Friday, June 24, 2011

the birthday project: still alive at twenty five.

In June 2005, I turned 25. I was living in Vancouver at the time, in the middle of two years of grad school, feeling very mature and uncertain. I'd decided not to come home for the summer and it was a source of constant tension and horrible near-daily phone-fights with my then-boyfriend, who was still back home in Onterrible, as we expats on the fairer coast called it. As my birthday drew closer I felt sadder and sadder about not being at home with my friends, who were all going to see Modest Mouse play a show on Toronto Island on my big day. I felt as if the universe were doing me a pretty grave injustice (this was pretty much my resting state for most of grad school).

My parents sensed my angst over the phone many times over, and made the incredibly generous decision to fly my baby brother out to Vancouver as a birthday present. He arrived the day before, and I dragged him to the Naam, the world's best vegetarian restaurant, home of the cashew-avocado enchilada that I basically ate by the pound while I lived out west. I was always lucky to have visitors when I lived far away, visitors with whom I could share the incredible miracle of the ocean, the mountains, the clean air and steep streets that humbled me each time I left my apartment on Arbutus. Noah and I hiked in Stanley Park and he was appropriately amazed.

On my very birthday, Noah announced that Mom and Dad had sent him with enough cash for a good dinner for the two of us, along with my roommate and soul twin Tara. I got it in my head that I wanted Indian food, so we found the fanciest Indian restaurant we could find, a place whose name now escapes me on West Broadway, and schlepped on up there in our nicest jeans. We ordered so much food that the waiter raised his eyebrows and said, "Are you sure?" We replied that, oh yes, indeed we were. At one point the owner came over to ensure that we were satisfied with our meal, convinced that we were Somebody.

Afterwards we took a guitar and some cans of Granville Island Honey Lager down to Kits Beach. We had a bonfire singalong that included a stirring rendition of Big League by Red Rider, and listened to the waves hit the shore. On our walk home, we broke into the salt water pool and swam surreptitious circles as sirens wailed in the distance--they weren't for us, but it sure felt like they might be. We stumbled home and fell asleep. I woke up early the next morning, smelling of saline and smoke, and called in sick for work.

Tara took to referring to Noah as the People's Little Brother after that, for his willingness to do ridiculous things like break into pools and order extra drinks and keep the bonfire going. I felt pretty lucky to have a little brother who was worthy of mass appreciation. I spent a lot of my time in Vancouver feeling homesick in the best possible way, and that night I felt so glad to have a piece of home riding shotgun.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

the birthday project: dirty thirty.

In June 2010 I turned thirty. I spent the week before my birthday at home with my parents, making jam and going to see Christopher Plummer in The Tempest and doing a lot of yoga. After breakfast on my birthday, I barreled up the 401 back to Kingston, a town I'd fallen in love with, a town I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life in.

My best friend Freya drove down from Almonte and we drank afternoon champagne cocktails. My boyfriend brought me flowers. My oldest friend Danielle lived a few blocks away, and we strolled on over to her house and into a backyard filled with friends. My gift from them was a water bottle filled with wine spritzers, and we drank in the streets all the way downtown, where we went on the Haunted Walk of Kingston. I cannot recommend this tour highly enough, although you should probably be intoxicated when you go, because most of the ghosts are actually invisible and/or puddles of water on the ground.

Afterwards, we ate pizza and drank a lot of drinks, and then Freya, Tom and I stumbled home along the side streets North of Princess. Tom and I stayed awake nearly till the sun came up, listening to old records and talking each other's ears off. The next day we went camping on the pine-covered point of the property Tom had just bought. Danielle and I paddled the canoe there while the menfolk made their way on foot. Our little boat was filled with precious cargo, including a violin and a guitar for a late-night singalong. Tom had bought me a tent for my birthday, and we set it up on the shoreline. I jumped into Eel Lake, our lake, THE lake, and thought to myself, Well, this is it. This is all you'll ever need.

Monday, June 20, 2011

the birthday project: feeling fine, twenty nine.

On June 24th, 2009, I turned 29. My friend Freya had informed me that your 29th birthday was actually one of the most important birthdays of your life, because it represented the Return of Saturn, the end of your first 30 year cycle. She told me that whatever was going on around your 29th birthday would dictate what your life would be like for the next thirty years. I love that kind of gravitas--makes me feel more alive.

A few weeks earlier, I'd made the move I should've made years before, from my sweet little apartment on First Avenue in Ottawa to my sweet little apartment on Charles Street in Kingston. Leaving Ottawa made me feel like the lights had been turned back on in a room that had been dark for too long. I was falling in love with Kingston, and falling further in love with someone else in the process.

The weekend of my birthday, I drove back home to Hamilton to have dinner with my parents. Our usual quiet cocktail-hour celebration evolved into a wicked party with a generous handful of my best people. There is no greater feeling than watching a car filled with your closest friends drive up to your house, then helping them move a sleeping bag from the back seat only to discover your furthest-away friend hidden underneath it. We ate spring rolls and drank champagne and smoked covertly and rocked the hell out till my mother came back outside to tell me to stop singing Midnight Train To Georgia for Christ's sake, the neighbours were trying to sleep. The next morning I drove back up to Kingston feeling like the luckiest girl in the world.

On the morning of my actual birthday, my friend Jacoba and I went for a run. Kingston is a great running town, sloping streets and old houses and a waterfront trail that passes by Martello towers and street people and helicopter landing pads. We ended our jaunt at Pan Chancho and ate pastries instead of a proper breakfast, because their power had been out all night and their ovens weren't working yet. I went off to work, where I hadn't told anyone it was my birthday, because I didn't know any of them very well yet and I really hate being the centre of attention. I felt like I was keeping a really, really good secret.

the birthday project: lucky thirteen.

My thirteenth birthday fell on a Thursday in June of 1993. In celebration of what was, at the time, a colossally monumental day (OH MY GOD I AM A TEENAGER), my parents had a really embarrassing picture of me as a kid published in the Announcements section of the Hamilton Spectator. Some of my friends found it before school and had it blown up and taped to my locker when I got in. I had never felt so embarrassed and loved at the same time; it was an emotional combination platter that would become more familiar to me in the years ahead.

In some ways I was one of those kids who was always very mature for her age. In other ways, it was basically a miracle I didn't still drag my security blanket to school. Case in point: my thirteenth birthday was the first year I didn't ask my friends to come to my party in some sort of costume (dress for your dream vacation!) or under the pretense of some hyper-involved craft (plaster mask making! DESIGN YOUR OWN PIZZA!). Instead, we ordered pizza from Pizza Pizza, and then my parents dropped us off at the movies to watch Jurassic Park UNACCOMPANIED BY ADULTS.

I'm pretty sure Jurassic Park was rated PG-13, because I was concerned that one of my friends, who was still only twelve, might not be able to get in. The hype leading up to the release of that movie was unlike anything I'd ever experienced--for reasons that now seem silly, the whole damned universe was so incredibly excited to see realistic dinosaurs on the big screen. While I remember practically nothing about the movie itself (in spite of the fact that our family later bought it on VHS and my brother and I probably watched it twenty times), I do remember that feeling of being caught up in some kind of zeitgeist. Perhaps this was the beginning of my life as a pop culture vulture.

I think we lied to my parents about what time we needed to get picked up so we could just stand outside the movie theatre yelling at passers by for awhile. I felt alive then, suddenly careening toward independence, dizzily wondering if now that I was a teenager, a boy would pull his car over and ask if I wanted to go for a drive. Of course, no boys pulled up (no boy in his right mind would try and interrupt seven thirteen year old idiots on a sugar high in the Centre Mall parking lot), and my parents came to collect us just as it was getting dark outside.

A lot of things changed for me that summer. I stopped listening obsessively to Broadway musicals and started listening obsessively to Pearl Jam, Sloan, and AM 640, with its unique combination of Top-40 hits and late-night phone-in shows. I inherited my first pair of Doc Marten boots. I craved a maturity I hadn't earned yet. And sometimes late at night, alone in my bedroom, I began to feel the creepy, tiny stirrings of the sadness that would wash over me in the months to come, the sense of helplessness in my own body and my own brain that would colour the next few years of my life. But the night of my thirteenth birthday, I was still just straddling that precarious line between childhood and adolescence, screaming at the top of my lungs.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

the birthday project: hocus pocus, caitlin's five.

In today's installment of the birthday project, we travel back to the days of Cabbage Patch Kids, and machine-knit kitten sweaters.

I turned five on June 24th, 1985. We had just sold our house on Holton and were gearing up for a move even further east, to Huxley Avenue, to the house where most of my important moments over the next twenty-odd years would take place. I didn't know that yet, though. I just knew that we were moving, and that I wouldn't have to take the bus to school anymore. (During the previous year, my mom, who didn't drive yet, bused and taxied me and my baby brother across town every day to the nearest French Immersion school, so that I'd be able to get into the French senior kindergarten class the following year. She is fucking hardcore.)

Most of our stuff was already packed, so I remember my party taking place in a room with sheets covering the remaining furniture and floors. The way it looks in my memory is a lot like how the house looked at the end of the series Growing Pains, nearly empty but for a few inexplicably-as-yet-unpacked family photos and trinkets.

My parents hired a magician for this party. As was my custom for most of my childhood and adolescence (and, who are we kidding, adulthood too), I had a complete and utter meltdown as soon as the attention was on me. I listened to most of the magic show from the confines of my upstairs bedroom. Before every trick, the magician had everyone shout out the magic words, "Hocus Pocus, Caitlin's Five!" to which I would scream "SHUT UUUUUUP!" from behind closed doors.

I'm sure there was also a cake, somewhere. Maybe hidden under a sheet.

Friday, June 17, 2011

the birthday project: hey, nineteen.

I've had some pretty killer birthdays in my time. With my Big Three One coming up next week, I thought I'd take a little trip down memory lane, starting with the year I became a liquor-buying adult.

I turned 19 in June of 1999. I'd finished highschool the previous January, and instead of doing what most kids do with six months of free time (Go To Europe! Start University Early!), I'd whiled away the days working part-time at the library, going to a lot of really sketchy raves, and smoking a tremendous amount of hash. My birthday fell just a few days before my highschool graduation; it was also the day of my last-ever piano recital. Preoccupied with my impending ascent to the age of majority and all the freedom and fear that this transition held (also, very stoned), I had really shit the bed on practicing my piece. I performed a series of postmodern variations on Land of the Silver Birch, poorly.

After the recital my boyfriend and I went over to a friend's house, the kind of friend whose mother was never home. We smoked pot out of a bong made of an old Slurpee cup--a special edition Slurpee cup, shaped like an alien. My parents had given me a bottle of Blue Nun wine as a present which remained unopened that night. I remember finding it really funny that on the first day I was actually allowed to buy booze, I didn't drink a single drop. Years later, I found out that Blue Nun was Judy Garland's favourite wine.

A few days later, we all graduated from highschool. There was a huge party at my friend Kathryn's house. Kathryn and I would go on to become insanely good friends when we went away to the same university, but at the time we'd only had a couple of classes together. My boyfriend showed some other kids from our class how to do bottle tokes out of a peach schnapps container--we had quite the makeshift pipe repertoire in those days. All in all the whole night felt like an out of body experience. I had the sudden, bracing feeling that I was ready for this particular chapter of my life to be over. A few months later, when I moved to Toronto, it was.