The year I turned 23, I wanted to have a big birthday party. I planned the whole thing! Cake, balloons, food, and music. The venue was chosen weeks ahead of time, and I invited all my close friends. THIS was going to be the birthday to put all other birthdays to shame.
I spent hours getting ready, I wanted everything to be PERFECT. I have a ‘thing’ for perfect. I always have. It is a burden and something in the way that I am wired, that I wish I could change.
I envisioned how the night would go. I’d make my big entrance, and there would be cheers, hugs, and well wishes, We would all break bread together and dance the night away. It would be talked about for years to come. Remember Jolene’s twenty-third birthday party? Now THAT was amazing! THAT was a party! THAT was a perfect night.
It killed me to be fashionably late. I hated being late to anything. And that day was no exception. However, the party was downtown, and I wanted to give everyone a chance to park their cars and get themselves situated before the party started. It was the polite thing to do.
I was SO excited. I nervously paced, and checked my hair, and paced some more. The seconds ticked by so slowly, and I tried to find any distraction that would occupy a few minutes. Finally, it was time to go. The anticipation was in full drive, and I was on my way! I couldn’t wait to see my friends!
The parking lot was full, which I took as a good sign! The lounge must be packed! Eeeek, this is going to be better than I thought! I had touched base with at least five of my friends that afternoon, and I knew they were coming, for sure. I expected about ten more. And that wasn’t counting the people my sister invited, the staff that I knew that worked there, and the band. I had 2 of their biggest tables booked, I just hoped that would be enough. We parked a block away, and made our way to the front door. This was going to be an epic evening!
I won’t forget the confusion that hit me when I got through the double doors. The place was EMPTY, completely empty, except for one of the cooks who sat in the back corner. He sat in his kitchen whites, smoking a cigarette and playing video poker.
The bartender and waitress chatted intently behind the bar. They abruptly turned towards me when the door slammed shut behind me. It was obvious that I just interrupted something important. I felt so small.
I scanned the room. I scanned the room again, hoping that at any moment, they would all jump out and yell SURPRISE, and we would laugh as the flood of relief came. But Nobody was there.
Pink balloons were tied to the empty chairs that lined the table across from the bar. A white slab cake with yellow and pink roses sat on the table. It was garishly made and stood out awkwardly. Happy Birthday Jolene was scrawled across the cake in purple letters. Right. Happy birthday Jolene. Happy freaking birthday to me.
We waited. Because maybe there was a traffic jam.
We waited. Because maybe they couldn’t find parking either.
We just waited.
For 90 minutes I sat and looked at the floor while choking back tears. I was far too embarrassed to make eye contact with my sister or the bartender. Free shots were sent to our table, twice. And then the manager sent over a cheap bottle of wine. They all felt sorry for me, which just made me feel more ashamed. The longer we waited the more shattered I felt. And when it was no longer suitable to blame the traffic for everyone’s absence, we packed up the slab cake and the wine and left.
I cried the whole way home.
The next day my answering machine was busy. I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the phone each time it rang. And it rang often. I stayed in bed, watched talk shows and cried while messages were left. They were all sorry but there were migraines, and transportation issues, period cramps, and double-bookings, and money troubles. They were all sure I would understand, because I always did. But I didn’t this time. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t enough, because surely if I had been, they would have been there for me, no matter what.
I began to learn a really valuable lesson that day. Expectation can be a dangerous word…