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Rotten birthday cake, savoring each slice of life

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JUNE 16, 2023

My 18th year was an amalgamation of mixed emotions, of anxiety, freedom, joy and fear that swirled in my stomach and ached in my ribs. This impending year sat at the forefront of my mind for the entirety of my adolescence. The plaguing thoughts would seep into my mind, over and over again, culminating in more and more dread.

I felt as though my 18th birthday was comparable to attending my own funeral: celebrating the death of the child I always was. With 18, came the death of all of my excuses, shortcomings, naïveté and the life I had just grown to appreciate. A life where the pressure of voting, rent and my adulthood would lay limp in my sweaty palms. 

I try not to mourn the time I cannot control. I try not to obsess over and over again about the inevitable. So, as much as I tried, I watched my birthday cake rot in my fridge for a year, until it was all over. 

I am quite terrified when it comes to living life. I try to navigate these incidental situations and mourn things that have yet to happen. It’s sad and obsessive and is no way to live. I go through phases of deep-sided waves of depression when imagining experiencing the death of my mother, my partner breaking up with me or my own sudden death. As if any of these events will make me more prepared for the anxious half-life I live through. As if this life of mourning was preparing me, as if it’ll train me to know what to do when the time comes.

A few years ago, I looked at everyone across the street on the Fourth of July. Under the fireworks, I started to cry knowing this exact moment will never happen again. I thought about how everyone I know in this moment of time is transient and how I wished that I could frame a moment. However cliché and philosophically obvious this epiphany was, it cemented this aching feeling of the need to savor memories in my soul. 

It’s this idea of savoring that never let me actually savor the last taste of my birthday cake, because I’d rather watch it rot in my fridge than let a physical memory go. Everything is energy; the 18th birthday cake, wine, the good matches, the candles, the gift wrap. I’m the kind of person who is so painfully sentimental that I’d rather rot myself than release my hoarder’s treasures. 

I save pressed flowers, glass bottles, ticket stubs, cigarette butts and wristbands. I try to find a place for them on my walls and in my boxes, where they can sit still before my eyes. I want to make sure they are rotting and eventually stay frozen in their own little memoir in time. I am a cynical sentimentalist. There is so much to lose when you’ve tied your life up, dangling before you in pretty white bows. 

You do this to prevent the memories, the joy, from slipping through your fingers. You do this because of the off chance that this decaying slice of birthday cake will make you recall your first love and the way your face fit so perfectly into the crook of her neck. And how all this psychopathic preparation will be for something, when you live it out loud, for the first and 600th time. How you counted down the days of your life ending, just for you to have wasted it all, cutting and pasting your receipts on your walls and tying the pretty white bows. 

When I was eight, I daydreamed about 14-year-old me: She was a cheerleader with pigtails, was immensely popular and was a straight-A student. When I picture her now, she’s in her mid-20s, has a nice small flat in London and lives by herself, but isn’t lonely. She’s a post-masters writer  who can afford small ornate treasures. She thinks about her life in terms of stories and she still lives for others’ enjoyment. 

As I’ve grown, I’ve always grown through her, but I’ve never been her. I’ve been told it’s my Saturn in my first house, a perpetual plague of idealized struggle, put in the stars at my birth. Always thinking, dreaming, idealizing and never being. 

You can’t pin joy like a moth and expect it to fly. I think about my life through the stories I will tell some people I don’t care about over a fictional dinner party that’ll happen when I’m forty. When I’ll finally be able to recount it all, when maybe I’ll be ready, as if this plague of an existence ever allowed me to feel for the first time. 

At this dinner party, I hope I’ve bought a new birthday cake and I hope to savor the last piece. I hope I celebrate life for the first time. I am embarrassed to say that I am a coward obsessed with life, begging for her mercy, to let me off easy.

Jordan Montero writes the Wednesday column on the connection between physical objects and emotional experiences. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

JUNE 16, 2023