As I took a bite of my birthday cake, I remembered the first time I ever had a birthday party.
If you can imagine Washington with all its trees and clouds, then you would be in my shoes. Nikes from what I remember. If not, let me give you a glimpse.
Although Bremerton, Washington was known for its rain, such as most of the Northwest, the sun was out. Spring emerged. The wind wasn’t too strong and gave a little push. Still, my family and I stayed inside to celebrate as the sun crept through the blinds. In the backyard of our blue bungalow, a great big green field separated us from the woods. Once, I saw a deer wandering the field. When I told my mom, she didn’t believe me.
Ian and Hannah are there. Ian lived down the street and was my best friend. He had skinny limbs and the energy of young Tarzan. Hannah was a girl I went to church with. One time when she was having play time at our place, she kissed the cover lid of the board game “Scrabble.” On the brown side, she left a kiss mark. They sat with me on the carpeted floor – Ian flailing his arms and Hannah making kissing at the air.
My mom prepared a table full of food. She always cooked Pancit Palabok for my birthday – noodles covered with pork rinds, green onion and topped off with sliced boiled egg. I never ate a plate without drizzling lime over it. I squeezed a slice over my plate. I dug in, twirling the noodles to get as much as I could into my mouth.
There was also ice cream cake that day. Pops said I couldn’t eat it without eating dinner. I don’t remember the flavor but I do recall that I didn’t have a tough time choosing the flavor. I wanted a cookies and cream cake. My parents bought it at the local Baskin Robbins down the street – or at least it seemed to be.
Pops talked with uncle. Uncle uses a lot of hand gestures, but mostly rubs his shaved face. He looked over to me every now and then. He waved his hands.
Ma was in the kitchen while she roared in laughter with all the other aunties that decide to come. There’s Ian and Hannah’s mom.
Kuya and Ate were hanging out with the Ian and Hannah’s older siblings. They laughed but I didn’t understand any of their jokes. Ate pats me on the head. Kuya gives me a hug.
I didn’t understand why any of them laughed. Ma and Pops talked in a different language. It didn’t sound like the cartoons I liked watching. Kuya and Ate talked about people I didn’t know, older people that they knew from school. I didn’t go to their school.
“Do you know what they’re talking about?” I asked my friends.
Ian ignored me, playing with his toy soldier that he brought over. Hannah shrugged her shoulders and played with her mirror.
When it was time for the cake, I immediately dashed to the table where all the food was.
Unexpectedly, 5 candles stood on top of it. What are these I thought. They looked like the sticks poking out of a snowy field. My eyes lit up as the flame flickered.
On the cake read “Happy Birthday, Kris!”
Everyone in the room began to sing.
“Happy birthday, I love you,” Pops chanted. It’s one of the first times I had seen him since he was out to sea for about 6 months. I was happy that I could spend time with him.
Kuya and Ate helped cut the cake. So did Uncle. They handed a piece. I grabbed it and took a great big bite as if it was the peach and I was James. The ice cream melts on my tongue. It feels tastes like liquid gold.
Even better, I finished fast enough to get to the next event. It was present opening time.
My parents handed me my Uncle’s gift box. It was a large cardboard box covered with yellow paper. Inside was Woody from Toy Story. However, there was no string at his back.
There’s a snake in my boot I whispered to myself.
The next present I received was in three boxes.
I opened the first box and discovered a helmet, which was strange. Why would they just give me a helmet?
The next present I opened was a set of knee pads and elbow pads. It seemed like I was leading up to the big finish.
When my parents handed me the last box, I ripped open the box with Christmas paper around it. Inside was a pair of roller skates!
These weren’t just any roller skates! These were the ones that I had been wanting for the last year!
They told me to put it on. I felt how new the gear was on my skin. It was like putting on a costume that a hero would wear.
“Cheese!” my father said.
I held my arms up just like Pops. He was a strong man.
Mom gave me a kiss. Pops gave me a hug. Ate hugs me as well. And Kuya gives me a noogie.
Sooner or later, we were outside. Everyone cheered for me as I took my first stride on the rollerblades. My feet smoothed over the ground. There wasn’t a sign of any rocks or gravel. With the sun at its zenith, it shined down on me. The wind touched at my back. It was spring all right.
As I finished taking a bite of my ice cream, I thought about that birthday. What it means? How I could make it more significant as the years go on? There had to be a way to recreate those feelings I felt more than decade ago. After all, Gatsby’s thought about repeating the past “Why off course you can!”
But the truth is, I’ll never be 4 again. I’m now a 22 year old man, trying to figure it out.
As I sit here with a sprained ankle, knobby knees, scraped elbows, and a head full of thoughts, I sure wish I still had all that protective gear.