“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” —Mae West
Today I turn 51. A year ago I wasn’t sure I’d have another birthday. Thinking about the significance of the day, I’ve been reflecting on a few memorable birthdays:
2013 – I turned WTFifty. I had just finished chemo and radiation. I was bald. I’d been punctured, poisoned, bruised, burned, and needed something joyful. Harlan threw me a fabulous all-day party in our home. Friends came from every facet of our lives, and I was touched and grateful to see each one. My first ever birthday as a married person. My first ever birthday with cancer.
2007 – My 44th birthday was spent with a group of 20 friends at Chateau Villette near Paris, thanks to my friend Ann Stephenson. Ann introduced me to the motto, “Have red dress, will travel,” and showed me that, even suffering from severe illness, you can throw one hell of a party with the right guests and the right chateau.
2003 – I celebrated 40 with a SanFranTastic black tie soirée at the Top of the Mark, overlooking the glittering City by the Bay.
1997 – On holiday in the U.K. before starting my exciting new job at Oracle, I stayed with the ever-effervescent Sarah Kinnoch who plied me with champagne and gave me a boozy birthday bash in London.
1995 – While backpacking through Latin America I got stranded in Nicaragua during Semana Santa, Holy Week. None of the buses ran and everything was closed. Managua was hot and horrible; a depressing, post-apocalyptic sort of place. But I was able to hitch a ride into the countryside and spent a quiet 32nd birthday in a pretty mountain village, with Isabel Allende’s Eva Luna for company.
1993 – For my 30th birthday I went to Tibet and Nepal with two friends. We traveled overland through Tibet and slept in our coats and boots—we were so cold. There was no running water in the little guest houses, and one night I discovered mouse poop in my bed. We arrived at a beautiful, luxurious hotel in Kathmandu on my birthday. Hot shower, warm dinner, then dancing to the Fine Young Cannibals late into the night, at the top of the world.
1992 – I had just moved to Hong Kong and didn’t know a soul apart from my new flatmate, Ann, who kindly offered to take me out to the Lan Kwai Fong nightlife district. Late in the evening we met a charming young Brit named Chris, who after that first night became Ann’s boyfriend, our sometime roommate, and eventually Ann’s husband. Ann and Chris Reilly have been my dear friends now for more than 20 years, and it was wonderful to spend time with them in France and Spain last fall.
1991 – My dad was in Tokyo for business and came to visit me in rural Kumamoto, where I taught English for two years. We taught a class together at my school, and had a picnic under the cherry blossoms at Kumamoto castle.
1983 – I can’t say for certain, but I would bet that my 20th birthday included an all-night game of quarters on the 10th floor of the Danielsen dorm at Boston University.
And I remember many childhood birthday parties when my mother would bake nickels into chocolate cake. Each bite was a thrill, and I chewed carefully, always pleased to have a few nickels on my plate when I had polished off my slice of cake.
Looking back I realize that I’m quite fond of birthdays. Please, may I have another?
Watch Jennifer’s video, A Photo a Day – One Year with Cancer: