Orange February

A slice of orange floated in Kera’s beer. She had made the mistake of dunking it into the drink with a straw until it was shredded. Perhaps it is more correct to say, then, that a slice of orange peel was floating in Kera’s beer. The pits had sunk to the bottom and were turning a nauseating vomit color.
Kera wished she could vomit. But she had no gag reflex to speak of, and hadn’t thrown up since her twelfth birthday. Exactly six years.
Her birthdays were not lucky. Nor were they pleasurable. They were blank, days of off-white skies and damp chilly breezes. The curse of February in the air.
The bartender leaned over and patted a customer on the cheek while Kera stared. The interaction was more interesting to her than the continued bobbing of the orange peel in her drink. The straw she had used was in her mouth, chewed flat, folded, and chewed again in its reduced-in-size state. The customer whose cheek was patted jerked his head up and banged his fists on the bar. The bartender laughed.
They seemed to know one another. Everyone in the bar seemed to represent a cult of daytime drinking that Kera longed to be part of. It was her third month drinking while the sun was still up, and even if it was hidden by the clouds at this point in time, the more important fact to note was that it was also hidden by the walls of the bar. In other words, Kera felt she had made a big step by not drinking on her rooftop, alone.

In A Perfect World

In a perfect world, she thought, she would be sitting in the passenger seat of her favorite car, with the top down. There would be loud music coming out of the sound system, and she would singing at the top of her lungs, one hand dangling over the door with a cigarette between her fingers. The person driving the car would be her long-term boyfriend of five years, although perhaps it would be her red-head girlfriend of six months; she couldn’t decide which it would be or which one was the correct choice for the perfect world that was being built in her mind’s eye.

There would, of course, be a destination for this car ride. It would probably be a sweet log cabin with electricity and wi-fi and reading lamps but also be near enough to a lake and a decently mysterious forest, just in case she felt particularly nature-loving. There would be a hammock outside, and a cat flicking its tail stretched out on the porch, meowing in welcome. Maybe, if things could be really crazy in this perfect world, the cat would be a tiger or a jaguar, something large and languorous that would make her feel exotic and dangerous.

In the perfect world, she would also be escaping something, because – she was aware of this, even in her bubble-bath dream – anything worth running to is only as good as it is better than the thing it is replacing. In this world, she thought, maybe she’d be escaping the paparazzi who wanted to interview her about her latest best-seller or her most recent and notorious Broadway performance. Very possibly both.

In the perfect world, her voice was perfect, and thought tears rolled down her face, the wind whipped them away as she sang and smoked simultaneously. Things could be beautiful and challenging in her perfect world, satisfying and ever-changing, shifting and interesting and – most of all – regretless.

In her bubble bath, smoothing one hand over her belly, she wished she could at least get the wind to blow away the tears. But the fan was broken, she couldn’t afford her air conditioning unit, and the heat was oppressive, even in the icy bath water. She cried and waited for the contractions to stop, wishing them away in her perfect world.

Another Birthday

Freckled with the usual sorrows that inevitably mark the crevices of our faces as we grow older, Ally celebrated her fiftieth birthday alone, stretched out on a foreign beach. She was wearing an old one-piece bathing suit that had become baggy on her during the last year. She’d never known how strange a baggy swimsuit could feel; it was like she was wearing a second skin that had begun sagging and stretching. She wondered if people who lost a lot of weight very quickly felt this way about their extra skin, and then she remembered that technically she could fall into that category and that none of her own flesh and skin felt this way.

The sunlight felt warm on her skin and she fleetingly worried about skin cancer, before bursting out laughing. A passing local – she could tell he was local because he was wearing tight Speedos rather than swim trunks – stared at her, startled. She smiled at him but silenced herself. She was still capable of being embarrassed. Shame and modesty seemed to be human qualities that you didn’t lose, even after being poked and prodded and operated on over and over again.

Three to six months, they’d said. It was now the seventh, and she got to celebrate another birthday, something she’d resigned herself to not being able to do. So she took herself to somewhere warm and faraway, where people didn’t look at her with tears or panic in their eyes at the idea that she could go at any moment.

“Happy birthday to me,” she sang quietly to herself. The crowded beach was noisy and no one heard her, thankfully. She flung an arm over her eyes and decided to take a nap.

Birthday Wishes

I wish…
That I were thirty instead of twenty-one.
That my hair was naturally ginger instead of the weird shade of brown-blonde that it is.
That I was naturally skinny without ever feeling the urges of an eating disorder rule my life.
That I manage to support myself, at least partly, with writing.
That I find a comfortable niche for myself in life.
That I keep the friends I have and love.
That I never stop loving books.
That I become a crazy cat-lady.
That I have a good year.
That I sleep well.
That the people I love continue loving me back.
That Harry Potter was a real person.
That I could have more hours in each day specifically in order to read.
That Israel weren’t so hot.
That Johnny Depp, Davey Havok, and Darren Criss were close, personal friends.
That I could get through J. R. R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings.”

I could keep writing this list forever, adding random wishes for past, present and future. But the most important thing right now, on this relaxing, lovely birthday is that I recognize and appreciate every bit of what I do have. Cheesy? Corny? Yes. True? That too.

Honesty is Overrated

Okay. Maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m just bitter. That is a very great possibility. And yet- and yet, there’s a reason why advice to new couples is “Less history, more mystery.” There’s a reason why white lies exist, and why we use them constantly. It’s because the truth can be harsh, unpleasant, unwanted.
Why do we blurt out the truth at the worst possible times? Why do we ruin the beauty and simplicity of friendships with bitter pills and noxious notions of some falsely noble honesty? I don’t have the answer. I also know that I have rarely accidentally said something honest – it has always been deliberate, and that makes me think that this time it was just as thought-out and planned as ever, only subconsciously. That doesn’t make it better. While we’re not the masters of our subconscious, we are the masters of our mouths, and should keep them closed tightly when needed.

I am less than a month away from my twenty-first birthday, and yet everything I’ve written above strikes me as intensely and unpleasantly adolescent. I guess we all have days of regression, and this must be one of mine.

A Birthday Card and Love Letter

To the dear, amazing, wonderful and incredible author, world builder and inspiration, J. K. Rowling,

(And also, to the fictional character who we all wish was real, Harry James Potter,)

I want to you wish you an incredible birthday. Many months ago, in May of 2009, I wrote a short little piece about how the Harry Potter books were the first ones I read on my own. I’d like to go further now, and tell the story again, because I truly believe that without the Harry Potter books, I wouldn’t have become the reader I am today. If I wouldn’t have become the reader I am, I wouldn’t have begun to write. I wouldn’t have discovered the wonders of dozens of other authors, their worlds, their views and their legacies.

But it all started with the eleven-year old wizard, forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs, that was invented by you, Miss Rowling. And I’d like to share the story of how these books changed my life, and why I’m so grateful to you.

When I was eight years old, my chief activities were playing with my friends and watching television. I was a TV kid. When I was even younger and my mother taught me how to read in English, I fought tooth and nail against it. Remember, I’d learned Hebrew at school with everyone else, but my mother wanted me to be as fluent in English as I was becoming in Hebrew. I was already bilingual, but she knew that if I didn’t learn to read and write in English as a child, I’d probably lose a lot of the benefits of being so.

By the time I was eight I knew how to read in both languages, but I didn’t like to. I liked being read to – I loved stories, it’s true. It was also the age where my friends and I spent our time inventing stories and plays and games. Stories were a big part of my life, but words on pages weren’t.

Shortly after my ninth birthday, my brother turned thirteen. For his Bar Mitzva, a great-aunt of ours gifted him with the first three Harry Potter books, the third of which had only just come out, all in hardcover. I remember I thought to myself that the books sounded dumb when someone explained to me what they were about. My nine year old mind wasn’t excited, for some reason, by the prospect of a wizard boy.

My brother read the books on his own, of course. I remember distinctly, however, the first evening my mother started reading the first book to me. I was in my bed, the same one I still sleep in now, and she read the first line, “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” I remember cutting in then and saying something along the lines of “But the book’s called Harry Potter! Who are these people?” and my mother smiled and told me to wait patiently and we’d see together.

A couple weeks later, when we reached the chapter titled “Halloween,” while my parents were having their Friday afternoon nap, I read the whole chapter alone without telling anyone. When my mother started reading it to me that night I felt so guilty that I confessed that I’d read it alone. I thought it would hurt her feelings. She was, of course, ecstatic, and gave me her blessing to continue reading the book, and the next and the next, on my own.

So Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (I had the American version) was the first book in English that didn’t have pictures in it (except for those small ones above the chapter titles) that I read most of alone, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the first book of this sort that I read completely alone, from start to finish.

It changed my life. I just kept on reading. I discovered a love for fantasy, that led me to dozens of amazing books, and later branched out to every type of book imaginable. If I’d never reached that point where I wanted so badly to know what was about to happen that I picked up the book and read the next chapter alone, then I’d never have become such an avid reader. And being a reader… means the world to me.  I can’t imagine ever living without books. I can’t imagine never reading.

Harry Potter remained with me for years, and he’s still with me. I grew up with him. When he turned seventeen when the seventh and final book came out, I turned seventeen. The books saw me through the beginning, middle and end of puberty, they saw my first kisses and first periods, my first relationship and first breakup. They saw me through my father’s death. I can’t count the times I’ve read them. I know that they’re going to remain with me for my entire life.

Thank you, J. K. Rowling, for creating a world, characters and plot so amazing that you convinced a nine-year old who watched as many hours of TV a day as she could to find the wonder and beauty of words. Thank you, Harry Potter, fictional as you are, for being the star of this author’s books, for being courageous but normal, for being talented but average, for making me feel kinship with you. Thank you, Hermione Granger, the Weasleys, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks, Serius Black, Fleur Delacour, Luna Lovegood, Dean Thomas,Seamus Finnegan, Neville Longbottom, Lee Jordan, Oliver Wood, Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet, Katie Bell, Parvati Patil, Lavender Brown, Professors of Hogwarts, Rubeus Hagrid, the Malfoys, Dobby and Winky, Messrs. Crouch and Bagman, Tom Marvolo Riddle who grew into Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters, and, last but definitely not least (and I’m probably forgetting so many other good characters here), Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore- thank you for filling eleven (so far) years of my life with your magic.

Ethan

It seemed that no matter how his hair fell, he looked fabulous. If it was in his eyes, it looked boyish. If it was curled up a bit, it looked sexy. If it was cut short, it showed off his perfect forehead. That was the kind of man-boy he was. He could wear whatever he wanted, and did. Anything from black boots, black jeans and a biker jacket to a waistcoat, pinstriped pants and loafers. In his pocket, you could easily find either a pack of cigarettes or a watch on a chain. If all that weren’t enough, he also projected his comfort and self-esteem and acceptance of who he was. His presence was enough to make anyone weak-kneed, men and women alike. He wasn’t even twenty yet.

He stood smoking outside of his apartment building. As I walked by, he looked up at me, and I saw that his eyes were wet, on the verge of spilling tears. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out “Ethan? You alright?”

He mutely offered me a cigarette, lit it for me, and leaned back against the brick wall, one leg going up to prop himself. He was wearing his black boots, I noticed. I stood beside him, puffing away, feeling more intimate with him than I ever had before, despite being his neighbour for over six months, and despite us having many mutual friends. It seemed that I saw him all the time – around the building, at clubs and pubs. He was a fixture of the Soho night-life, and I often found myself dancing just a few people away from him. It wasn’t that he was a snob, exactly. He wasn’t posh, his father didn’t go to Eton and he hadn’t even finished university. He was just a regular bloke like me. Of course, I couldn’t pull off half the image he had, but then, that’s me.

“Boyfriend,” he sighed. He took a last drag and then threw the butt down. He stomped on it with a force that made me shiver a little. He looked at me, and I think I must have looked a little guilty, since his eyes flashed from heartbroken to angry to resigned in quick succession. “You knew?” He’d already ducked his head, pulling out another cigarette from his pack.

I couldn’t deny it, but I didn’t want to let him in on the fact that, well, we all knew. We all thought he knew it, too. We’d seen them together almost every night of the past few months, but we all knew. The boyfriend lived in Manchester, only came to London every month or two. He’d been over just three weeks ago. So, obviously, we all thought that Ethan knew.

“Sorry, mate.”

He shook his head. His hair flopped, looking perfect no matter what he did. That hair, that hair that my eyes always fixated on, it was still as glossy, as perfect, as natural as it always was. But the rest of him… Well. For the first time since I’d met him, I wasn’t intimidated.

“When’s your birthday?” I asked. I knew it didn’t matter one whit, but I asked anyway.

“February. February 9th, ’88. Why?”

“No reason. You’re two days younger than me. I always thought you were older than me. Never mind. Come upstairs, come on, I’ll make you some tea and we can watch whatever football game is one tonight, right?”

He chucked his smoke way across the street so it hit the building across and a little spray of sparks shone red-hot before falling to the ground. Brushing a hand through his hair, he followed me into the building.