We all have our own neurotic expectations for and anxiety over our birthdays. Sometimes it's because our parents went nuts when we were little, and a grown-up birthday without a mountain of presents and pony rides just can't ever measure up. Some of us deal with the crippling fear of growing older every year.
For me, after trudging through nearly a decade of mediocre friendships in a new city, the celebration of a birthday seemed like the time for friends to redeem themselves. They're supposed to come out of the woodwork, make the drive from LA's west side, get off of work — whatever, just make the damn effort to see me. Yet my attempts at birthdays have been routinely disappointing. Almost no one shows, no one bakes me a cake, no one brings presents. It's not about stuff, of course — it's about a thoughtful gesture and others making the effort to make me feel special.
For once, my 30th birthday seemed to be going well. There was a good turnout, a mishmash of old friends: work friends, actor friends, etc.
But let's rewind for a moment, shall we?
I moved to Los Angeles in 2005. By the next spring, I had joined a women's soccer team. I had played in high school, and while I was never a great player, it was something I enjoyed, and I thought it would be a good way to meet people and get exercise. I enjoyed it and stuck with the team for years.
Several years into it, one of the unofficial captains of the team, Candice, asked if any of us needed part-time work. She managed a nonprofit music school and was looking for a few receptionists. I said I was interested and she hired me right away.
Candice is the kind of person who would constantly preaching about how the team and the school were a “family” and a “community.” She was also the kind of boss who would give vague instructions for a task, yet get frustrated when it wasn't completed to her expectations. She was extremely passive-aggressive and completely unqualified to be running a nonprofit (she has a degree in art history). Yet before long, it seemed like Candice was picking on me. She'd throw fits, saying I didn't clean well enough and that the place looked like a disaster when a news crew came to do an interview. (I realized later I had forgotten to empty a small trash can.)
It was starting to feel like the headache wasn't worth it. I generally enjoyed the job, the kids, and most of the teachers, but for the meager pay and inability to work anywhere near full-time hours, I was starting to feel uneasy. And it seemed like she was picking on me on the field, too, keeping a particularly close eye on me and making sure to point out my failures. I know I was never an amazing player, but I had a good attitude and gave it my all.
So, back to my birthday celebration. Things were going swimmingly, but somewhere around midnight, I noticed that my wallet was missing. I had stupidly left my purse unattended on a bench seat. My phone was in my pocket, my keys were still there, and even a birthday card was left untouched; but the wallet was gone, as well as a digital camera. This, of course, soured the night immediately.
A friend drove me home and helped me cancel my credit cards. I had about two dollars in the wallet, so not a real financial loss; just a pain in the ass. I woke up super-grumpy the next morning, with my only want in the world being an omelet ... yet I had no way to purchase said omelet. The DMV sent me a new license quickly, and new ATM/credit cards were also issued.
The following Friday, while at my acting class, I got several calls in a row from an unknown number. Usually I'd ignore them, but because of the repetition, I answered. The person on the other end of the phone said he had found my wallet in his friend's car (?) and wanted to return it. (My actor business cards have my phone number on them, thus his ability to reach me.) I was anxious to get back my license, just so it wasn't out floating in the world. The guy agreed to meet me at a nearby gas station to do the trade-off.
I waited at the gas station for about an hour as he continually sent me updates as to why he wasn't there yet. He mentioned something about how the person that stole from me also stole a laptop from him, so he was going to that person's apartment to scope it out. Then the dude wouldn't let him leave. Then the neighbors had him blocked in. After an hour, I told him I wasn't waiting for him anymore. He agreed to meet me later when I was out of work. I told him to meet me at my local bar. I know the owner, the door guy, and a handful of regulars, one of whom is a cop. I explained to all of them what was going on.
The guy was late and continued to text me. He mentioned something about the camera, which was not mentioned before. He asked if there were any pictures on it that I wouldn't want anyone to see, and if he could look at them. I said sure, knowing it was pictures of my parents' dog and the like. (This creeped me out so hard — like if I had said no, was he going to respect that? Ick.) Finally, he said “come outside.”
I was pretty terrified at this point. I stood nervously against the side of the building, and all of a sudden, he appeared. I don't think he even said anything; he just reached into what I remember being comically deep pockets and pulled out a stack of cards, my ID, extra business cards, a fro-yo stamp card — all of it, as well as my camera with its case. I said "Thank you" and went inside.
I took a deep, deep breath, thinking that this was over. But then the guy started calling me again! I just stared at the phone, frozen. Seamus, the owner of the bar and an all-around good dude, took the phone, went outside, and answered it. He came back a few minutes later and says, “I'm sorry, honey, he's just a crazy cokehead.”
He kept texting me, saying that he told his wife about me and she feels sorry for me, and that if I need some real friends, they will take care of me, that I should come over for dinner. Like, WHAT?! I sat at the bar all night, trying to calm down, feeling so freaked out and scared. My old address was on my license, but my new apartment was only a few blocks away; I live alone and going home seemed really scary. I didn't feel like there was anyone I knew well enough in the neighborhood that I could ask to crash at their place. At last call, I finally headed home.
I think I slept okay, but I definitely didn't make it to the 8 a.m. soccer game I had promised I would be at. Amanda, the goalie and other unofficial captain, called me that afternoon. I thought she was calling to check up on the dues I owed. Nope. I was canned from the team because they were looking for girls with "commitment" who were going to show up. I had been on the team for five years at that point. I had played in 95-degree weather on turf, I had played down a player for 90 minutes, I had played in all sorts of lousy conditions with plenty of diva teammates who wouldn't pass to me if their life depended upon it. Yes, I was usually late, but I was always there, and as long as I got my damn #18 jersey and a Gatorade at the end of the game, I had a smile on my face and I tried my damnedest.
One of my biggest flaws is how terrified I am of confrontation. Instead of calling Amanda back, explaining the situation and telling her to hold the fucking phone, I let it go. I crumbled into a sad pile and just sobbed, totally broken by all that had recently happened.
Come Sunday, I was presented with an interesting conundrum: the job. Candice was still my boss, yet she had clearly helped make the decision to axe me from the team. I thought about it and knew by the end of the shift that I couldn't work for her anymore. She had found a way to weed me out from the team, and I knew she'd do the same thing with the job, so I decided to leave on my own terms.
I emailed her with my two weeks notice, trying to be respectful and grown-up, and not screw my coworkers. She responded the next day saying it was not necessary for me to finish the rest of my shifts. She did not allow me the professional courtesy of saying good-bye to my friends and coworkers, where I had worked for more than three years.
I got a new job within a week — one that was much closer to my house, where I made much better money — but it took me a very long time to understand how a person could act so callously. I had a relatively drama-free time in high school and I was shocked to be faced with the petty, catty underhandedness I thought was reserved for teenage girls. The calm part of me reasoned that I no longer had to deal with this awful woman and I could begin to blossom without her stealing my sunshine.
I ran into Candice recently at an art opening. It had been nearly four years since I had seen her. My stomach dropped when I saw her, knowing that at some point in the evening, we would be forced to make small talk. She infuriatingly talked to me as if we were old friends that had lost touch. She mentioned without a hint of irony what some of the girls from the team were up to and said it was really good to see me. Clearly she has no perspective that she effectively severed my relationships with anyone on the team.
I fantasized that I would run into her, say exactly all the right things to shame, insult, and thoroughly sadden her and walk out with a giant satisfied look on my face while onlookers were stunned by my cutting eloquence. Because that's what movies have taught me; you can have one perfect moment of redemption to make up for years of mistreatment. But we all know that doesn't happen. I was so shaken that I cried in the bathroom before making a hasty exit.
The take away? Turning 30 was epically traumatic but not for any of the reasons one might think. And if I can manage to keep all forthcoming birthdays as small events with a few good friends and some delicious baked goods, then I will call that a win.