Thursday, 30 October 2008

The 18th Birthday

A trip down memory lane, taking us to the 19/2/2007...

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MY 18TH BIRHDAY

This one sort of crept up on me. Now, that’s not to say I was completely ignorant to the milestone, or me about to meet it, because of course I was, like any normal person is. I remember when I was little counting down the years in my head till I reached today – my 18th – and the start of my adult life. Ultimately, when it came to it, the dying days of my childhood sort of just flew by, and my 18th hit me quite sudden and unexpectedly.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: how can that be? Did I not plan an elaborate celebration to mark the date? Short answer, no. Longer answer, of course not! I’m not that sort of person. I like to keep myself to myself, and remain pretty private. In other words, I viewed my 18th as just another day. At most it should be spent with the family. Alas, however, it was they who had other ideas.

Mum wanted to celebrate. She had every right of course, because this was her oldest child entering his adult life proper. Guess she wanted to make a big fuss, not only because – in her eyes – I deserved it, but because *she* did too. All that effort and work put into my growing up, finally paying off! And now, here at last, a chance to celebrate that! She simply couldn’t go amiss.

So I left her to it, Mum; content in her own little corner planning my big day, whilst I carried on with the life I was living at that point in time. It was the days I was still at Holy Cross College (second year) and dating Katie O’Donnell, an ex-girlfriend whom I lost touch with not so long after today. Normal life, for me, was juggling these two factors, as well as my writing, and everything else a modern day teenager is supposed to juggle madly.

Of course, I wasn’t juggling much of it successfully. My relationship with Katie was well passed its peak. We’d been together for well over a year by this point, and there was a distance setting in between us both. Bored of each other’s company, and unsure what to do about it, we were living each day directionless, struggling to stay afloat in the sea of adult living.

My college work wasn’t much better, dammit. I’d neglected to make a start on a 20 page Theatre Studies essay collection due in on the first day back after half term – coincidentally, my birthday. It meant that I spent pretty much the entire evening before hand typing madly, or scribbling insane notes down on paper. No time at all the night before my milestone birthday – work to be done; if not today, then maybe never! So I sacrifice the one thing I don’t actually need; the one thing that ever since I wish my 18th birthday had contained more of:

A little thing called SLEEP.

Still conscious from 10am the previous day, I begin my birthday date sat in front of the old family computer, adding the finishing touches to my essay notes. That completed, the family wake – and me a little cranky, I’m the most formidable birthday boy ever!

College follows my family’s three cheers, and I decide to keep things (at least there) grounded in normality. Nobody knows that today is my big day – well, except the electronic clocking in, which greets me not with the usual “Good morning/afternoon”, but with a surreal “Happy birthday Anthony!” – and I tell it to “sssh!” hoping that the folks behind don’t see and realise that today is a cause to celebrate. They don’t. The day continues as normal.

I have a number of lessons following that, including the aforementioned Theatre Studies (hey! Others haven’t completed their notes and have been granted extentions – no fair!) and then Film Studies, with a man I’ve since come to respect – Martin Lucas.

Lucas has set the class an assignment; to write, produce and then show a 5 minute experimental film. We’re supposed to be in groups of 2 or 3 for the task, but I’ve divided myself from everybody else, and come up with my own, very personal, story – “Self”, the tale of Horatio Maguire – a young aspiring writer – not too sure of his own abilities, or his worth as a writer. Hmmm, not too distant from my own feelings at the time.

Today, my birthday, was important as far as “Self” is concerned because it’s when the majority of my film was filmed. You see, my preference would have been to wait a day or too at least, and do as little work as I physically could on my birthday, but time constraints being what they are, I had no choice but to film on this date – otherwise the film would never have been completed.

There’s a nice scene in “Self” that was recorded on my 18th, and I’ll never forget it, because it’s the first time in my tiny career that everything on paper came together on screen. It features Horatio, walking down a corridor, alone. That’s it; but that’s all it needs to be, because it tells us everything we need to know about this guy, and the life he leads.

Up to this point, my life was like that. A lonely guy, a failure maybe, walking down an empty corridor, who knows where to. I guess the image haunts me, because that scene represents me, plain and simple.

Afterwards, once filming has wrapped for the day, and so has college, I return home, amid the daily ritual of walking the 3 miles back to where I live. Always fun, especially since I remember this Monday birthday of mine to be particularly rainy and generally pissy.

The next couple of hours are a blur to me. I remember getting ready, and everybody making a fuss of me around the house. Katie may have arrived during this period, or met me at the restaurant, I can’t remember. I do recall going to pick my Nan up from her flat, and seeing her smile and greet me with so much love and caring, the sort that only she can offer.

The family assembled, we sat around our table and ate.

The food wasn’t important, not at all, hence the reason – probably – why I can’t quite picture in my head what I did have to eat. It was just material. What really mattered was having all of my loved one sat together dining, getting along and –

-Hang on, did I say getting along?!

Firstly, I never invited my Dad or his second wife, Penny. Mum has never really seen eye to eye with either of them since the divorce, and seen as though this was her night that she’d spent months planning, I just couldn’t throw a spanner in the works by inviting him. Looking back, it’s one of my biggest regrets for that day – that my own Dad wasn’t even there to celebrate it with me.

Then there was the growing problems between the people who actually were there – namely Katie and my sister Donna, both sat around me, but taking the opportunity to bitch fight with the other, in a very female-only sort of way – you know the drill, one talks to the other and on the surface appears to say something nice (“I like your dress...”) then adds something else with takes away the surface value of the comment (being nice) and twists it into something sinister and quite appalling (“I like your dress... I didn’t know that colour was fashionable. Well, it suits *you*.)

So they’re at it all night, and I’m caught in the middle, catching stares off of Donna as if to say “your girlfriend is being nasty to me” and then, outside and separate from others, hearing my girlfriend break down and not quite knowing why, or what to do about it. I’d have probably handled the situation better, if it weren’t for the lack of...of...of...

Sleep.

All evening, you see, I’m sat there as this celebration goes on around me, one that Mum has spent so long planning and fixating over, and I’m too tired to even bother being a part of it all. I just wanna go home and sleep; on the one night that should have meant more to me than any other.

I couldn’t take it in. Worse still, I wouldn’t.

My overriding memory of that Monday night is seeing Mum giving me her presents (which included the sum of some £300 – a lot of money collected together by a woman who doesn’t have a lot of the stuff) and me just taking them, and not even responding. No genuine thank yous, or anything. To this day, that makes me feel so damn guilty, and in turn, ashamed of myself.

I realised sometime after that this wasn’t just my night, or Mum’s, or the uninvited Dad. This was about the family, watching me, a reflection of themselves. I let them down by proving a poor, unresponsive reflection – somebody half asleep to the world on their 18th, the very day they’re supposed to embrace it, and enter into it.

I got home later that night, and Katie left pretty quickly – for reasons I wouldn’t find out under much later. Nan was taken back home. My sister’s dissipated downstairs to watch television. Mum went to bed, and life returned to normal. My birthday was over, and I finally got that sleep at day’s end – though the experience would haunt me for some time afterwards...

At the weekend, I met Katie again and she explained herself to me. Why she’d been pretty snappy towards me, and left so suddenly on my birthday night. She wasn’t happy with my sister Donna’s treatment of her, or in turn, how I’d responded to it. Rather, how I didn’t. I got angry at Katie, and she got angry back, but somehow we managed to pull it together. I managed to show her just how much she did mean to me, and how nobody in the world meant more to me than her at that point in time. It was a good save, that probably rescued the drowning relationship – maybe not for long, but long enough.

And to this day, I always appreciate Mum’s efforts that little bit more, just like I should have done that night. She has such fantastic intentions, intentions that more often than not her son’s reactions and expectations don’t live up to. Well, I like to think, that at every opportunity given after this, they – my reactions and expectations – were more honest and appreciative than ever before.

It took an 18th birthday to make me realise just how good I’d actually got it. In some ways, that day was the peak of the ‘old me’ – the guy at college, living his life carefree, with a girlfriend he loved. Quite simple really. Well, simpler than the complexity that I current exist within. But I mean it, today was a peak – I never achieved this level of splendour again, which makes it all the more tragic that I never really lived the day to its full. I was too busy not sleeping, and not acting, and not doing much to celebrate.

So yeah, my 18th birthday might have slipped me by. I didn’t see it coming, or open my eyes when it arrived, but today – some time later – I appreciate it for all its worth, at last.

Three cheers: for missed opportunities, for failed celebrations, and for days of old when life was much simpler and a hell of a lot more fun.
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