For a good 36 hours I was told that “you must have cake on your birthday.” Which makes zero sense. Fuck that.
Listen. I like cake. I’m an evangelist for cake. When America’s fetish with cupcakes and cronuts fades to the same Hades as crumpets and Turkish Delight, cake will stand with glory and honor in a way those miniature imitators never could. Cake is cool and I advocate the consumption and production of cake more than any other dessert.
But that doesn’t mean that people must have cake on their birthdays, any more than than they need tequilla or C02 sucking Snoopy balloons from Safeway.
But don’t let my anti-cake on birthday stance confuse you. My birthday is easily my favorite holiday. Which isn’t a thing normal people can say. I do. The reasons are simple. If I’m not going to celebrate myself, no one will. Nor do I really expect them.
I used to eat birthday cakes when I was younger. It was from Costco. Chocolate inside of chocolate under frosting. The cake itself was entirely everything I would have wanted it to be. My mother, never one to give her child everything they could have imagined wanting, would preemptively freeze most of it. Discovering the cake months afterward therefore became a really incredible thing. My mother wasn’t a woman who flooded her shelves with cake. Wedged between frozen bratwursts was chocolate inside of chocolate under frosting. That’s cool. I was never a kid who asked for anything and I’d never have asked my parents for cake and they probably wouldn’t have given me any anyway. And yet there was cake I could stumble upon and that was super cool. It was the best thing about my birthday.
So cake is cool. Cake on your birthday is cool. But it’s hardly necessary.
I can only imagine that the only reasons I don’t eat cake on my birthday is because people don’t realize that I like cake and that if there was something one ought to do for me on my birthday would be to get me cake. Not because I hold any weird nostalgic admiration for the traditions of my childhood. I can eat cake kind of whenever. Just buy that shit anyway. Cake isn’t a birthday thing. That they don’t realize this is probably my fault. I didn’t tell my roommates it was my birthday. My friends won’t up that morning, checked Facebook and thought, “Wait, it’s Roberts’ birthday?” Which is the reaction I like. My birth, as it were, is cool. But I’m not terribly comfortable with it being cool with anybody else.
So I spent day one of year 25 much like how I spent day 359 of year 24. Eating turkey sandwiches. Listening to music. It was an entirely acceptable Saturday. It was a cake free birthday in which I, like the 13 year old, learned not to mind.
I don’t know why anyone would take my birthday as anything more as something that matters to me. I’m alive. And the older I get the more conscious I am of how unbelievable that is. Two years ago I had a birthday and I probably had 40 dollars in the bank. The year before that I was a principled vagabound at best and a homeless nothing at worst. Being alive felt very tiring. So that I spent my 25th birthday in a bed, in a room I paid listening to Spotify Premium is pretty effin’ cool. It’s entirely everything I’d ask for. And so for that reason, without cake or streamers, or anything, it was entirely a birthday I can believe in: subtle, uneventful, entirely everything I could have wished for not very long ago.
When I went to work that Tuesday, I talked to Emily the Intern. I like her. She’s in law school. She’s from Ohio. She watches Adult Swim. I like her for non-existential reasons. Emily the Intern listens to EDM. Drinks. She’s like a fastball. You know what to expect. Not Muse-material, but perfectly normal for an afternoon conversation at the office.
When we talked about each other’s weekends I told her casually that I turned 25. She asked me if I had cake and I told her I did not. Which made me laugh. No. I didn’t have cake.
I wasn’t surprised she asked if I had cake because I imagine people from Ohio eat cake on their birthdays. Ohio.
My birthdays have eclipsed the necessity of a birthday cake and that’s a fact Emily the Intern can never understand. Nor would I expect her to understand. But she’s okay because she likes Clarity by Zedd and that’s the best song in the history of recorded music.
Thursdays Isaac the Intern is in the desk next to Emily the Intern so I didn’t bother her because I don’t want to bother him. I actually did work at work. Around 4:30pm, Emily the Intern emerged from her door turned left, not right, where anything she’d need would be. Heading toward me. For a good half second I lifted my left eyebrow, quickly cataloging every reason why she’d be standing on the threhhold of my door. Some people have eyebrows that are fluent in “Can I help you?” I do too.
Robert, I brought you cake.
Wait. . .what?
People have to have cake on their birthday.
It was vanilla with strawsberry-esque something in the batter. I looked at Emily and didn’t know what to say. But I wanted to cry.
This is the kind of shit I don’t handle well at all. I looked around and gave the look I do when people being honest and gracious demands I try to make them feel weird for trying. But I didn’t try that for very long. I said thank you. I walked to the kitchen and got a spoon. It really great.
I considered. Emily doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know that I like cake. She knows me for 16 hours a week while she works an unpaid internship at the National Immigration Law Center. The most meaningful conversation we’ve ever had was about our favorite characters in house of Cards. If anyone in the world should feel compelled to get me cake for my birthday, she is not it. But she did.
Emily getting me cake on my birthday is straight up the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. Even if it isn’t and even if categorizing my life as such is entirely unnecessary, I’m going to live life henceforth as if that’s the truth. On a random Thursday afternoon an intern brought me cake in a Tupperware something. And it’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.
If I ever have cake dedicated to my birthday again I’m going to think of Emily. Me and Emily might not see birthdays the same way but I can’t believe her view isn’t a special one. My life only lasted as long as it has because the Emily the Interns of my life decided to give me cake when I never could have expected them too. I don’t know why and don’t like talking about it. Because I’ll never understand why they did or why they cared so much or how when they weren’t obligated by blood they were compelled by love. It’s the coolest thing in the world.