Today is July 7, the anniversary of my birth. I’m not big on celebrating my birthday but I do love getting texts, calls, FB messages, and freestyle bday vmail raps in acknowledgment of my living another year from friends and family.
There’s one bday text in particular that always stands out. Since 2010 (or so), I have received a “Happy Birthday!” text from the same unsaved number. I respond, “thank you!” And communication with this unsaved number ceases.
Until 10 months pass. I then send a “feliz cumpleanos!” text to the unsaved number that I’ve been unable to forget. After I receive a “Thank you!” reply, communication with the unsaved number again ceases.
Until my birthday comes around 2 months later… And so on.
I’d made a conscious decision quite a few years before this birthday text ritual began to erase Him from my phone, thinking that would erase Him from my life. Our 3 year college romance ended just before He graduated. I ended our relationship knowing that we could never make “us” work. He’d hurt me terribly with His indiscretions, His myriad lies, and His poor communication. He was my first love and my first heartbreak.
Yet, after the break up we still remained connected. He went to grad school in the midwest during my senior year, and I eventually moved to the midwest-adjacent/not-quite-east-coast for grad school. We carried on a friendship over the distance. Always checking in, always cheerleading each other’s endeavors. We wanted to continue to be in each other’s lives, to support each other through the madness of grad school, to be dependable friends to each other. No one understood us like we understood us. We all we got (or so I thought)! Plus I worried about Him and wanted Him to know often that I was there for Him. And I believed our general love and concern for each other made a difference, helped propel us through life’s complexities. I even made a 5hr drive from Pittsburgh to Ann Arbor to see Him (in the winter, smh), and He’d made the similar drive in the opposite direction to see me. Once He’d driven out for a 24hr visit, to help me move from one apartment to the next, in the middle of the night, during my second year in PA.
It was after that quick trip that we drifted apart. We didn’t have a falling out. We just naturally distanced ourselves from each other. The communication came to a halt. Like we both knew it was time to move on. So I deleted him from my phone.
As much as I wanted to be in His corner, supporting His dreams, our situation was “complicated” (and toxic) and I knew we could never really be just friends. And we could never be life partners. I had to let Him live His life without me, to live my life without Him. My next chapter had already started, and there was no place to pen Him in. I’d spent enough time doddling about trying to have the best of both the friend and lover worlds. It was time to let the past go and keep up with my future. I wasn’t His lifeline, He didn’t need me.
There was a few years of radio silence until one day, walking out of Chipotle with chips and guac in hand, I saw a number I had dialed so many times from my freshman dorm room landline pop up on my Motorola Droid. A number that I didn’t know I still knew. I sat in my car transfixed. The text message merely said, “Happy Birthday!” But I read so much more… He still had my number? He still remembered my birthday? He still… thinks of me? I texted the number back with His name and a question mark and exclamation point. He didn’t respond. I sent another text: “how are you?! what are you up to these days?!” No response. I sat for a few minutes, scarfing down my purchase, waiting to play catch up with this old… friend?
I had so many questions to ask, so much I wanted to know. How He was doing, what He was doing with His life, where He was living, how was His family? I wanted to know if He was happy, if He’d fulfilled the dreams He shared with me, if He found His place in life. I wanted Him to respond and to assure me that He was in an amazing place and that life had been good to Him. But I knew, deep down, He wouldn’t. And He didn’t. A reply never came.
It was best that way.
Another year went by and I received another HBD text from that unforgettable number. I ignored every urge to send a more detailed response. Instead, I simply replied, “thank you!” I truly did appreciate the gesture and felt relieved just knowing that He was still around. After I stared at our brief, unemotional, impersonal exchange, I deleted the text conversation from my phone. When His birthday rolled around, I sent Him a message. I tapped His unsaved number in the “To” line, without thought. And after he replied to thank me, I deleted the messages.
I don’t really think about him until our birthdays roll around. We are strangers now and there is no sign of (or need to) reconnecting in any meaningful way. I let those 2 days of contact in May and July be a time to silently pray that He is happy and fulfilled. And just as quickly as He appears, the thoughts of Him disappear into the storage of my mind, filed away until the days of awakening return.
I’ll probably never know anything about the adult He has become – how much He has changed, how much He has stayed the same. Yet, I look forward to our tradition of confirming to each other that we are still here, still being. Still considered. And that’s more than enough.
Birthday girl out,
**That we still both have the same cell phone numbers we had in college (over 10 years!!!!) is… astonishing.