Birthdays

Paris, 1999

I tipped my head back, looking at the brilliant white domes of Sacre-Coeur upside down as I lay in the grass. I was in Paris for my twenty-second birthday, and the weather was perfect. Young couples, mothers with small children, and old Parisians lay in the grass around me, soaking up the sun and enjoying the warm May weather.

“What do you want to do today? It’s your birthday,” M asked.

“Lay here and drink wine. And hope some gorgeous men walk by.”

“Hope for more than that,” she muttered.

I laughed, feeling free and easy and grown up as I traveled the world.

“It was cloudy yesterday. How could it be so sunny today?”

“Who cares?” I said, brushing a fly from my nose and closing my eyes to the brilliance of the day around me. “Let’s just enjoy it.”

I could hear a group of school boys playing soccer at the foot of the hill. The sound drifted up along with the murmur of French voices that were starting, to my surprise, to make a little bit of sense. It smelled like grass and bread from the boulangerie on the corner. It smelled warm.

“Do you want to take a picture? To remember turning twenty-two while you were in Paris?”

I smiled, thinking of my last birthday and the drunken tour of Houston that M and K had dragged me on. It was the first time I had tasted a dirty gin martini. I remembered the year before when L had baked me a birthday cake, and decorated the top with candied pansies because they were my favorite flower. Or even the very first year we were all friends, when someone–maybe one of the guys–had snuck a case of Shiner Bock into the dorms, and the five of us had gathered in K’s and my room, and told stupid stories and dirty jokes while I got drunk on the forbidden beer.

“Nah,” I said, closing my eyes and imprinting in my mind the memory of the sun and the grass and the French voices on the hill so far from home. “Like I’m never going to forget this.”

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