“Maggie, Put Down The Fedora”

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Steven, blowing out my birthday candles…and my hopes and dreams

Generation Y kids (now nearing adulthood at thirty,) have been criticized for not having an identity. Most commonly characterized in the working world, they are considered selfish, lazy, unrealistically ambitious, too relaxed, too driven, or creatively arrogant. A walking, skipping, laughing contradiction. Before the term “Generation Y” formed an identity, or lack thereof, I knew I was grappling with a crisis: a complete lack of sense of self. All growing up I never had a “thing.” You know, unlike the girls who were gymnasts, or the hockey players, the damn ballerinas, or even the student council nerds. I was a wafting amoeba, attempting to adopt free floating personalities as they came my way. I came to accept my amoeba self pretty early on, but my seventh birthday really solidified what I had come to know: I enter this world alone, and I will leave this world alone.

My parents were less than mediocre photographers of their children’s upbringing. I learned at a very young age to pack the camera on family vacations and to force everyone against their will to pose for portraits at holiday dinners. My four-year-old hands picked up many a blurry or over-exposed picture at the Cash Wise grocery store photo counter. I slowly folded back the sticky flap on the photo envelope and carefully reached into grab the crisp bright photos. Look at the avante garde picture of my dad holding a spatula in the kitchen. Ooh, I really like the composition of my brother yelling at me as I tried to snap a picture of him in the bathroom. Best yet is the emotion evoked from my mother with pursed lips and dagger eyes as she sits with the dogs, hating anyone who captures her image for eternity.

Since photos were such a point of personal contention in our household, I was shocked when my dad brought home a 25-pound camcorder, complete with a VCR on the side, that was built to sit on a grown man’s shoulder. My dad borrowed it from the film department at the university where he worked in order to forever capture the greatest event in human history: Jenny Turns Seven Years Old. I had been asking to have a birthday party for years, deeming it “unfair” that every other kid in my class had a birthday party at the hotel with a pirate ship in the swimming pool, and that every other kid also went to Disney World every year. (I had to throw that in there.) Finally my parents caved. My mom told me to make a guest list, which included every person I’d ever met in addition to my favorite characters from The Babysitters’ Club. We widdled the guest list down to fourteen – fourteen of the most elite people to ever grace the social scene. The hotel swimming pool was nixed so I had to improvise and throw the best house party Fargo had ever seen.

While my dad tried to figure out how to fit the VHS tape into the camcorder, my mom had designed a different game for every room. Pin the tail on the donkey was set up in the living rom, ready for blinded children to stick a hairy body part on a confused ass. Everyone was silent as the victim spun around aimlessly. Now, I was a loud child. I was also pretty bossy. I think the only reason I ever wanted friends was so I could tell them what to do. So as everyone else bit their nails in anticipation, and stifled their laughter as the party attendee “zombie-armed” their way directly for the bull’s eye, I was on camera shouting, “No! No! DON’T GO THAT WAY!” in an attempt to throw them off course. My dad’s bodiless voice came on: “Jennifer…” disciplining me for such malicious deception.

I packed my competition with me as I traveled from room to room, watching as kids were climbing under sofa cushions, throwing my parents’ sculptures back and forth like footballs. Maggie had gotten into my grandfather’s World War II memorabilia and was prancing around the room with a little red fedora on her head. I wandered into the dining room where we gathered around the table for what I can only imagine is called, “Ball Blowing.” Kids on one side of the table attempted to blow whiffle balls off the other side, as the other kids tried to keep them on. Fun and exciting for about thirty seconds until guests started passing around left and right. Lucas grabbed his head, said he was going to be sick, and the camera was shut off as my dad sighed, “shit.”

After the guests were resuscitated we headed into the garage for the grand finale, my mom’s homemade piñata, full of anything and everything a child could dream of. It glowed heavenly in the dimly lit dingy garage. The undisturbed paper maché of perfection was calling my name: “Jennifer, this is your time to shine. It’s time to perform for your adoring fans.” I grabbed the wooden broom handle, laughing as a good showman might before her performance. “Everyone draw a number!” My mother shouted overhead the minions. I stood poised, ready for the first swing. “That includes you Jennifer; it’s only fair.” Fair? You want to talk about fair? How about that I’m seven and I’ve never even set foot in Magic Kingdom? Or that Theresa got me a math workbook as a present? Or that Lucas got me a pen? This is my day, mine. Fine, I’ll play your little game, mother.

Eleven.

I stood and watched with calculating eyes, silently cheering with each swing and a miss. Maggie’s older brother, Jess, an arrogant son-of-a-bitch second grader grabbed the bat with blood pumping and foam forming at the corners of his mouth. Swing – hit! Swing – hit! Swing – blast! The piñata exploded with shrieks, cheers, and the last bit of hope I ever had that my parents were humane or just. Time for cake? Fuck the cake. I’m going to nibble on this existential crisis as I blow out the candles on the paradigm of my childhood.

Thus began a life of necessary independence, and a quest for pleasure. Pure, unapologetic pleasure. And I never looked back.

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