WEDNESDAY: Happy Birthday


Copyright is held by the author.

WHAT HAVE I done? Jennifer looked down at herself in shock. This couldn’t be how she really felt inside, could it? These bright, clashing colours, mismatched patterns, all designed to get a reaction from people. It wouldn’t matter what kind of reaction, just something that made people notice her. She ran her hands through her hair. They came away dusted in a rainbow of chalky colours. And her hair was so short! How had this happened? She wrung her hands, trying to dust off the chalk, then slowly, reluctantly, turned to face the mirror behind her.

The image in the mirror depicted her as she’d always seen herself. Dark, subdued clothing — neat, grey woollen skirt just the right length, ending at the knee; white, long-sleeved polyester blouse with tie collar; sensible flats; and shoulder-length mouse-brown hair curling under slightly at the ends. It wasn’t at all the way she appeared when she looked down at her actual body. What was happening here? Which was real?

Jen looked over at the cupcake sitting on the table, smoke still drifting from the candle stuck into its frosting. All I did was make a wish, she thought. I just wanted to know how other people saw me, what they thought of me. Now I don’t know which one to believe. Am I the bright, shiny adventurous explorer I appear to be when I look down at myself, or am I the dowdy, mousey little nothing I see in the mirror?

It’s like a scene from Alice in Wonderland, she thought. Eat the cupcake, don’t eat the cupcake. It had been sitting innocently on her kitchen counter, tiny candle burning, when she’d left the party and come home early. It’s no fun spending your 21st birthday at somebody else’s 21st birthday party — a party where you knew no-one, and where you didn’t fit in. All these fun, bright, creative people — artists, musicians, actors — the kinds of people Jennifer had always wanted to have as friends, but had never been allowed. Now that she was at college, she should be able to choose her own friends, shouldn’t she? But no, her early training wasn’t going to rub off that easily. She didn’t know how to talk to them, how to dress like them, how to be like them.

Except . . . well . . . maybe, now she could. But which Jennifer was the real Jennifer? The drab, colourless accountant her parents wanted her to be — the one she saw in the mirror’s reflection? Or was it the colourful Harlequin she appeared to her own eyes? That person could fit in with the people at the party she’d just left. That person could hold her own in any conversation. That person could be passionate, creative, artistic. That person wouldn’t care what anyone else thought of her. That person could be the person Jen had always wanted to be.

Eat the cupcake or not?

Happy birthday to me, she thought and took the first bite of the rest of her life.

  1. Good story, Beverley
    Without sounding too much like Oprah or Deepka…’s wise to live your one life on your own terms.
    My personal motto……”If you don’t fit in you don’t have to go along.”

  2. Thanks, Jazz. It really is the story of my life…I never did fit in. I could never understand why other people were happy to be just like everyone else. What’s the point of that? We’re here to create — to generate ideas, build things that haven’t been seen in just that way before. Conformity sucks!

  3. a gift of aging to embrace who WE want to be — excellent last line — live on on your terms now.

  4. […] we re-post a favourite story or poem from the CommuterLit archives. Today we present the story, “Happy Birthday.” Click the link to […]

  5. Which faces stares back at you from the mirror? The image you project? The image others see? Or the image of the true you? Always an intriguing question. Do we ever have an honest answer? How honest do we want to be? But why give up at twenty-one? Good question. Good story, Beverley.

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