes will come true. Not today anyway, not on my birthday.

Last year, I would have wished to lose the weight I'd gained during my painful departure from my last job. It's taken me nine months, but at the very least, that's the gift I've given myself this year.

So although I'm inclined to make today all about food - get drunk in the afternoon, eat pizza til I burst, lick frosting from my fingers and fall asleep with a half-chewed donut hanging out of my mouth - I don't want to undermine all the work I've done. Such a great sense of accomplishment is not only priceless but rare, and it's something I can really hold onto when I feel like a failure in love, labor, life.

I only hate half of my French toast this morning, bringing the rest home, where I sit now with pale wet toenails from a pedicure given to myself, waiting for the storm to come, waiting for my friends to shed their daily responsibilities and celebrate with a little dinner, a few drinks, and a lot of love.

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