Kara Gooding shares a creative piece of fiction, centred around the birthday anxiety of a character, Mary-Anne. 


 

She woke up on the 5th of May. Her eyes opened as shots rang out in her head. Today was Mary-Anne’s birthday. These words echoed over and over, like a giant, bumbling monster bouncing off of the walls in her head. Her eyes stared at the ceiling, empty and scared. “Okay, today will be the day”, she rehearsed to herself, “we know we can do this”.

As she swung her legs out of bed, she began her journey to her parents downstairs. Taking stock of the room, she observed how her bed was surrounded by books. Stories narrated by knights, princesses and both. Photographs of her surrounded by family and friends. She stared at each of them in turn, wondering how to interpret them. She knew the characters and story, but she didn’t know how to relate, how to empathize with each of these people. Each felt as real as the other. She saw them all in her dreams and saw them all in real life. Except for a few – the ones that would turn up today. They didn’t infiltrate her dreams. She didn’t know what to do with them.

Slowly, one foot after the other, she trudged downstairs. She listened to each floorboard creak, a squeak of familiarity, until she had to face the real challenge. At the bottom she met her parents. One after the other they noticed her, and turned around with their sweet smiles and well-meant congratulations. Condolences. Congratulations for her birthday. As she looked at them she genuinely wondered whether they fully realize what they were congratulating. Another year of anxiety? Fear? Misunderstanding and dysfunction? It’s what they knew how to do, just the same as the only thing she knew how to do next was “thank you mum, thank you dad, I love you both very much”. This was all true, but said through a veil of tradition and uncertainty. Was a birthday supposed to be more than this?

Mary-Anne didn’t have time to question as she was inundated with sweet and savoury and colour and light. Pancakes with syrup and bacon sprinkles and sparklers. It was all so much, but she saw how happy they were. Mum and Dad. The anticipation, and wanting her to feel like the most special person in the world. She didn’t. She didn’t think she ever would. But goddamn would she let her parents wait for a second thinking that she didn’t. Embraces. Braced together. Warmth. I don’t know what to say or feel. Tears in their eyes. “I love you.” “We love you too, darling”. Once the traditions were over, the pancakes were eaten.

She sat down with a book, far away in a corner cushion, as her parents whizzed around the room. She could see how hard her parents were working. She could see the effort. However, all she wanted to do was fall into a different world. Looking at the book, the words swirled together towards the different dimension. She could see it – the centre in her hands, the world separate from hers. She could take herself away from every other facet of reality. How easy it was to reject reality. All she had seen so far was frustration, sadness and nothing beyond perseverance. In her worlds, there were wizards who fought bad teachers, witches who helped others, protection and childhood that were never intervened. She could see herself in this world. But before she knew it, her parents rocked her back into existence. “Your friends are coming soon! Aren’t you excited?” She drowsily brought herself back, taking several seconds to understand what was going on. But she understood, and she watched the anticipation on her parents’ faces. They wanted this to be the moment. They wanted now for her to realize that this was the world she needed to be in.

From her corner, slightly darkened, she saw her invitees drop in one by one. The slowness of arriving and slowness of understanding arrived at her like drops along a stalactite. They eventually started to form some kind of comprehensible mass, but too slowly for her to realize the phenomenon occurring and too slow for her to take some kind of action in intervention. Guests stood for a while in the bare, too-perfectly decorated living room, staring around at the sculptures and paintings that stared back at them, soon wondering where all the real people had gone. My parents happily replied that they would show them the way towards the other children. Away from me. Towards the children.

I did reconvene with the rest of the children. They were playing SingStar. I enjoyed SingStar – there was an element of perfection that I knew would exist, that could be attained by some human measure. All the other people were my game. I played. I sang what I could. How much could I understand while I saw male and female performers squirm on screen. Is that performing? Do my peers expect me to do this? I measure and replicate the squirming and screaming. Performance. This is what I knew about people – they knew how to perform for others. I had seen very little that wasn’t some replication of a squirming or screaming of another, and this seemed to be fairly accurate. In a moderate dose, I garnered some applause. Applause. My first external praise. Not only would I replicate it further, I would extend it and exaggerate it. Is this what it felt like to be popular? Or was this just because it was my “birthday”? Suddenly, a voice from underneath exclaimed that lunch was ready. The next part of the ritual. I watched all my peers filter down the stairs, like ants into an anthill. As I watched them filter down, I accepted my moment as over, and pushed myself down into the mound.

I emerged underneath. I saw my friends gathered around in joy. They clambered together for the sweetness of cake, the happiness of a gaily made food of some character assumed to ground me, such as a pink-eyed princess or a green-blue scaled dragon. I tried. I really did. Mum and Dad must have really wanted me to make this moment the moment of relation to all of my peers. As I descended the final step of the ladder, that very moment I gave up. I gave up hope. I gave up on intention. I gave up on having a future of understanding everyone else. I decided that that world where I knew myself, the only world where I knew where I stood and how I should embark on my quest, was the only world I could really belong to. In between the understanding, I saw the transition. Everyone sang ‘Happy Birthday, in the usual, jovial tune. Once I had to wait for the end, I simply stood. I was immobile. Why interact with such a world when there was no chance of being understood.

Goodbye, and watch my spiral down, into your oblivion.

 

 

Kara Gooding 

 

 

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