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How I Spent My Birthday

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How I spent my birthday, by Michael R. Barrick.

I guiltlessly woke up at the crack of noon with a fierce determination to coast through the day with a minimum of anxiety and the voices of decades of guilt-trips about what I "should" be doing on mute. Grocery shopping had been done the day before. Bills were already paid. One of the nice things about being born on the 31st is that my birthday is also a payday so I was unconcerned about spending the cash in my wallet frivolously.

With relaxed sloth I made my "morning" latte. A latte for my first coffee of the day has been my habit for just a hair less than 25 years now. I married my first wife August 27, 1994, and an espresso machine was one of the gifts. Honestly, I had to dig out an old photo album to make sure I had that date right. Little things like that pile up over time and most of the time we forget where we picked up this or that habit.

While I sipped at my latte I futzed for a while with my latest relatively pointless project. I'm inclined to rather pointless curiosity projects. Pointless at the time, that is. Sometimes these things get traction on their own (like inadvertently taking the piss out of the 2010 Olympic mascots on a global scale) and often these things are the background to the bizarre skill set I bring to my job. This particular pointless project is getting Mac OS X running in a virtual machine on a computer with an AMD CPU.

Suddenly it was 3:00 when the alarm on my phone goes off to remind me to take my afternoon dose of the medications I was put on when I was convinced that a rope was the cure. On this lazy day the 3:00 alarm reminded me I hadn't taken my morning pills because I slept in, so I took the morning dose and just skipped the afternoon dose. Just two years ago missing my morning meds would have meant a full blown anxiety attack and the conviction that absolutely no one gave a flying fuck that I existed. Now, nothing of the kind. The only reason I'm still taking anything is because it is dangerous to stop too quickly.

I took a shower, got dressed and ran the vacuum that my second wife bought with the cash gifts from our wedding. I thought we should have put the money aside for a trip, but she was dead set on the vacuum. In later years she used the times I had bought practical gifts as symptomatic examples of the disorder she gaslighted me into believing I had. Is hypocrisy a symptom of menopause?

By this point the two little voices guilt-tripping me into things that I should do that I cannot mute were telling me it was time for dinner. So I fed the cats and started to think about what I would have to eat. There were a bunch of dishes in the sink, including the cookware I would need to cook any of the food I had bought the day before. So, in keeping with my stressless plan for the day, I loaded the dishwasher and went with a no-cook option: a Dagwood sandwich.

For the last couple days I'd been watching "The Boys" on a' [this abbreviated way of writing "amazon prime" came to mind today and I will use it from now on] so I fired it up from where I left off and tucked into my sandwich.

After I the sandwich it was time for the cake I bought myself, a 12" x 6" strawberry shortcake. I squelched the guilt imbued in me by my second wife by saying, "I'm O.K." out loud, cut the cake in half and added some ice cream on the side. It was my second wife's contention that my sweet tooth, and ice cream in particular was, responsible for my gaining weight. Thing is, I lost 60lbs around three years ago and kept it off. For the last two and a half years I've been happily going though about two litres of ice cream every three days, plus I've gone from the two of us sometimes not getting through a litre of milk before it went off to going through about four litres of milk a week (like I always did before her) and I haven't gained it back. When I lost the weight I had to buy all new pants because my old ones would literally fall off without a belt. I'm still wearing those pants. It's not the ice cream or other dairy that made me fat. I'm lactose tolerant, perhaps even excessively so (yes, that is a thing.) And for the roughly 5% of humanity (mostly northern Europeans that didn't have wild herd animals to hunt like other northerners and had to stay alive through long winters without killing the cattle that could make more cattle in the spring), the digestion of lactose has an interesting secondary benefit beyond raw calories: it literally make us happy. For reasons that have an obvious benefit for nursing children, lactose metabolizes into proteins that are subsequently used in the production of dopamine and serotonin. I could go on a long tangent on this, but the point here is that it was the goddamned guilt and gaslighting at the bottom of my weight gain.

After I finished my half a cake with ice cream I went ahead and ate the other half with ice cream with another out-loud affirmation of "I'm O.K." — something that was my therapist's idea to replace the "Fuck you,…" thought I'd always have when scooping ice cream.

I got caught up watching "The Boys" for a while before thought that if I was going to get the dancing and drinking done that was my plan for the evening I'd best start getting ready.

I put my hair up in the mohawk that I'd been growing out for months. I put on the leather pants that I had bought myself as a reward for losing those 60lbs., a favourite shiny black shirt, my stripey Kambriel tailcoat, and my new 'Vogs. Not a lot of people are going to pull off an outfit like that on their 52nd birthday.

It was getting a little late and with last-call being earlier on a Wednesday night than the weekend, so I reserved a Car2Go. On the way out I dropped off the rent cheque so I could sleep in the next morning.

Trekking through deepest, darkest Marpole on safari for my quarry, the elusive Car2Go still in the neighbourhood on a fireworks night, three different muggles skittered across the street to avoid the weirdo. This amused me.

With my 'hawk rubbing against the roof and being careful to keep the corner of my Swordfish ankle boots from hitting the brake while pressing the gas pedal I was off to the Astoria for some dancing.

As I approached the door, out came one of the cunts that helped my second wife pull the most profoundly vindictive evils while the only thing keeping me alive was taking care of my best friend of 20 years, my dying cat Tharsis, who was inconsolably mourning the recent death of his other life-long friend, my other 20-year-old cat Jazz. She caught sight of me and immediately pretended she hadn't.

Of course, when I went in, there was my ex. I would have been surprised if she *wasn't* there. She reported me to the police for walking past a pub she was in near her birthday as I was walking to catch the 99 after my office Christmas party, but it is quite alright for her to show up at the bar on the actual day-of to try and spoil my birthday. There is, of course another great, long story along these lines that I'll skip. I went to the bar, got a drink, and proceeded to socialise with the people there who aren't Grade-A Three-Ribbon cunts. One asked me if it was O.K. that we were both there. "It's her problem, not mine," I replied.

I drank, I danced, I had a good time. With a place that only had a 20' x 20' dance floor it was impossible to completely ignore her and her ridiculous shit. At one point she had one of her friends awkwardly standing in the middle of the dance floor. Whether that was to keep her from seeing me or to keep me from seeing her I can't be sure. Perhaps she's forgotten or in the 14 years we were together she never noticed that I mostly dance with my eyes closed? Nonetheless, she's lost the power to chase me out of places just because she doesn't want to see me, and I don't care about who she's become.

A few minutes before last call it was time for me to bolt lest I miss the bus. Happy birthdays were said and hugs were exchanged. Being a Wednesday it was a slow night and it was possible to do a quick headcount and I joked that only 12% of the people in attendance hated me, hooray for the other 88. I left light-hearted and smiling.

The trip home was the perfect dénoument. On the 10 home a young woman with blue hair and a young man get on. They sat down together in the sideways seats over the wheels in front of the joint on the articulated trolley. At first I assumed they are together. He's three sheets to the wind. He's trying to explain something, pointing to the screen of his phone, which he drops. When he bends down to get it a beer-fart is released. I say the fart was released rather than he farted, because it has a life of its own and it accosts everyone in the back of the bus.

Once the air clears and my eyes stop bleeding it becomes apparent that she doesn't know exactly where she is going and he is trying to help. Failing, but trying. He gets off somewhere around King Edward and she turns to two Asian girls sitting across from her. The blue-haired woman is trying to get somewhere on Marine Drive. Phones come out and are pointed to, but there's a language barrier. The Asian girls get off near 57th.

At this point she heads up front to talk to the driver. At this point I'm hoping she gets the directions she needs because this is the last #10 and the last stop is Marine and Hudson.

At the last stop I get off and she is still taking to the driver. I cross Marine, turn right and cross Hudson and begin walking north toward home. After a few steps I look back and she is standing on the corner, on the phone with someone, looking lost. I call back to her, "Are you all sorted? Did you get the directions you need?"


"Are you O.K.? Do you know where you are going? I overheard you trying to get directions," I say as I cross back toward her.

She starts crossing the street towards me. We're standing in the middle of Hudson St. "No, not really," she says.

"This is my neighbourhood, I can probably help," I say as we start walking east.

She still on the phone with her friend, which is smart. "I just met a nice man who is helping," she tells her friend.

I'm imagining her friend freaking out on her for talking to strange men underneath the Arthur Laing Bridge at 2 a.m. I'm also marvelling how to three muggles just a few hours ago I was scary enough to cross the street to avoid, but to a blue-haired 20-something, despite the added touch of probably smelling like gin, I'm "a nice man."

"Where are you going?" I ask her.

She tells me she is going to a friend's place on Fremlin.

"That's just a few blocks this way," I say.

We walk east. She compliments my glasses. I tell her I got them on eBay and they came from somebody's barn in Ontario and are almost 100 years old. She says that's really neat, that she likes antiques. She proceeds to tell me she's just moved to Vancouver from Penticton and the city is way bigger than she is used to. I tell her how I moved here from Vancouver Island, and we just keep chatting as we walk. I notice she's not on her phone anymore. I'm not sure when that happened.

When we get to Osler I tell her this is my street but before I go I want to make sure she knows exactly where she is going.

We walk about half way along the block toward Oak. Now it is my turn to point to things on my phone. I bring up the area on Google maps, zoom in, hold the phone horizontal and orient the map so everything lines up with the direction we are facing. I point out Marine and the Oak Street Bridge on the map an in reality so she's oriented. "You just have to walk straight ahead, past the cloverleaf and Fremlin is right there."

She says "thank you so much" and to my surprise gives me a tight hug.

"You're welcome" I say and walk back to Osler and home.

I didn't get her name or give her mine.

Any residual bullshit from my ex-wife's behaviour is gone at this point. Her echo chamber of arm-chair Internet psychiatrists educated on snake-oil blogs convinced her that the depression and PTSD I was struggling with was abuse, heaped changes I couldn't cope with on top of it all, and all the while convincing *me* that my mental state was a disorder I'd never get rid of. Well, no. This is the person I am. Sure, I was broken. I've made it through that, now. I'm O.K.


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