Originally, this entry was going to be about how much I love October, and how it’s my birthday month and I planned to write about all the amazing birthday parties I used to throw and yada yada yada. But, recalling all of these memories I’m realizing the actual planning and hosting of these parties had a lot more to do with my over-achieving, perfectionist sister, and overly enthusiastic, crafty mother. So, I can’t even take the credit. They were damn good though.
Instead I’ll write about the worst birthday I’ve had to date. And sadly, or maybe expectedly, it happened to be my 21st.
The day before my birthday went as it should. It began with brunch in Williamsburg—bottomless mimosas, of course. I went out for vintage shopping and happy hour cocktails with my best friend, followed by sunset dinner and drinks on the rooftop of the Wythe Hotel with my boyfriend. After that, the classiness checked-out and I started barhopping all the diviest bars in Brooklyn on my way to see my friend’s band play. Apparently, at midnight I threw a fit about shrimp cocktail and insisted I wouldn’t eat until we found some. Alas, I ended up having to settle on oysters. After that, I was ready for round two of music and drinks at my brothers’ studio and finally ended the night at the over-priced club around the corner (and an over-priced cab ride home). Cliché perhaps, but, like I said, just as it should be.
The next morning my roommate woke me up with some burned bacon. We had just moved in the week before and hadn’t had the chance to buy many groceries yet.
“Happy birthday!! Sorry. . .this is all we really have. . .”
“Thanks! It’s okay, Jesse’s cooking a lot of food so I was gonna head over there in a little,” I responded, taking one bite of the bacon then setting the plate on my bedside table to be forgotten.
My plan was to have dinner with my brother and sister-in-law at their place in Jersey City before going out to celebrate. So, I lingered awhile at home, went down the street for a big cup of coffee, and finally around 5 headed towards the train.
I felt exceptionally well up until about halfway to the train. I was walking with my best friend, who was in town visiting, and my roommate when I stopped mid-step and sat down. All of the sudden I felt really weird. Not even nauseous, or faint like you’d expect after a night of drinking, but just wrong. Like my organs weren’t working properly. This is when I stopped remembering the day clearly, from a sane person’s perspective.
I started going from store to store begging the employees to let me use their restroom. I thought if I made myself throw up, I’d feel better and could carry on with my birthday. Most of them didn’t speak English, or couldn’t comprehend my hysteria, so my friends convinced me I’d feel better when I got on the train and got to Jersey. They bought me a water bottle and told me it was just my reaction to a 20 ounce coffee after drinking and not eating enough. I sat on the train, chugging the water, and looking around; everything seemed so surreal.
These passengers looked like mannequins, the train felt like a rickety old roller-coaster and I felt like a ghost. I’d had a couple minor panic attacks before in my life, but never like this. And never from caffeine. I was paying attention to every beat of my heart, and every breath of my lungs. I could feel the blood circulating through my body. I thought maybe my blood circulation was being cut off, so I bent down and took off my shoes.
“Louisa! What are you doing! Put your shoes back on!” My roommate looked at my like I was losing it, and I was. I sat on the train in my socks with my shoes in my lap looking around at all of these people, including my friends, in utter terror.
“I have to get off of this train. We have to leave. The next stop goes underground and I can’t be on this train anymore.” I put my shoes back on and stood up to wait by the door to free myself from the train. We got off and my roommate went to the station bodega to buy me something to eat. But I couldn’t handle it. I sat down. Closed my eyes. Breathed slowly. Breathed faster. Stood up. Paced. Crouched down against the wall. Walked upstairs. Walked back downstairs. Sat down again. Without warning my friends, I ran upstairs out of the subway station and stood on the side of the road. A couple minutes later they came out looking for me.
We sat in a McDonald’s until I was ready to go again. They tried to get me to eat but I had no appetite. Especially not for a Big Mac on my birthday. That depressed me. I was shivering and sweating and panicking and thinking about my organs and thinking about these mannequin-like strangers around me. We ended up sitting there for a good two hours till I finally said: “I feel normal again! Let’s go!”
But, as soon as I got back down underground, it started happening again. We took the train three stops to 14th St, where we would transfer to the PATH train to New Jersey. I struggled the whole ride. As soon as we got there, I sprinted back upstairs again. It was raining now and I started pacing outside the station. Sat down. Closed my eyes. Stood up. Breathed deeply. I eventually went back down to wait for the path.
“Next train to Jersey City will arrive in approximately 13 minutes.”
With that, I ran back upstairs.
“I’m sorry guys, I can’t handle it. I don’t know what it is. I just can’t do it. I can’t be down there for that long.” I called my brother and explained, or tried to explain, that I couldn’t come for dinner, and got in a cab back to Brooklyn. By now it was 10 pm. I sat in the back up the cab with tears welling up in my eyes. I felt defeated, I felt embarrassed, I felt pathetic, but mostly I felt confused, because I had never felt this before.
Every day you see those people in the subway. Or loitering around McDonald’s. Those crazy, curious people who seem to have no direction. They pace, and they mumble to themselves, they stand up, they sit down, and they seem so flustered and misunderstood. I always wonder what they must be thinking. I wonder how long they’ve been that way, and what drove them to it. Now I know, even if just for a day, I know what it feels like to be one of them.
And it happened on my 21st birthday.