I’ve heard of people being drunk and going to a grocery store or something, and having to pretend they were sober. I wouldn’t know about that, but I suspect this was sort of similar. In Nepal they birthday, and they birthday hard, regardless of whether or not your flight got in at midnight and even more regardless of if the trip was fifty hours long. I learned on this trip that exhaustion demolishes nearly every need. Hunger, aching, emotion, everything. Your body is ready to shut down, and it’ll take any thoughts that aren’t completely necessary with it.
Anyway, so that’s the state I was in. I’d had the day to rest, and I was even feeling pretty good, but as the sun went down it sucked my energy away with it and I was left to doze lazily on the bed. I was fading fast, but it didn’t matter. I mean, it’s not like I was set to DO something social that night or- okay, you all know where this is going. I was glad for my mom, it being her birthday and all, I really was. I wanted to be in the mood to celebrate, but the part of me that felt like I’d been wrung out like a dishrag and had a bit of my soul had come out in the dishwater said otherwise. But I had to make an appearance. And so I did.
It started with the walk down the stairs, like it always does in Nepal. I had just enough time to realize I was still getting steadily more tired, somehow, before we arrived at the open wooden doorway with only darkness beyond. Mom walked in and they erupted, the roar of children-cries bathed the scene and the lights made me feel exposed. I tried to smile but it probably came across like grimace of pain more than a gesture of good will. The children beamed at me but their smiles waned like crescent moons and I couldn’t think of any lead in to conversation so I just kept smiling. A little boy said something to me; I didn’t understand a word, even if he spoke perfect English I don’t think I would have. I nodded and he hugged me and smiled so I guess I did something right. He probably asked me if I was a hobo or something, I think it was about my hair. I stumbled to a spot by the birthday queen and slumped into the chair. I allowed myself a few seconds to close my eyes but even that left me slightly disoriented. Some church kids were providing the music. Individually they were good but I think they all had separate sheet music. It sounded like bizarre experimental jazz and it hurt my head after a while.
The next bit was sort of a blur. I wasn’t even moving and I was sinking. I can’t emphasize how surreal it felt. The children came and hugged my mom and wished her happy birthday one at a time and she smiled. They gave me a hat and I put it on, the seam burst on the cardboard and it flopped awkwardly on my head like dead fish giving it’s last spasms. My hair was down over my ears and it stuck in my eyes and tickled my nose.I tried to brush it away but I couldn’t tell where it was. They set to dancing. The cake was in front of us and mom was expected to cut it. It exhausted me just to watch her cut it up. The music meandered lazily and flared into spastic bursts that resembled vaguely, slightly, in passing, the happy birthday song.
“Happy biiiiiiiiiirthday toyou, Happy biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirthday toyou, Happy birthday to you sis-ter-liz, Happy biiiiiiiiiiiiiiirthdaytoyou!”
I tried to keep up but I was too tired. I noticed on the sign they had written “Happy Birthday 2 U Liz”, but I was so tired that I thought it said “Happy Birthday, Lultz”, and I thought that was about the funniest thing I’d ever seen. I laughed obnoxiously, and I immediately felt bad but I couldn’t stop. I noticed the balloons were made so they looked twisted up, like balloon snakes that somebody’d wrung out a bit. I felt like I’d been twisted up, too.
“May God bless to yooooooooooou, may God bless to yooooooooooou, may God bless to you sis-ter-liz, may God bless to yoooooooooooooou!”
I read the “Lultz” bit over and over and it set me off every time. The children danced frantically nearly in unison, but stopped abruptly when the cake was cut. Mom had sat there cutting the thing up in silence for a while and I had forgotten about it. They gave me a piece. I think it would have been pretty good but I was so out of it. I glanced at the “Lultz” again and gave a stuttery laugh and thought I would probably go upstairs and sleep. My dad said it’d be fine. I stumbled out, the children watched me as I walked drunkenly along the aisle, trying to smile but giving up halfway. After all that I couldn’t even get to sleep, and I ended up waking up at three in the morning. I found a gecko in my room in the morning under my pants from the previous day and I felt a bit better.