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My Unforgettable Birthday
It was my fifteenth birthday. I woke up extra early, exuding happiness, that morning. I jumped out of bed and landed bare foot on the cold wooden floor. Without a moment’s hesitation I dashed across the hallway into my mother’s room.
“Good Morning!!” I yelled playfully as I jumped on her bed. “Guess what day today is!?” I asked rhetorically before screaming “The greatest day of the whole entire year!” into her ear.
She rolled over to face me; her dark hair was matted to her face. Her green eyes glittered at me, partially concealed by her drooping eyelids.
“Really?” She mumbled as she yawned and rubbed her eyes. “What’s so special about today?” she said, smirking, before pulling me into a hug.
I rolled my eyes dramatically as I dragged her out of bed.
“Come on!” I insisted as I led her down the stairs by the hand. “Times -- a -- wastin’!”
She made chocolate chip pancakes, my favorite breakfast, and we ate together. Fueled by excitement and hunger I devoured the delicious food, burning my tongue several times. I urged her to hurry up, so we could leave, as I dashed upstairs to get ready.
Little did I know that this would not be the greatest day of the year, but, in fact, one of the worst in my life. If I had known this I would have savored every casual moment of breakfast that I shared with my mother that morning instead of rushing through it.
I got ready quickly, throwing on my favorite pair of ripped jeans and a soft off shoulder sweater. I ran my fingers through my straight black hair and dabbed a bit of mascara onto my eyelashes to enhance my emerald eyes. When I was satisfied with the way I looked I found my mother in her room. After I nagged her for fifteen long minutes, we finally left the house. We walked towards the train station; weeks ago she had promised me that she would take me downtown for my birthday. We were planning to do some shopping and then eat at a posh restaurant. I recall the excitement running through my every vein, making me oblivious to all other things. It blocked out the feeling of cold that should have taken over my body, for it was December (the fifteenth, to be exact) and snow was lightly falling on us. The wind blew harshly at our frail figures, bits of frost biting the tip of my nose and fingertips. Though my mother shivered, I danced along the sidewalk as if it were a stage. Every now and then I would catch my mother’s eye and she would give me a little smile. It was my day and she knew it; hoping not to not ruin any part of it, she didn’t let one unpleasant comment slip between her lips. When we finally reached the train station, I frolicked towards the ticket booth.
“We need two tickets to go downtown, sir!” I sang out to the old man behind the window.
As he made his way towards the counter I peered at him curiously. He was very old but there was a sparkle in his bright blue eyes and a lively bounce in his step. He looked like one of those picture perfect grandfathers in a movie; who had a kind face and an equally kind heart.
“Gladly, young lady!” he replied with a chuckle when he reached the counter. “May I say that you seem very excited today, despite this horrid weather.”
“It’s my birthday!” I said proudly; glad to have an excuse to announce the news to the whole world.
“Ohh, I see! Well congratulations!” he said beaming at me. “No charge,” he said a moment later as he handed me the tickets. “This one’s on me!”
“Thank you, sir!” I said surprised but delighted by his genuine kindness.
My first impression of the old man seemed to be correct. A small smile crossed my face as I looked over my shoulder to wave goodbye at him.
“Have a good day, miss!” He called behind me.
He looked so happy, so content with life, despite his lonely job and the freezing weather. I felt guilty for all the times I made a fuss because of the little things that didn’t go my way. At that moment I made a vow to myself. I decided that I would try to enjoy life like the old man did: to the fullest.
I made my way towards my mother who was waiting by the train that had just arrived. The conductor blew his whistle; the sound pierced the silence of the frosted day and white smoke rose towards the pale blue sky. My mother took my hand and hurried me onto the train. Just before stepping into the warmth of the train the side of the railcar caught my eye. A skull with two cross bones was smeared across the side of the railcar in red graffiti. I frowned and shook my head. Gangs and violence always angered me.
However, my grudge quickly faded and I didn’t think anything more of the sign as I hopped aboard the train. We made our way to my favorite booth. You could tell it was old by the many scratches carved into it, but it didn’t bother me, the gorgeous view from the window more than made up for it. Throughout the journey my mother and I shared many laughs. I hollered loudly, disrupting nearly everyone around us, but once again, the pure bliss pumping through me made me oblivious to all the cares in the world. After thirty minutes, the train screeched to a stop and we hopped off the train. At this point, my bladder interrupted my thoughts.
“Ma, I have to pee!” I blurted out loud, for the world to hear, as we stepped off the train. “I’ll be right back.” I yelled over my shoulder as I quickly glanced at her to make sure she heard me.
“Okay, dear. Hurry back!” she said over the crowd. “I’ll wait here.”
As I strutted off to the ladies room she leaned against a large white pole that was dangerously close to the tracks and started rummaging through her purse. After using the facilities, washing my hands, and giving a quick tousle to my hair, I heard a loud scream just outside the door. Curiosity getting the best of me, as it usually did, I glanced at myself in the mirror one more time. With a smirk of approval, I hurried out the door. As I stepped outside the bathroom people rushed past me hollering to one another. A guard sprinted towards me and sent me stumbling backwards as he shoved me aside to get to wherever he was going. As I glanced around, everyone seemed to have a confused look on their face. They shrugged at each other, wondering what the cause of the commotion was. My eyes resumed the search of the chaotic scene for my mother’s familiar face. After a few moments my thoughts shifted. There was a crowd forming around the train I had just gotten off of minutes earlier.
“Odd. It should have left by now,” I mumbled to myself.
Thoughts running through my head and my heartbeat beginning to pick up its pace, I made my way toward the group of huddled people. They were standing around the same white pole that my mother was waiting for me. When the person in front of me ducked aside to call 911, the scene was exposed: my mother lay sprawled across the ground, blood coating her, the train, and the ground. Shocked, I stood there, unable to move, think, speak, or breathe. The world surrounding me moved in slow motion as the pounding of my heart vibrated through my body. It filled my ears with a loud drumming, blocking out all other sounds. I felt my face get hot and watched my vision blur as my eyes filled with tears.
Later that night a police officer informed me of the details of my mother’s death. She had been hit by the train as it pulled out of the station and died instantly. Bystanders claimed that she dropped a ring and it rolled onto the tracks; as she bent down to get it the train lurched forward. Unable to escape, she was only able to let out a single blood curling scream before she was crushed under the powerful wheels of the ruthless machine. The next few days were a blur of crying, sleeping, and refusing to eat. I also have a vague memory of stealing the ring I found in my mom’s evidence bag at the police station.
A bumpy landing shook me awake. I opened my eyes and squinted at the sun that was peeking through the airplane window brightly. Dark shadows circled my eyes; the past three hours was the most sleep I had gotten in a while. It was exactly a week after my mother’s death. The court decided that I was to stay with my closest living relative until I was eighteen; hence why I’m here, in California. I got off the plane, still wary, and dropped my backpack onto a chair as I scanned the lobby. Large glass windows doubled as walls for most of the building. They overlooked a parking lot filled with planes of all sizes from various countries. Groups of people hurried by me glancing at their tickets and then the signs that lead them to their gate. Others embraced loved ones showering them with gifts and kisses. It was a typical airport. Finally, my eyes fell upon a nervous looking man, about twenty feet away, talking to an air hostess that got off the same plane I was on. He was tall and slender with a full head of ruffled black hair. He had a nervous, almost scared, smile on his face as he eagerly listened to the flight attendant. His hollow cheeks were exaggerated by his strong jaw line and high cheek bones. A strange feeling came over me, I was almost positive this was him; the man I would be staying with for the next three years. I wanted to hate him but for some odd reason, I couldn’t. I was afraid to admit it, but I almost liked him. Abruptly, the flight attendant pointed at me, following her extended hand, the man looked in my direction. His piercing green eyes locked with mine. I froze for an instant, feeling awkward and not knowing what to do, before directing my eyes towards the ground. I grabbed a lock of my hair and fiddled with it. I could feel them staring as they walked towards me. When they were about three feet away the man thanked the flight attendant and she went on with her business, answering other people’s questions and such. I gathered up some courage and slowly looked up. He was looking at me, that silly smile still on his face. As I locked eyes with him once again, my stomach started doing back flips. I didn’t know why I was so nervous or why I cared, let alone worried, what he thought of me. He left me and mom a long time ago; I should hate him for that.
“Hey there,” he said in almost a whisper.
Awkwardly, he stuck his hand out after a few moments of silence. I stared at it blankly. About five seconds later I realized that I was supposed to shake hands with him.
“Hi” I said, my voice almost trembling, as I quickly clasped hands with him.
“I’m… uh, you can call me Nick, if you want,” he said, clearly struggling to find the right words.
I tried to smile and gave him a little nod. His hand was soft and warm. He gave me a little squeeze before letting his hand fall back to his side. It felt nice to have some human contact. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to cry and have him hold me. I didn’t care that I hadn’t seen him in nine years; he was my dad and he was the only thing I had left in this world.
“Let me help you with that,” he said, more to himself than directly to me, as he grabbed my backpack out of the chair and threw it over his shoulder.
“Thanks,” I mumbled.
I followed him to the parking lot. He loaded my stuff into the trunk, helped me into the passenger seat, and then took his seat behind the wheel. We sat there for a moment, in his black jeep, silently.
“You hungry?” he asked earnestly, still speaking barely louder than a whisper.
He peered at me, with his emerald green eyes surrounded by thick dark lashes, waiting for my answer as if it was the most important thing in the world.
“Not really,” I replied with a shrug. “Just kinda sleepy, I guess.”
“I bet. That was a long trip you made… All the way from Russia.” His voice trailed off. “We’ll be home soon though,” he added, trying to be reassuring.
He was very soft spoken; I liked that, it reminded me of my mom. I smirked as I wondered where I got my wild, hyperactive personality from. I lay my head against the headrest and looked out the window, letting my eyes focus on whatever whizzed past them.
I felt a gentle squeeze on my shoulder. I stirred and opened my eyes. I had dozed off.
“Hey, don’t mean to disturb you but we’re here and I’m sure you’ll be much more comfortable inside,” he whispered apologetically.
“Oh… Okay, thanks. Ha.” I mumbled, as I shuffled myself out of the jeep and into his house.
It was small but cozy. Brown bricks coated the walls and beige carpet covered the floors. I smiled approvingly; I always hated having to walk on cold, hard, wood when I woke up in the mornings. There was a small fireplace in the corner. The TV was hung above it, across from a dark brown plush couch. The living room led to the kitchen, which had tile floors. Light brown cabinets lined the wall and a small counter space lay underneath them. It was surprisingly tidy in my opinion, especially for a man’s house. I followed him to â€˜my’ room.
“I know it’s not much but feel free to arrange it however you like so that you feel at home. If you need anything I’ll be around,” he said nervously.
He searched my face for any sign of approval. Feeling bad that he was trying so hard, I gave it to him.
“Thanks,” I said with a small smile.
I dropped my stuff onto the bed and looked around. There was a small desk under a window overlooking the backyard. It wasn’t bad; there was a small pond surrounded by a few willow trees. A reddish lamp sat on the nightstand next to my bed and cast a nice glow throughout the room. I plopped onto the bed and sighed. The walls were empty; there were no familiar pictures or faces. Loneliness swept over me. After a while my thoughts morphed into dreams and I feel asleep. I slept for the rest of the day, throughout the night, and till late the next morning.
At around eleven the next morning, hunger led me to the kitchen where Nick was cooking breakfast.
“Hey! How’d you sleep?” He asked enthusiastically as I sat down at the table. “I made dinner last night but you seemed so exhausted, and you seemed so peaceful sleeping, that I figured I shouldn’t disturb you.”
“Yah, it was good. I was really tired.”
He put a plate of pancakes in front of me.
“You do like pancakes, right?” he asked, suddenly realizing a potential mistake.
“Yah…” I whispered trying to keep my voice steady.
I did like pancakes, but I liked them with chocolate chips, the way mom used to make them. Everything made me think of her and the more I thought of her the more I missed her. My eyes began to water. He gazed at me sadly but didn’t say anything, not that I expected him to. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, I didn’t want to talk about it, nothing he could say would help. The next few days dragged on similar to today; I slept most of the day and when I did see Nick we didn’t talk much. If we did happen to exchange words it was awkward small talk initiated by him. Finally, one morning at breakfast my curiously led me to blurt out my thoughts.
“Why’d you leave?” I asked more harshly than I had intended.
He looked up from his plate, startled. He was silent for a moment, returning my angry gaze with a sad, helpless one. He lowered his eyes and moved the eggs around on his plate with his fork.
“Well…?” I muttered like an impatient spoiled brat.
“It’s… We…” he cleared his throat. “It’s complicated,” He stammered.
“It’s not,” I interrupted.
He searched for the right words; an eloquent way to summarize why his marriage failed after six years.
“We were fighting a lot,” he said with a sigh. “Over stupid things, like how I was always gone. I had to travel a lot for work and then my father fell ill so I was constantly going to the US to visit him.”
I glared at him, unimpressed with his answer. It wasn’t a good enough reason to leave.
“Your mother said I wasn’t home enough,” he continued. “She said this wasn’t how a family worked. Said I was abandoning you two. She didn’t know how much I loved her…” his voice trailed off.
After a few moments, he resumed, his voice shaking.
“I should have made time for her, for you. I just didn’t realize how upset I was making her. Finally, one day, she just asked me to leave.”
My eyes softened. He didn’t just leave, mom asked him to go. I frowned not knowing what to feel, or who to blame now.
“I begged her to give me another chance, promised that I’d change, but her mind was set. She believed things were better off if we weren’t together, said that you’d be better off growing up without a father than one who was scarcely home. She didn’t want you growing up watching us fight all the time.”
He struggled to keep his voice steady, his eyes pleading with mine.
“I still love your mother. I think about her everyday. And you Natalie, my gorgeous baby girl, it broke my heart to leave you. To not be able to watch you grow up into the beautiful women you are today,” he added before hiding his face behind his arms.
By the tremble in his voice I could tell he was crying uncontrollably now. My heart sunk; we were going through the same thing. We both lost the one person we loved in this world. And now, we were both forced to live without her. He has been feeling what I’ve been feeling for the past week-and-a-half for nine years. I got up and hugged him.
“We have each other now,” I cried, wiping me tears away and burying my face into the side of his neck.
“Thank you,” he managed to say between a laugh of joy and his sobs.
For a moment, the old man’s face, the one who gave me and my mother the tickets on the day of my birthday, flashed into my mind. I smiled, remembering the vow I made to myself; I would make the best of what I had. As we embraced each other and cried together I realized I wasn’t alone; I had someone great by my side. It was the beginning of my new life; our new life.