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Birthday Guilt

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Birthdays. One of my least favorite holidays, if you will, being only behind Valentine’s Day by a slight margin. I mean, celebrating some old guy’s death by enjoying a heart shaped box of chocolates from your lover, really? But that’s not the point. The point is that it’s my sixteenth birthday. My sweet sixteen. The third best birthday in the history of birthdays (behind 50th and 1st). And there I was lounging around in my pajamas on the couch.

 

“Come on, Mac,” my mother pleaded. “At least open your gift.”

 

I closed my eyes and laid back on the couch. She never really understood that birthdays weren’t my thing. It was just another day of the year. If anything, it celebrated the fact that you were down another year on your life.

 

“Please? Your father and I spent hours to find the right one.”

 

I turned the music up louder. It was the same conversation every year.  She and Dad found a way to make ends meet to buy some stupid gift- usually a cheap hat or some kind of knock-off gimmick. Last year it was pair of sunglasses ‘guaranteed to block the sun three times better.’ The lens fell out as soon as I touched them.

 

“Mackenzie, this is your sweet sixteen. You should be celebrating.”

 

Celebrating? Again, not my thing. But, she wasn’t going to stop, so I sat up, turned off my dad’s old stereo, and put on a string birthday hat. You know those kinds from kindergarten birthday parties? Yeah, those. I forced a smile and then grabbed the bag in front of me.

 

“John! Come here! She’s opening it!”

 

And so came out the video camera.

 

I tore back the tissue paper half expecting the contents to explode. They didn’t. I pulled out a slim white box dressed in plastic. It still had that straight-from-the-store smell- a smell very unfamiliar to my nose. The box was almost entirely blank, with exception of the apple shining in the dim light.

 

I looked up at my parents. Mom was forcing a smile trying to hide the fact that her health was declining rapidly. Dad was standing stupidly in his ripped jeans and holy sneakers. Over their shoulders I saw a strip of wallpaper float down onto the dusty wood floor. I lowered my eyes to the box. Clean. Perfect. I turned to the window where the fall breeze chilled the homeless begging for food, a warm bed, cash. My eyes drifted back to the box. It was taunting me now. My eyes floated to the newspaper reading about deadly diseases in Africa and the battles in Middle East for basic rights. The glimmer of the apple caught my eye again.

 

A knot formed in my stomach. I didn’t need this. I had a computer that worked 65% of the time. I had a film camera tucked in a box somewhere under my bed. I had books and games. I had my dad’s old stereo that worked as long as the sky was cloudless. But I didn’t tell them that. Instead, I stood and wrapped my arms around the both of them.

 

I didn’t need it. They did.




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