Shift 14: Birthday


In a lot of ways, this is my best summer ever.

Ted’s really cool. He’s teaching me woodworking. I’ve been making sculptures.

He says most kids don’t have patience for it, because it takes so much sanding and chiseling to wear away what’s not wanted.

He says life is like that. If you want to be art, you gotta let life wear away and chisel all that gets in the way of your true form.

I think about that sometimes when I work the wood. Life has sure worn away so much from me. I don’t think what’s left is art. I don’t know what’s left. Just a body and a spark inside.

Ted says that’s what art is: the form and the spark.


I spend a lot of time alone because Ted heads off for days or even weeks at a time. He always takes a trip into town first and comes back with enough groceries to tide me through until he returns.

He was gone on July 15. That’s my birthday. Right now, I’m the only one on the planet who knows that July 15 is my birthday. Everyone else who ever knew is gone. Well, my uncle knew once, but he probably forgot. Or even if he didn’t, he doesn’t exist for me.

I decided to bake a cake.


I was turning 15, and I was gonna celebrate my quinceañera.


The cake turned out perfect. Even the icing looked perfect. There were chunks of wild strawberries in the cake. I thought of how proud Gran would be of me, baking perfect quinceañera cake.


This was the first birthday I’d ever spent alone.


Last year, Gran had teased me about the quinceañera.

“Next year, mija, you wearing a dress for the party? Frilly pink and flowers? Or a suit?”

She was sick then. She was really sick. But she still joked about this year, like she thought she’d pull through and be here.

“I’ll wear a suit,” I told her, and she laughed until tears came out of her eyes. But maybe she was crying because she knew. “I’ll wear a suit,” I said, “but I’ll wear a pink carnation in the top button hole. That’ll be my pink frills!”

I didn’t feel like eating cake anymore.


I headed out. Some luna moths circled over the meadow.


I walked towards the crags. The sky grew dark.


I sat on a boulder and watched the stars appear.


Some stars are suns of other planets.


It’s vast and silent. And it doesn’t matter if it’s your birthday.


I watched for hours. I watched in silence for eons. I fell away.


It isn’t personal, that’s what the vastness told me.

Nothing that happens is personal.

We live on a planet with billions of people. With so many, of course some will die. Many will die. It’s not personal.

It has nothing to do with me, that Mom and Dad died when I was eight, and Gran died last August. It just happened. It’s not a vendetta. It’s not fate. I wasn’t marked.

It simply happened. With billions of beings, some will die. It’s not personal. It just happens.

It’s not personal that I didn’t get to run track this year. It’s simply how it is.

It’s not personal that I’m alone on my birthday. It happens.

What’s personal is me.

Inside me, there’s something. Something that watches and feels and sees. That’s not personal, either. That’s the same as what’s out there, in the infinite.

What’s personal is that this spark is inside of me, and that I know it. I am it.


And what happens doesn’t matter.

All that matters is that I am this spark inside, inside my own particular self, and I am watching and witnessing and experiencing what happens.

It’s like I had two streams: the personal and the infinite, and within me they join to become one river, and that’s the same river that connects me with all that is.


I stayed out most the night, watching these two streams connect.

When I got back to the cabin, Ted was still gone. That means I get to sleep in the bed, since when he’s home I sleep in the sleeping bag on the porch.

It’s not personal that I got to sleep in a warm bed on my 15th birthday. It’s just what happened. I had the best sleep of my life. And that is personal.


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