Monday, July 2, 2012

Half Birthday

I think I was 24 the first time I actually celebrated my half birthday. Or, more accurately, I was 24.5, which was also the title of a mixed CD given to me by my friend Jess (the boy) on the occasion. That CD introduced me to the throaty goodness of Lucinda Williams and the tender lyrics of Bonnie Prince Billy, and fueled me all the way across the country later that summer.

I blared it loud and long, until the day my Volvo was broken into on a Nonesuch rafting trip and all my CDs were stolen. The kids duct-taped my rear window for me. M remembers me giving him a look across the fire that night; I remember noticing my new co-worker, whose sweet guitar strumming soothed my troubled soul.

27.5 is the next half-birthday that sticks in my memory. I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, just getting into the rhythm of traveling alone. I looked in the Lonely Planet, found a hotel pool, and paid a dollar to swim for an hour, all by myself. I did the butterfly until it took my breath away. Then I headed to an outdoor cafe to savor my new favorite drink, iced coffee, and read Louise Erdrich's "Love Medicine," a beautiful novel that, in its own way, took my breath away.

This is the first time I've been in California on my half-birthday since moving out here nearly nine years ago. The day started tired and gray. M had to rush out to the store unexpectedly. Somehow it was already time to nurse Mallory again. I combed my bookshelf for a new novel to read, landed on Erdrich's "The Painted Drum," and dug in.

Later, Carrie, Thomas, and their kids Belle and Ethan (who we call simply, "the family") came over. It was one of our classic homemade mojito-and-pizza Sunday afternoons, totally delightful in its mellowness and serenity. We spent most of our time out on the front porch (where the plants are happy but the couch is dusty) chatting and laughing and watching Mallory break into spontaneous smiles. For dessert we had strawberry shortcake and, as Belle calls it, "hoof-less" Jello.

Still, I'd forgotten to sweep the sycamore debris off the porch. I ate one too many pieces of pizza. The kitchen counter devolved into an unholy mess of discarded crusts, whipped cream splatter, and crushed mint. Mallory badly needed a bath. By the evening, tempted to feel bad about this stuff, overwhelmed, still, at 33.5, by the constancy of imperfection, I sought refuge in my new novel. It's passages like this one that make Louise Erdrich so dear to me:

"In the woods, there is no right way to go, of course, no trail to follow but the law of growth. You must leave behind the notion that things are right. Just look around you. Here is the way things are."