Short, pudgy, with dark hair falling down my back, I am nine and picking blackberries from the thicket in my family’s garden. It is July 11, my birthday, and I am in the backyard alone. The wind carries the voices of adults, murmuring about life’s cares, to me from the porch. I lift my head to the sound of their voices, pushing my bangs away from my eyes with purple-stained fingers.
“Sarah!” Mom calls, “Come back to the porch. The ice cream cake’s ready.”
And back I go, slowly, to a porch full of adults. I hold my hands up to the sun as I move, studying the purple blotches that cover my palms and fingers. In some places the blotches are a matte purple, settled and dried into the lines of my skin. In other places, the blotches are sticky, slick, and almost black. Being the imaginative child I am, I pretend that the blackberry juice is my own blood. I’ve been wounded in some epic struggle and am returning to hearth and home to reap the rewards of adult dotage and sugar-laden, dairy rich desserts.
My stained hands, and the imagination that they triggered, helped me to be grateful for a celebration that, though well intentioned, made me feel my isolation from other children my age more deeply. This combination of solitude and older company marked many of my childhood birthdays. I used to hate being born in July. All of my peers would usually be off on vacation, so I was stuck celebrating with my family. It also meant that I would never improve my popularity in the classroom. School was out. That meant my mother never had to bake cupcakes for my classmates to honor my special day. Bringing cupcakes to class—especially if they had pink frosting—would have brought me into the folds of my peers. They would have made me appear normal, given me something in common with my classmates. But, my birthday happened at a weird time, further proving that I, a quiet, book-smart girl, was odd. Not someone to be friends with, but someone to tease.
Still short, still pudgy (but far more curvy and muscly), with dark hair cropped close to the nape of my neck, I am twenty-nine and sitting in the back garden of my New Haven home. Blackberries won’t be in season for another month in New England. Now, they are whitish-pink, slowly growing into their violet blush. But, there is still a sort of purple stain on my hands—blueberries, pureed for bellinis, the small, spherical culprits. Around me sit and stand friends, of many ages and walks of life, their conversation and laughter anointed with the sweet tang of fruit and Prosecco.
My phone pings. A text from another friend. She sadly cannot make it, but can she take me out to lunch after she returns from vacation? I obviously reply yes.
Now I love having a birthday in July. As in my youth, many people are still on vacation when I celebrate. But, they make it a point to spend time with me after they return, making my birthday into a month of well-wishes, lunches, dinners, and drinks.
I step inside to wash off my purple-blue stained hands. I examine them as I move. In this moment, colored by company and love, the purple-blue splotches seem less like wounds and more like an outpouring of goodness.
July birthday. We’d be off camping in the woods, a birthday cake impossible. I used to walk home from school imagining the surprise party waiting for me as I got closer and closer, walking slower and slower, putting off the inevitable disappointment that having a July birthday would bring. I know the childhood angst of a July birthday well. It meant maybe people would remember, maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe there would be cake, maybe there wouldn’t. It would never snow!