Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
It turns out being 40 isn’t as bad as I thought. In fact, it’s awesome.
For months, I was dreading it, but then something amazing happened. I had a marked shift in my consciousness that is unlike anything I have ever experienced before.
For as long as I can remember, birthdays were always stressful. I was probably the only 5-year-old in the world who had a complete meltdown at her birthday party because my mom got a cake with strawberry filling. As soon as I saw that bloody goo between the layers of my cake, I started bawling, and soon the rest of the kids were crying too. I still have a visual of the garbage can filled with uneaten pieces of sliced cake. I don’t know how my mother did it, especially considering it was back in the mid-70s before Prozac was invented.
It only got worse from there. Every year, we’d play these birthday party games, like Pin The Tail on the Donkey or whatever, and I never won. Not ever. It wasn’t so much that I was a sore loser, because I was. I was interested in the cool little prizes my mom would give the winner. Finally my mom got so fed up she ended up giving me all the prizes even though I didn’t win any of the games. I had to have it all – the plastic clip-on earrings, the wooden paddle with the rubber ball attached by a string, the candy, and the tiara. There is a photo of me in my little red dress with the white tights and black patent leather Mary Janes and a handful of goods to prove it.
It was only the beginning of a lifetime of “I want.”
Once I was old enough for sleep-over parties and birthdays at the roller skating rink, it was all good, at least for a while. We’d get decked out in our Levi corduroys and velour V-neck sweaters with turtlenecks layered underneath, and down vests. At that point we were rockin’ ribbon barrettes and feathered hair. The roller skating rink had a disco ball and played all the new Michael Jackson tunes and the pizza was really bad but we ate it anyway.
I don’t remember much about my birthdays in high school or college, more likely than not because that’s when alcohol became involved and pretty much obliterated any memory of whatever it is I probably wanted so badly to forget.
It was most difficult during my adult years. Soon birthdays were just a measuring stick to remind me just how far behind I was in the grand scheme of life, whether it meant not having a serious boyfriend (mid-20s), not being engaged (late 20s) not being married (early 30s) and not having a baby (late 30s).
Often times there was some traumatic event mixed in to compound that, like the night before my 35th birthday when the Guy Of The Moment cut me loose with the bone-crushing, ego-shattering, heart-breaking line, “I don’t know what you want from me.”
Of course GOFM knew exactly what I wanted. I’m pretty sure at that point in my life all I asked for was to be acknowledged by someone when they were actually sober.
For my 30th birthday, I was living in San Francisco and working for a dot-com. It was the year 2000, and everyone thought they were going to get rich off IPOs and tech stocks. I was making more money than I’d ever made in my life and doing absolutely nothing because our website wasn’t up yet. I decided to go big, declaring it the bat mitzvah I never had – 30 seemed a lot more appropriate for a coming of age.
I rented the top floor of a big Spanish tapas bar on South of Market and had the whole thing catered. I had a huge crush on my boss Nicholas who was likely the motivation for a lot of what that party was about. I invited everyone I worked with, because they were the only people I knew at the time – unless you want to count my ex-boyfriend from college who just happened to be living there too.
Nicholas never showed up. It turned out he was in New York for the weekend with his girlfriend who, I learned that night, was a Calvin Klein model.
I ended up going home with my ex-boyfriend. Despite our long history, he treated it like any other one-night stand, sheepishly slinking out of bed before the sun rose to return home before his girlfriend found out he was gone. I’m pretty sure that whole debacle ended in a conversation wherein someone said, “I don’t know what you want from me,” yet again. He married her a few months later.
So I thought I’d keep it low key this year. I thought maybe if I turned 40 and no one was there to see it, it didn’t happen. So I left the country. Let’s just say I had zero in the way of expectations.
The Friday night after my return, I innocently went to Plato’s for dinner thinking it was date night with Ryan to find a room full of family and friends yelling, “Surprise!” just like they do in them movies. There were presents and balloons and big plastic jewelry and a tiara or two. It turns out Sarah, my best friend from high school who lives in the valley, had been putting it all together for weeks, contacting all my friends old and new to give me this special day.
“Pretend you’re a princess and eventually, people will start to believe you,” I told my guests during our pre-dinner toast.
It was that night, surrounded by people I love all together in one room that I felt that shift. For the first time, I had everything I could ever want.
Now the challenge is how to top it. Did someone say roller-skate disco party?
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