I made it. I made it to my 37th birthday. This past year has been a whirlwind. I went from finally admitting that I like girls, to being diagnosed with cancer, having my lady bits ripped out, pouring drugs down my veins, radiating my torso to the edge of reasonable limits, getting a leave of absence from work, shaking off my house and my mortgage, and actually going on more dates than I had ever had previously in my life. I have never felt more fear, love, joy, and abundance.
Even though a list of everything that has happened to me this year may appear to be a list of sorrow and tragedy, I feel it is exactly the opposite. I have learned to trust more than I ever have in my life. I learned to communicate and build relationships. I learned to love myself first. I have also been learning how to love, receive offerings of love and appreciation, and show my love to others. The impact of these lessons has enriched my life in a way that I never realized it was possible to feel.
How does one top off such a year? With the most spectacular birthday party ever!
I didn’t know how good my birthday was going to be before it happened. I tend to understand that my birthday is a lot like Christmas in recent years. It would come and it would go. There might be a fun gift here or there, but it wasn’t going to be mind blowing. Getting older didn’t always sit well with me either. Here is another loveless, sexless year. What was I doing with my life? I felt all the pressure of being the town hag: childless, partnerless, pathetic. Instead of a day of celebration, it was really just a day for emotional abuse.
Because of this year, and all the growth I have gone through, I didn’t look at my birthday the same way. I didn’t have to hold down the label of being the poor, childless, unwedded, single, fat girl. I embraced the cute, quarky lesbian who chose a life without the shackles I have been told from birth that I needed. I wasn’t relationshipless; I was surrounded by friends who loved me. I didn’t have to feel judgment about not being enough because I finally discovered that I am enough.
At the beginning of the week, I decided that I was going to celebrate my birthday every day. I had one good meal and one delicious pastry every day. I bought myself an early birthday present. I treated myself with love and gratitude. It may sound ridiculous, but when you have never practiced this level of self-love…it is a weird and wonderful thing. It took so much effort to be so mean to myself in the past. It took so little effort to love myself and make me feel good.
My birthday started after midnight, with a shout-out from my beloved boys, Alex and Max. It was clear that they had some things planned for me, but I was to be patient for them to be revealed.
I went home and relaxed for a minute. My father arrived 25 minutes early to pick me up. He knocked on my door, which made me jump. When I answered, he came in holding a birthday card. I opened it. The card had a lovely message that stated that I had always had a hold over him, that he loved me. It also contained a fifty-dollar check. That was the most money I have gotten from my Dad in ages. I was shocked.
We walked out to the car and he paused and looked at me. “I don’t want you to go to this restaurant just for me; it is your birthday,” he stated. We had talked about going to this little Italian restaurant. It was a little pricey, but the food was delicious. I told him that I was excited to go there.
The restaurant is in an old building that used to house a machine shop. The ceiling had the kind of detail you just don’t see very often. The walls were old brick. The dining room had a capacity of less than a fifty people, and it was busier than any other time I had been in there.
We dined on a Cesar salad, Chicken Marsala with roasted red potatoes, asparagus, and a bottle of Chianti. It was absolutely delicious. For desert, I got a raspberry glazed cheesecake and my father had the cannoli. Over the delicious food, my father and I chatted about random stuff. Then he brought up that he wanted to talk to me sense the incident in December, my kidnapped coming out episode. He apologized that he dragged me to events that I didn’t want to go to. I explained to him that it wasn’t that I hadn’t enjoyed his company, or even the event and people that we got to experience together, the problem was that I was having difficulty telling him when it began to become really inconvenient because I didn’t want to disappoint him. The bigger message of the whole incident was that I wanted to be more honest and open with him, but I hesitated because I didn’t want to upset him or have him think anything less of me.
He began to tell me that it came as a surprise, because he was always an open book. What you see is what you get. My mother, on the other hand, was completely closed off. She never spoke of certain subjects around him. She also would get very upset with him, but never tell him why. He only realized it when her purse came flying at his head. Although this may sound over exaggerated, it was actually very true. I told him that it was obvious that my mother had the inability to be emotionally available to anyone. She was never really vulnerable to us, her family. The closest person to her, my Aunt April, didn’t even know everything. My mom just considered herself completely worthless. If she didn’t speak about something that happened to her, it was because she held an incredible amount of shame over it.
I told my father that he should never feel unable to ask me something. I said that my siblings and I want to feel able to be more vulnerable, but that the legacy of our mother had impacted all of us to hold similar demons. It wasn’t because he was a flawed person, or lousy husband that she was unable to open up to him, it was problem much larger than him. I felt a little sad that my father never really had the kind of relationship where he felt closer to his other half. It made me understand why I am the way that I am.
He was also concerned that Alex didn’t like him. He commented that he had never had problems with Max. I had to giggle. During my coming-out pow-wow, Alex sat with me to help me communicate with my father. He made it a point to guide the conversation, and didn’t hesitate to point out the truth or stand up for me. He was never mean, but my father had never had someone be so honest with him directly. I could see how my father could have interpreted it as an attack, because he was direct and honest even if he knew it might hurt a little. My father couldn’t distinguish it as a sign of love because the ego got in the way. I saw it as another surprise moment where I got some insight as to why I react in certain situations the way that I do. I also pointed out that Alex has never hated him, nor did he currently hold any ill will toward him.
The whole conversation was therapeutic in a way. I could tell at the end that my father didn’t really want to go. We sat for a while after we had eaten. He finished his coffee, than waited until he finished his wine. He talked about wanting to get an electric scooter, like a Hoveround, so he could walk the dogs and enjoy festivals again. I gave him permission to drive around a little bit. We checked out some medical supply stores, even though they were closed. Eventually, he dropped me back off at home. I couldn’t tell if he was reluctant to go home because of dealing with my brother-in-law who lived there, or because he just wanted to spend time with me. I hope it was the latter.
I was really touched by dinner, but I was excited to go over to Alex and Max’s. I knew they were up to something. I went over to their house as soon as I was done. I walked in to the studio being up and ready. I crept behind the green screen to find Alex in mid-makeup. He had texted me the link to a video.
Okay, I LOVE So You Think You Can Dance. One of the judges is the bubbly ballroom aficionado, Mary Murphy. The video Alex sent me was of him dressed up as “Fairy Murphy.” Alex had on a brown wig with bangs, dark rimmed glasses and no make-up. Fairy Murphy had seen some tape of me dancing and was to become my talent agent for a modeling/dance company. She had already booked me for my first video. The hint was that I would be Maddie. Huh? The video also had an ending title of amusing non-sense, “Save the Pandas! Eat salted vaginas.”
Well, Alex had it all set up. We were going to do a dance video to Sia’s Chandelier, the same video that Maddie from Dance Moms danced so beautifully in. He had laid out my costume, which was pretty dead on. He was going to be kind of a black swan in it. I got dressed and he put on my make-up. The make-up application was super soothing. I felt like I was at a spa.
We did several takes. Some had us playing with rope lights, others with fabric. It was the first video that we did where I felt completely open. I didn’t harbor any self-consciousness. I just tried to interpret the music. At the end, Alex and I collapsed from exhaustion. I looked like a sack of potatoes on the ground. He asked if I wanted to order pizza, and I yelled out, “yes.” Max came home from play rehearsal to find us post video, collapsed on the floor. I am sure it was a sight.
Clean up from the video took almost no time. I had a moment with Max and told him about all the fun stuff. He looked at me directly and stated, “I know. No, really. I know.” It was clear that Alex and him had been planning this out for a while. I had been walking through it just endlessly surprised and thrilled. I had no expectations; I was just open. It was a fun feeling. So many times, I have been in my head on a day like today. I would be trying to figure out why I was still such a loser on my birthday. Why wasn’t I where I wanted to be? This birthday, I had none of that negative talk in my head. I was just open, open to receiving. I wanted to be present. I didn’t want to miss any part.
The pizza was delicious. I couldn’t wait to see some of the video we shot. We started peeking at some of it when Alex’s brother and his boyfriend showed up. Alex’s brother was in a good mood, but his boyfriend was clearly uncomfortable. This was the second time we really met him. The first time ended with him getting drunk and leaving early to see a dying pet cat.
As I was talking to the brother and boyfriend, Alex yelled for Max to come to the bedroom. The boyfriend looked directly at Alex’s brother and said, “Look. We aren’t the only ones,” as if it was normal to yell at your partner. Alex was just trying to get Max so they could present my cake and balloons. Alex and Max emerged with it, fully lit with “Happy Birthday” candles. I felt like I was having movie play out before my eyes. It was beautiful. It was Instagram. The colors were so bright. Alex and Max sang “Happy Birthday” in harmony. I could have bawled. The last time I had a birthday so perfect, I was thirteen and being presented with a cake a vacation Bible school. My family had kind of forgotten my birthday, so it was a time where I felt so loved. This was definitely on that level. I made a wish and blew out the candles.
The cake was delicious. I am a cake savant. I know every bakery in the area. This one was from a great bakery just down the street. It was beautifully decorated. The frosting was light and whipped. The cake was moist and white. The raspberry filling between the tiers was to die for. I loved every bite.
All five of us tried to relax and get to know each other after the cake. The boyfriend was completely closed off. Trying to get him to open up and have fun was like trying to extract teeth. It was painful. I realized that the boys had complained that I used to act the same way. It was like the boyfriend felt like he wasn’t worthy; he was convinced the boys wouldn’t like him, so he threw more ammunition at them to hate him with. I noticed that as much as he felt we were judging him, his comments would indicate that he was totally judging us. He even just got up and left mid-conversation to smoke without excusing himself.
It was awkward and weird. You could tell that Alex’s brother was grateful to be over and he was happy and just wanted to play with us; the fact that his boyfriend was being a boob kind of embarrassed him. I was impressed at the kindness and inclusiveness Alex’s brother showed him. I could see that he was a good boyfriend and it was sweet. I was even surprised at how much Alex and Max were trying their best to be authentic and welcome him to the fold. I could tell that the boyfriend couldn’t accept it. He was so miserable that he couldn’t see how much love was there for him. I felt bad for him. I felt bad for my old self, but was really glad that I wasn’t stuck there anymore.
I wanted to completely check out. I was having a lovely birthday and he was dragging the energy down. Instead of closing off, I just decided that I was going to be totally open and honest. I usually reserve this uncensored version of me for the boys, but hell, it was my birthday. If he didn’t like me, it was his problem. Besides, if he really wants to be a part of this family, he better get used to it. I kind of shocked myself with how vulnerable I was and felt proud of being unapologetically myself. It came across like one of the final scenes in Auntie Mame. In it, her nephew is getting ready to marry a girl who was super shallow just because she was the epitome of what society thought a good guy should marry. The simple act of being herself, and inviting her friends and her nephew’s beloved characters in his life to be themselves, ticked off the girl and her family and called off the wedding. At first her nephew was embarrassed to death, but he could finally see through his fiancé and her family’s hollowness. This was not the family that he ever wanted to be a part of.
After the brother and his boyfriend left, Alex, Max, and I watched the rest of the raw footage from the video. It was great. We laughed until we cried and I wet my pants. I was told to go home and rest up because I was going to have a big day ahead of me. Before I went, there was a new message texted to me. Fairy Murphy had seen the tape and loved it. I was booked for a world tour. I needed to get my passport ready.
I didn’t have a passport. “Oh,” the boys remarked. “We got that handled.”
I was presented with a beautiful card made out of construction paper. It was a passport for my journey around the world. It was absolutely beautiful. It had obviously taken some time to make. Alex admitted that he glued all the pieces together with spirit gum (usually used to flatten his eyebrows while doing drag). Inside the card were several boxes just waiting to be stamped with my great adventures.
I went home completely stoked. It was already one of the best birthdays EVER. I still had a full day of festivity left. I was almost a little too excited to sleep; I couldn’t wait. Meanwhile, poor Alex and Max were busy out of their minds. Alex hadn’t really slept in days, and I couldn’t even begin to comprehend how much more he and Max busted out that night to make the next day even more perfect.
I was instructed by Fairy Murphy to return to the studio by noon, not any earlier nor any latter. She also added a hilarious tip, “wear gloves to a wake.” When I arrived, Alex and Max were definitely tired. They appeared to be far from rested. I was told that I needed to have my phone with me at all times throughout the day. I got my first text. It was from my Choreo-lady-bro, Tappy Nabs (taken from the powerhouse hip-hop choreographers and couple, Napoleon and Tabitha, nicknamed Nappy Tabs). Max was dressed up in a blonde wig with a thin, red shiny headband. His face was covered in blue eye shadow, bright pink cheeks, and bright red lips. His arms were bedazzled with a ton of bracelets. The clip ended with the message, “Show only your tits when mom is near.”
Tappy Nabs said that my first stop was Illinois. It was there that I was going to enjoy a special treat known by billions all over the world. I honestly had no idea what that meant. I grabbed my phone and passport and joined the boys in the car. They kept asking me if I knew where I was going. I had no idea, but my belly was grumbling. I actually felt a pain in my stomach and groaned a little in surprise, but didn’t let on to Max when he asked that I was hungry. Next thing I knew, we were pulling into a McDonald’s. Get it? McDonald’s was started in Illinois. Alex gave me a badge with a construction paper replica of the golden arches to tape in my passport. I ordered a bacon cheese Quarter pounder. It tasted so good. The sustenance also made the boys perk up.
Like clockwork, I got my next text when we had finished. Nappy Tabs said I was booked for a gig in exotic India. Again, the boys asked if I knew what that meant. I had no idea. Kama Sutra? Bollywood? Alex drove leisurely through town. I was enjoying the drive but the car was not. The transmission was slipping between first and second gear. With each slip, the car would jerk like it was going to stall. I started to worry if we were going to make it to where ever we were going. I was particularly nervous going up a steep hill on the west side of town. Before I knew it, Alex slipped into a very familiar parking lot. It belonged to a hair supply shop that we had recently discovered.
“You are going to get a new wig!” the boys exclaimed. “Of thirty-five dollars or less,” Max added. I was STOKED! I really wanted a new wig. The last time I wore one, I had to wear a long one twisted up and pinned because it was too hot on my neck. I also thought my wigs were a little too dark for my complexion. Besides that, the boys and I have had some friction in the past because I don’t choose the right wigs and I am not always patient enough to wait for them to help me out. I didn’t have to worry about any of that. They were both here and they both wanted to make sure I got the cutest wig possible. I was given a badge with a girl’s head with a black bob and eagerly placed it in my passport.
I just walked into the store fully with open energy. As we walked to the wig corner, I was overwhelmed with all the possibilities. The boys asked if anything caught my fancy. I was just star struck. They began to pick out different options and styles. I tried on one; it didn’t really work. Max picked out a short, curly style. At first, I put it on with the part down the center. I looked like a redneck Carrot Top. Just as I was about to take it off, I twisted the wig so the part was on the side. This tiny movement made the wig just totally stand out. All I could imagine was a nerdy, book-wise hipster lesbian getting ready to walk into Whole Foods in Ann Arbor to look for artisanal cheeses. It just fit.
The boys loved it. They thought it was the most authentic to my personality wig I had ever put on. You could tell they were extremely pleased; especially when they found out it was only twenty dollars. I loved it so much that I wore it out of the store.
My next text from Tappy Nabs told me that I was take in the azure waters of Hawaii. I was to take in the clear waters and enjoy the local cuisine. I was given a badge that I thought was a mock up of an island, but twisted the right way was obviously a Hawaiian lei. The video ended with the note, “I buy rice when I am broke.”
We returned to the boys’ house where the rest of the day would unfold. Originally, the boys thought they were going to be really broke on my birthday. It had been a super tough month for them financially, so they concocted all of this when they thought they had nothing else to give. Alex got paid early, which enhanced some of the plans, but everything was built to capitalize on what we had and what they knew I loved. It was as exciting as a holiday was when you were a little kid and made decorations out of your scraps. What made it special was the time and energy involved. I was already blown away with everything. It was beyond anything anyone has ever done for me before.
Before we made it to the pool, Alex brought out some goodies. He had a blow-up toy for each of us. They were bought from the dollar store and were the appropriate size for a Cabbage Patch doll. I had a hard time blowing up my blue half ring, with a porpoise head. I worked on it for twenty minutes concerned about my breathing capabilities until Max pointed out a huge hole on one end. Still, they were fun. I was even presented with a plastic coconut beverage holder filled with a tropical punch. They had a lid with a straw, and a flourish of fake greenery on top. I got me a floppy sun hat to wear so I wouldn’t burn my head, and everyone was also given Hawaiian lei to add to the atmosphere.
We had put up the pool a week or two earlier but had not swam in it yet this year. I haven’t been able to swim for nearly a year. I wasn’t allowed to after all the procedures that I had. Now, fully healed, I could join the fun. I put on the new swimsuit I had order early in the summer. It was pin-up style, black with cherries all over it and a sweetheart neckline.
I was eager to climb up the staircase to the pool. Of course, it was wobbly and unstable like always. I have always been a little scared of slipping on it, but I hadn’t tried it since my surgery. Stairs have been my downfall after surgery. I have always been afraid of falling down stairs or ladders. I don’t know why. It is just a thing.
After the surgery, my thighs lost a lot of their strength. At first, I had trouble getting up and down stairs because I had no strength. Knowing that I had no strength, I knew I had to be careful because my thighs could give out. This made my fear of steps grow even worse. Once the boys moved their living room upstairs, I had to face this nearly every day. It would take me 5 minutes to do the stairs on any given occasion, and it is only one flight. I had made great progress over the last couple of months on the stairs. I can even do them without holding the rail on occasion, sometimes leg over leg.
I had not done anything as complicated as a ladder yet. Going up it was harder on the knees than I remembered. Getting up to the top, putting my foot over the side, and swinging over to walk down the other side was terrifying. I could feel the ladder shake as I became more nervous. I held my breath and just tried to continue moving without thinking too much. Eventually, I slipped into the water. It was super clear and chlorinated. The boys jumped in with their beautiful dog but we didn’t get to stay long.
A thunderstorm was approaching. We thought about waiting it out in the pool, but the dog was too nervous and Alex too guilty to leave her in the house. We decided to get a bite to eat. We climbed out of the pool as it began to rain. When we got up to the deck of the house, Max put some chicken on the grill. I sat under the large patio umbrella and watched as the rain came even harder. Max was getting soaked while trying to get everything cooked and Alex was prepping other food in the house.
I became fascinated by the faux coconut beverage containers. I stared at the one in my hand and started thinking about how I would have used such an item as a kid. I loved creating little villages and worlds for my tiny figurines. They were a hodgepodge of characters. Fisher Price people, Cabbage Patch kid erasers, He-Man & She-Ra, and another other creature that fit the scale of what I was playing in. I would have used this type of cup in some tropical sub-world that would sprout out on my family room floor, to the dismay of my parents.
I went from visions of doing this as a child, to other instances were I was drawn to miniatures. At 13, I was given a beautiful, wooden dollhouse and a family of Victorian people. I collected items to use in that house all the time, especially during a big family trip out West. One of my favorite places is the big dollhouse in the basement of the Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. I am always fascinated with the commentary on how all the tiny books and items were made and collected. I than jumped to thinking about an old woman that I used to talk to whenever I was dragged to functions for my father’s alma matter. She loved miniatures and told me about conferences she would attend or the latest item she had made for her latest project.
I had been struggling over the last few weeks about an artistic outlet I could pursue at the boys’ house. They had changed their entire house to accommodate their budding interests. Alex had a make-up table and new drag closet. Max had a work area where he was building a 23-foot dragon for his summer community theater production. They had made a space for me too, but I was at a loss of what to do in it. I knew they wanted me to feel comfortable and inspired, but I felt more lost.
I had brought over art supplies. I brought over a journal, but nothing was speaking to me. Now I had an epiphany. The boys were doing things that they have been toying around since their youth. If I thought about what I spent the most time doing in my youth, building little villages and characters held the majority of my time and attention. It hit me; maybe I need to get back into doing miniatures. It didn’t have to be an expensive hobby. You just had to look at things differently. I could do it in a still life, a shadow box, or whatever. I also knew exactly where I should start. I saw myself making characters out of the polymer clay they had at the art supply stores.
In that moment, I was hit with extreme clarity. I immediately shared it with a drenched Max. He could see where I was going with it. The feeling I described was exactly what he felt like when he worked on his creations. Alex came out and I told him. He was surprised at first because he had never heard me talk about my life in miniatures before. I told him that it was something that I never thought I would do again, that it was just child’s play. In a flash, I had an answer to the question I had been pondering for awhile. It was life changing in the level of clarity and ease of which the message came to me.
We ate dinner inside the house, grilled chicken with pineapple and tasty rice. It was very worthy of our tropical destination. I chuckled when I remembered the quote at the end of the last video. Max said that when they first came up with this, they were broke. The boys admitted that they had been planning this whole event for days. Every meal, every stop, every detail had been carefully thought out. You could tell that there was so much love and care put into the day. The rain only added to the tropical flare. It was a quick downpour. By the time we were finished eating, the storm had already left.
We returned to the pool to continue our swim. I had a moment of terror climbing up the ladder again. I had tried to just climb the ladder without worry. Unfortunately this time, I felt paralyzed at the top and unable to move. Max watched me and hesitated to help, but realized I was sort of at a stand still. He came over and held the ladder and calmly encouraged me to lift my foot over the pool railing. I was scared that twisting my foot on the ladder would lead to twisting my ankle or lead to loosing my footing. Eventually, I was able to make the transition and get into the pool.
We floated and chatted in the cool water for a while. We like to make a circle and create a current to ride on. At one point, we noticed the acoustics in the pool were amazing and lined up in the middle. Max sung out one note and Alex and I would harmonize to it. It was kind of interesting. The sound was great and took on a meditative monk like feel that sort of blew us away.
We also horsed around a little. Alex would lay me on my back and pull me around and around. As I relaxed, I enjoyed watching the canopy of the trees above go by. As a little girl, I loved playing in a pool. Sometimes I would be in the company of friends or older siblings and would want to have one of them lift me up or pull me around. I always knew that I was probably too big, so I didn’t really seek it out. Often, I would be the one pulling someone else around. In this pool, Alex is a heavyweight. He can lift almost anyone. So, my inner kid was invigorated and open enough to enjoy feeling the weightlessness.
When we returned from our swim, I got another text from Tabby Naps. This time I was going to go to the Wisconsin State Fair. I was to enjoy some delicious fair food and cheese curds. I was presented with a badge with a cheese wedge on it for my passport. While the food cooked, Alex pulled out a bag of cheese curds and put them in a bowl. Since my father is from Wisconsin, I am very familiar with cheese curds but we almost always fried them. I had never eaten them cold and unbreaded. I found that I loved the saltiness and spongy texture. I ate almost the entire bowl. We loaded up our plates with delicious croissant wrapped sausages, potato salad, macaroni salad, and baked beans before I got my next destination text.
“Are you ready to cool off,” Tappy Nabs asks. “Are you ready to feel colder than you ever felt in your life? Are you ready to explore the great northern wilderness of the North Pole and maybe get raped by a reindeer? Well girl, it’s your time. So get festive, and get on upstairs.”
I taped in my new North Pole badge, grabbed my plate of food, and started to head upstairs. As I came up, you could feel that that air conditioner had been on for some time. Than, I noticed some interesting decorations peeking out over the railing. The boys had pulled out Christmas.
The once sparse and white room had been taken over by the colors and lights of Christmas. There was a tree, decorated with the Abominable Monster from Rudolph and a swag of fabric. A string of felt cutouts hung from the antler of a vegan moose mount (done in foam board). The short wall under the television was covered in red fabric and lights. Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is you” played on the television and I found the elusive Miles, the black cat, laying on my red snowflake fleece blanket on my customary seat. I was so taken aback by Miles being out in the open, that I had to take several minutes to pet him. I hadn’t really cuddled with him brought him home two years ago. He tends to run and hide, so this was a real treat.
We sat down with our food, and Alex played a video of Judy Garland singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” All three of us kind of teared up. Alex mentioned that I had always said that I liked to watch my Christmas tapes with my sister in the summer to try and recapture the feeling of Christmas. He and Max had done it for my birthday. It was so incredibly awesome and touching.
I looked over my shoulder to find a stocking hung on the wall. Alex said open it up. Inside was an assortment of candies: Snowcaps, Reese’s peanut butter cups, Reese’s pieces, and taffy. I hadn’t opened a stocking with real gifts in it for years. I felt like a little kid.
That wasn’t all. Alex flipped on a video of the Christmas Yule log with a holiday soundtrack and drew my attention to the end table by Max. There were several beautifully wrapped packages. I couldn’t believe they were for me! The boys passed them over for me to unwrap, one by one. There was a glow stick, a ribbon baton, butterfly stickers, a dart set, two kinds of comfy socks, and a bag of lavender air freshening potpourri.
I got overwhelmed in the middle of the gift fest. I couldn’t believe they did all of this for me. It was an embarrassment of riches. A part of me felt that it was too much, that I wasn’t deserving of it all. I worked to push that negative voice away so that I could be in the moment and fully enjoy all that was presented to me.
Alex created a play list of Christmas delights. He had segments from my favorite Christmas special of all time, Claymation Christmas. They were interspersed with holiday commercials from the 80s and the 90s. It was like a time capsule. We were sort of amused by the emotional manipulation and the catering to a kid demographic. It was clear that these messages messed with our heads over the years. They made you want a Rockwell holiday so bad. It was hard to keep from having your heartstrings pulled. In many ways, as happy as they made you, they could also make you sad. I was a sucker for a Hallmark moment.
In the midst of the play list, there was an important breaking news announcement from the desk of Fairy Murphy. She had great news; my video had been selected to be presented on TRL (Total Request Live, MTV’s biggest show of the 90s and 00s). Also, the ending title wanted me to know, “Once you go dyke, you buy a bike.” I was confused. We had shot the video the previous night, but it usually took days or weeks before Alex normally finished editing such videos.
My jaw dropped as the final edit of our Sia Chandelier video popped on the screen. Alex had spent the entire night putting it together. It was beautifully edited on the tops of screen captures of the apartment in the original video. Alex’s persona, LyKra, and I were transported to the slightly insane, dark world Maddie had danced in to interpret Sia’s powerful ballad. I, in some ways, was Maddie.
Alex looked at me, with tears in his eyes, and said that he knew I would often look at the dancers like Maddie, or on a show like So You Think You Can Dance, and think that I would never be able to do what they do, to move people through movement and emotion. He wanted me to realize that despite my age, weight, or cancer I can still be the dancer that I dream of being. I can be my own version of Maddie.
We all bawled and watched the video several more times. It was special. There are no fancy dance moves, no technique. I am sure some people might chuckle at two fat people moving around like they are incapacitated to a song about alcoholism. Still, we saw two people who had removed the restraints of self-consciousness to sincerely dance with joy and pure intentions. Alex even saw it as us showing the strains of the struggle of life, encouraging others to hold on and face life with courage and excitement.
Emotionally spent, I got a new video message from Fairy Murphy. I was to go to Italy and enjoy some “balls, meatballs.” We enjoyed a lovely bowl of spaghetti and meatballs and I was presented with a badge for my passport with a paper cutout of the coliseum. Everything was so perfect. The time and attention to the details was intense. The hours of planning and prepping showed through. I finally understood what Oprah meant when she, “love is in the details.” Each detail meant that a separate thought or intention was set. Each detail represented a specific wish to delight me, to let me know that they knew me, to let me know they cared.
Before I could finish, I received another text from Fairy Murphy. My next stop was China with an ending title warning me that, “you better get that checked out.” Ha! I got a badge with a star made with little strips of paper.
“What could that mean?” Alex asked. I didn’t know. He than gave me another box to open. It was filled with six huge fireworks. But wait, there was more, another huge bag with smaller fireworks.
We went outside and he began to set them off. For a half hour we watched Alex light several fireworks. Some were small and sparkly. There were smoke bombs and noisy ones. In between them, were six huge ones. When he lit them up, the earth shook under our feet. We would watch them climb super high and explode into a canopy of light. I almost hit the ground when he lit the first one.
I couldn’t imagine anything sweeter, but there was one last text from the desk of Fairy Murphy. I was to end my day at Yellowstone National Park. I was given the final passport stamp, a yellow stone. The boys set up a bonfire in the back yard and brought out chocolate, marshmallows, and graham crackers for smores.
You could tell that they were exhausted. Quite frankly, so was I. We watched the glow of the fire trying to catch and marveled at the hundreds of fireflies in their backyard. I looked over and saw Alex almost passed out on the flimsy plastic Adirondack chairs, formerly from my back yard.
I decided to lay back and watch the sky from mine. I could feel my weight sink into the chair. I felt heavy and tired. I relaxed, completely thrilled with the birthday I had. The boys couldn’t believe it was already over. All their hard work was done.
I used to think that people didn’t feel this appreciated unless they were near death. I don’t think my mother ever was really able to feel the full love of those around her until she saw them by the side of her hospice bed. I, too, had difficulty being able to feel the love in my life. I wanted so desperately to be loved. When people gave comments or special gifts in the past, it was so easy to politely accept them and brush them off. I would reason that they just didn’t know the real me. If they did, they would realize that they were in error.
I knew that this thought pattern isolated me. I had so many walls built up over my life to prevent this emotion of being appreciated by others. I don’t know if I thought that if I never felt it, I would never know what it was like not to have it. I don’t know if I thought that those who showed affection might do so only to get close to me so they could hurt me. I don’t know why I had often been so closed down.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, I realized that if I continued to isolate myself and prevent myself from feeling love, I would die. Feeling love, giving love, being surrounded by love is not a luxury; it is necessary for a human’s survival. I worked hard to allow more love in my life. I wore it on a bracelet on my wrist to remind me to always side with love. I put the word up in key places in my house.
Over time, I felt like I was able to feel it more and more. As much as I loved these boys before I was diagnosed, my love for them has only deepened in such a profound way. I know and trust them implicitly. I have seen them love me when I have acted like a spoiled brat, a fearful and scared child, and as a weak, sick and wounded sack of sorrow.
They have taken care of me, when I didn’t know how to take care of myself. They loved me when I didn’t know how to love myself. I wouldn’t probably be alive today if I had never met them, and I could never imagine my life without them. I will never know how to repay them.
Just when I was at my most relaxed state, the chair snapped. My back fell to the ground and my butt was still up on the bottom part of the seat. The sharp edges of the broken plastic were poking my skin precariously. The boys popped up and helped me get on my feet.
We stood looking at the fire that was refusing to start. The boys were clearly exhausted. They had been downing several 5-hour energies and relying on adrenaline to power them through the day. Now that their master plan had been executed, they could no longer fight back the exhaustion.
Even though it was 11 o’clock, super early in our world, I told them it was all right to call it a night. Alex glued the badges permanently onto my passport as Max and I gathered my bounty of gifts from the day. I gave each of them huge hugs and promised that this had been the best birthday of my life.
As I drove away, I broke down into a pile of tears. I realized that this was not only the best birthday of my life; it was probably the best day of my life. I finally understood that you could feel all this love and acceptance without the precept of disease and dying. I could no longer tell myself that I was unloved or uncared for; I clearly was deeply loved. I would no longer need a killer holiday to prove that others loved me or that I was worthy of that kind of love.
I worried about how I could repay the boys for all that they had given me. I used to suffer from the flawed belief that you couldn’t accept a gift that you couldn’t return in kind. This kind of thinking always made me nervous about accepting presents from others. Once you started to feel the guilt of having to return the favor, you can start to jump out of receiving the full love of the gift and can even start resenting it.
Today, I just let the love wash over me. I allowed myself to feel it in the way it was intended. I tried to stay present and relish every detail. I worried about my mind forgetting even one moment. Hence, I ran home to try and record every blissful second.
I wanted to let my boys know how everything they did deeply impacted my life. The only way I could really let them know how is to use my gift of writing to send them an ultimate love letter. I want them to know that no detail was overlooked. Even when the balloons lose their helium, the gifts wear out, and the memories fade, I could still let them know how much I know they cared. As Maya Angelou so poignantly said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I will never forget how this birthday made me feel.
UPDATE: This video was featured on DanceMoms! It was a special interview with all the girls that aired prior to the season premiere January 2015.
Maddie Ziegler comments about our video:
“Like, people really put all their effort into this.”
You can check out the entire clip here: