By Bindu Adai Mathew
So one of my previous New Year’s resolutions (I just won’t admit to which year that was!) has been to publish. Well, truthfully, it goes beyond just being a yearly resolution but something I’ve always “dreamed” of doing.
Well, this is the year! My memoir “38 Candles” has been published to Amazon!
And I’d like to share the first chapter with you…
Chapter 1: The Birthday Candles
The flames of 38 candles dance in front of me, flickering and twisting. The happy, smiling faces of my husband and Ava, my one-year old daughter, look on as they eagerly wait for me to make my wish and blow out the candles. I stare mindlessly at the candles, each a marker of a year in my life. So many candles! Are there really 38 candles on that cake? Is it even possible that I have celebrated that many birthdays?
I close my eyes momentarily, silently making my not-so-secret wish, and then breathe in deeply, filling my lungs with air. I manage to blow out all the candles (except a few) as my husband claps. Ava, sensing the excitement, quickly joins in, her tiny hands clapping enthusiastically…and my husband and I both momentarily pause, sharing a look and a smile, as we both marvel at how together we have created such a beautiful, perfect being.
After gorging on the vanilla cake with too much buttercream icing, my husband puts Ava to bed for her afternoon nap while I clean up. As I put the dishes away and wipe down the counter, I gaze at the cake, again troubled by the sheer number of candles on it. It truly seems unfathomable. In a feeble attempt to reassure myself that I have truly celebrated 38 birthdays, as I remove each candle, I quickly attempt to recall what I did for each birthday. Some birthdays 1…2…3…4 are probably forever lost in my childhood subconscious…5 was my first birthday in America, having emigrated from India just a few months earlier. I remember it vividly, probably due to all the pictures taken by my parents. Birthdays 6…7…8…9…10…11 are all a blur, and 12 was my first and only real birthday party with all my friends from school. It was also the year my mom told me that it would be my last birthday celebration. She patted her burgeoning stomach, reminding me that at twelve years old, I was about to be a big sister and far too old now to be having birthday parties…13…14…15…16…17…18 were probably all small family celebrations with a simple homemade birthday cake after dinner…19 was when my college suitemates surprised me with cake and a song at the end of the night after I was convinced they had all forgotten…20 was uneventful as well with nothing more than good wishes from all my friends. My 21st birthday was when my roommate and I watched The Age of Innocence starring Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis. At that time, it was much more appealing than celebrating it at a bar or a club. I ushered in my 22nd with friends having dinner and planning our life milestones (Meet my future husband at 24, get married by 25, and have kids by 27—I had it all planned!). My 23rd birthday was another evening spent hanging out with friends, followed by a lecture the next day from my dad about the fact that I was getting older and should consider going to India to look for a husband since I wasn’t finding one in the U.S. Birthday number 24 was spent with friends, discussing why Mr. Right still hadn’t shown up in any of our lives and how even my trip to India a few months earlier, which I dubbed as Husband Search #1, had been unsuccessful…25 was spent tweaking my life timeline (Okay, meet my future husband by age 24 26, get married by 25 27, have kids by 27 29.). It was also my first birthday in grad school and I spent it alone…26 was when my grad school friends threw me my first real surprise party…27 was spent with friends again, followed by another talking-to the next day from my dad on how time was running out and I needed to get married ASAP and should consider going to India again….28 was spent with friends, moping about still being single. After another unsuccessful trip to India a few months earlier (Husband Search #2), which almost resulted in marriage (another long story), I came back alone, this time vowing never to go back to India just to look for a husband…29 was spent recovering from another disappointing setup, followed by a cathartic shredding of the paper that detailed the dates I would be married, have kids, etc.,…30 was my amazing trip to Italy as I celebrated the “fabulousness” of my single life. It was my “I don’t need a man” trip…31 was spent busily planning my wedding (I met my husband just four months after my “I don’t need a man” trip to Italy)…32 was my first birthday after marriage where I had a surprise full course breakfast in bed…33 was lunch at Chili’s with hubby…34 was lunch again with just my hubby at Islamorada…35 was my second real surprise party, thrown by my hubby, followed by a weekend trip to Naples, Florida, in an ocean-front suite at the Ritz Carlton…36 was spent in a cozy hotel room overlooking Niagara Falls with subzero temperatures outside…37 was spent recouping at home with my mom and enjoying the birth of Ava just the week before…and now, I was 38!
38…38…38…The numbers echo in my head like the rhythmic chiming of a grandfather clock.
Just twelve years from 50. I cringe inwardly as I also realize that I am now officially closer to 50 than to 25.
The irony of it is that to twenty-somethings and teens, I am “old,” an almost forty-something in their eyes. But to the forty-somethings and older people, I am still relatively young, a summer chicken (as opposed to a spring chicken) with her whole life still in front of her.
As for me, I still look at myself and life through a twenty-something’s eye.
But it’s not the number that haunts me…well, at least not just the number, for it is a reminder—not only of what I’ve done each year of my 38 years – but more important, it is a reminder of what I’ve not done.
I think of the career woman I am not. The career ladder I never quite climbed. The six-figure income that I’m still shy of…and worst of all, that deep sinking feeling that at 38 years old, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
I think of the one argument my husband and I have had over and over again about his desire for me to go back to college to get a different master’s degree, something that I have been determined to put off until I figure out what I am meant to do with my life.
Most of all, I think of the 400-plus-page manuscript stored on my computer hard drive, the one that I finally completed after 10 years of just talking about how I wanted to write a novel. After years of procrastination, a lack of discipline, and countless distractions, I knew the time had come to just do it. So finally, using every spare moment on weekends and evenings, I finally made time to write the novel I had always known I was meant to write, certain I was destined to be on the New York Times bestseller list. I completed it just before Ava was born. But now that same novel, post rejection by several agents, remains untouched on my computer hard drive, on the brink of being shelved and forgotten somewhere in cyberspace.
For the rest of the day and into the night, the number hangs over me like a black cloud. It rings in my head over and over again, like a death knell, reminding me that time is running out.