“I was a ghost on your birthday”- Transient Love by The Menzingers.
The letter was one of the smaller gifts waiting for him in the stacked pile of large oblong boxes. Brian would have almost missed it and it would have been thrown away in the refuse of blue and green wrapping paper, and thin ripped tissue paper warped into balls, if it hadn’t been for his astute eye. He was hoping that a smaller package was hiding amid the bigger boxes, something the size of an iphone, but instead he found the aged envelope.
He recognized the handwriting right away, and wasn’t sure that he should let his parents know, or if he should just slip it under his leg when he picked up the next gift. It was from his brother, but he had an idea who had put it there with the other gifts. He looked for her face in the crowd and he was sure she almost gave him a hint of a wink with her smile. She was mirroring the other faces all around him, though she was more his brother’s age. The not quite thirteen-year-olds, the smooth fourteen year olds, and his family, all smiling, even though they all knew someone was missing.
It was like a taboo to even think about it, about him, and Brian forced the thought out of his mind as he tore the wrapping paper away from a gift that any newly aged teenage boy would have wanted, it wasn’t the newest iphone, but he thanked his Aunt Judy for the socks anyway. He kept opening gifts, the pressure and the weight of the envelope pushing down on him, though it was safely trapped under his leg.
He was afraid to think about him too, afraid that it would crash the mood of his party and call back angry, tormented memories of his family’s past. Definitely not the right mood for a birthday party. So he kept opening the rest of the gifts, reacting as appropriately as he could to whatever the boxes and gift bags held. Then when they were exhausted, and the table cleared of all surprises, his mother called them all in for cake and ice cream. That was when Brian shoved the letter into his pocket and forgot about it until later.
The letter forced itself back into his memory as he got ready for bed that night. It fell onto his desk as he emptied his pants pockets of the things he had gathered during the day. The rocks that he and Tommy had collected to mold into slingshot ammo, the wadded up dollar bills that nearly every card had contained from the party earlier, and then there was the letter, a new crease running along the thick envelope, the writing still clear as day. His name in his brother’s scrawl.
He wasn’t sure he even wanted to open it. What if it was the one thing they had all been looking for, the one thing that they were all missing as to why the things happened how they did. Instead of opening it right away he stared at it for quite some time.
But eventually, curiosity got the better of him and he broke the seal on the envelope and pulled out the contents carefully. It was a birthday card, and Brian wasn’t sure if that made him feel better or worse.
On the front was a dog driving a racecar, his ears blowing from the acceleration. The front was a bit juvenile, with some pun about the happiest of “Barkdays”, but Brian was more interested on what was on the inside.
At first glance, the inside was normal, the completion of the pun from the front of the card that would have made any twelve-year-old laugh, and then Brian saw it, the binder paper folded perfectly to fit in the card. His brother had written him a small birthday message in the card in his nearly unreadable chicken scratch, but the binder paper was more important.
Slowly, Brian unfolded it and found a letter inside, in his brother’s handwriting, and he struggled to make out the words, either through his brother’s handwriting, or the moisture that had blurred some of the letters, making them large splotches of blue ink.
Happy Thirteenth Birthday! I’m sorry I couldn’t be there personally to tell you all these things but now that you’re a man, you deserve to know. There’s only so much pain and sorrow one guy can take alone. There are too many secrets that can’t always be kept, or friendships that require more balance than a tightrope walk, there are too many things that should be happy, that caused me too much pain.
But this is your birthday message, so I guess I should keep it somewhat upbeat, teach you the lessons of being a man or whatever. All of my problems started around the time that I was your age, so if I can give you any lessons about how to avoid the same mistakes I made, these are them:
Make Friends: You were just a kid when we moved here from Ohio, so you might already have more friends than I did at your age, but I was thirteen and going through puberty and moving in the middle of the year when all of the cliques and friend groups are already formed is tough. Make real friends, not just the guys that hang around the first girl you ever kissed. Make true friends that like the same things you do, and whatever you do, don’t force yourself to like something or have something just to fit in. Friends are out there.
Find Love: All kinds of love, not just the kind that makes your underwear feel tight. Love for friends, love for family, love for music. Yes, there will be romantic love too, but don’t force it, you will only cause yourself more pain. When you feel love, for friends, family, or the girl that you hated in elementary school, don’t hide it. Embrace it and your life will be so much easier. Mom and Dad will understand if you truly love it. You might get your heart broken, or wake up one day and find that you hate whatever it was you loved yesterday, but it is worth the risk.
Grow: Don’t stay hidden behind what people expect you are. How often have you and I gone out and looked at people and made snap judgements? “She’s shy” or “He loves cats”. People will judge you by what you look like and how you act, but that doesn’t mean you can’t shatter their expectations of you. “She’s shy BUT she likes to belt out showtunes when no one is looking.” “He loves cats BUT he can never love them as much as he loves Death Metal”. Explore your passions and don’t keep them hidden. Break out of your shell every once in a while and be brave.
I didn’t follow any of those lessons, and I ended up wherever I am now. Don’t get me wrong, Brian, this is meant to be a happy message, despite the blotches. Just be yourself and never apologize for that. Don’t make the same mistakes I did, and live the best life you can.
Ok, enough sappy stuff. Well maybe one more thing. Something to end this letter off right.
I remember the day you were born. I was just coming home from kindergarten and mom usually had a snack out for me, but no one was home and the door was locked, so I waited outside. It wasn’t very long before Grandma picked me up and we went to the hospital. You were just born so you were in the incubator, and I remember asking Grandma why you weren’t in Mommy’s tummy anymore and then I told her that I wished you would have just stayed in there. I liked my room to myself.
The truth is: I am a better person, a better brother for knowing you, Brian.
I’m sorry that I can’t be there in person, and I’m sorry I was a coward. I shouldn’t be just a ghost on your birthday.