It’s my birthday, again.
I know. This is getting boringly, ridiculously, relentlessly repetitive. It seems to be my birthday every time I wake up lately. But today’s different, today’s the real thing.
I can tell because my phone beeped at me at 7am this morning, which is not a time of day that I normally participate in, or am conscious of. After a few ineffectual attempts to smother it with a pillow, I gave up, gave in and got up to see what it wanted.
Turns out that it was an alarm I had set a year ago, reminding me to read a note to myself. It was a snapshot of life, written as I went to sleep at the end of last year’s birthday, telling me how things were then and setting out the hopes I had for how things would be when I woke up today. I have no idea why I thought I would be waking up at 7am, but I’m guessing that I wasn’t thinking too clearly. I seem to have been upset.
As they say in my absolutely favourite television show, Supernatural (thanks George)…
Last year, Kimberly was sick. Very sick. They still had no idea what was wrong with her, but had already ruled out leukaemia and were testing their way through other, more serious, less treatable possibilities. Possibilities that were beginning to make us nostalgic for leukaemia. Oh, and she had just been fired from her first proper, dream, job. Looking back on it, I have to admit that letting her go was understandable. Unkind, but understandable. She had, after all, only been there a few weeks and had spent almost all of that time either hanging on to her desk to stop herself from sliding under it, in the ladies’ room crying, or at the hospital having tests. Still, it was a blow that we didn’t really need and I still haven’t completely forgiven them, despite the fact that they have since subscribed to our news service.
Meanwhile, Christopher was somewhere in the middle of Africa, teaching at a school so far up the Gambian River that some of the smaller children had never seen a white person. I had no idea how he was really, because he was either living in the only place in the world where there was no telephone reception, or else he was calling and making pretend buzzing, interference noises while shouting ‘I can’t hear you’. He did, however, manage to get over the fact that he was very hungry and that there was a worrying hole opening up on his lower leg.
Work was lurching from one disaster to the next. Always tottering on the edge of the abyss, never quite going over but never moving towards safety.
And, Tom was fat, unhealthy and totally stressed out by all of the above. Ditto me.
All in all, it’s probably a good thing that I don’t remember last year’s birthday at all. Seriously, not at all. Not one single memory of it.
After months of uncertainty, a serious operation and a bit of pampering, Kimberly is well. Really well. Thank God, and everyone who helped get her here. At one particularly awful point, Kimberly said to her doctor, ‘We need House’. Dr Apperly replied, ‘Kimberly, I AM House’ and, true to her word, she not only found out what was wrong, but got it fixed. Ironically, what it turned out to be (a tumour on her adrenal gland) is so rare that it had actually starred as the guest disease in one of the earlier episodes. We hadn’t noticed it at the time. Why would we? But, we certainly do now, whenever Forman, Chase and the team bring it up as a possibility, only for House to dismiss it with a ‘now, that’s not very likely, is it’.
And thank you to everyone who supported us while she was ill. I don’t know what we would have done without you. To my brothers and their wives for how much it mattered to them, for how much they cared; to my friends and neighbours for calling, and stopping their cars, and crossing the road, and leaning out their windows to ask how she was; to the lady whose name we don’t even know who came around with a bottle of champagne when she heard Kimberly was better because ‘we had something to celebrate’; to my cousins, for ringing around the family whenever Kimberly’s doctors had a genetic question that needed answering – except you, Tommy. You were useless. Although, I suppose you did answer right away when I was trying to find out what was wrong with your mother’s thyroid, even if the answer was that you had no idea she HAD a thyroid, which she didn’t, and was kind of the point. Even so, you did try so….ok. I take it back. Thanks to you, too. And to Kimberly’s pal Sophie, winner of the ‘Friend of the Year’ award, for everything.
Not forgetting Bedlam, the production company that gave us The King’s Speech and her such a fabulous job. They are very lucky to have her, of course, but it’s nice as a parent to know that they know it. She is now working as a researcher on a documentary about the Titanic, but last weekend she filled in when they needed extras. So did Tom. She drowned. He didn’t, mostly because his costume was too expensive to get wet so they didn’t want to film him floating. His fate, however, is going to be ‘unknown’. I have very mixed feelings about seeing this when it comes out.
Speaking of Tom, he has just left for work, dressed in his rather unusual cycling ensemble that makes him look like a cross between a Nazi prison guard and a fat Boy Scout. But, not as fat as he used to be. In fact, my niece Mary Kate described him this week as looking rather ‘skinny’. Before you get too excited, though, you should understand that not only is she a very nice girl but she has also, obviously, inherited the bad eyesight gene that runs throughout the family. Even so, there is definitely a lot less of him this year than there was last. And, he has a healthy new outlet that just has to be good for him. Yes, Tom has taken to cycling with the passion of the born again, and while he does tend to drone on about it a bit, it is, overall, a very good thing. We have already been on a few cycling adventures and are planning more, although the tent is definitely not coming with us. I don’t care what he says.
Christopher is, as we speak, upstairs asleep. He came down from Manchester last night to surprise me for my birthday, which was the only thing on my present wish list. University is everything he was hoping for, and more; he is full of stories about his new friends and his new life and seems genuinely happy. He even likes his course enough to want to talk about it, which has to be a good sign. He is still hungry, judging by the number of plates in the sink this morning and the hole in the refrigerator shelves, but the hole in his leg has finally closed up. He will, however, have a souvenir of his time in Africa for quite some time to come. At least he is past the point where he feels the need to keep showing it to me.
As for work, we are still in business. Given the economic climate we are in, that isn’t something everyone can say. After being unceremoniously thrown out of our old offices, which are NOT going to be nice houses someday no matter what the developer may tell you, we now find our selves in a swanky ‘media village’, complete with television studios, an atrium, a foos ball table and a surprisingly nice cafe. There’s also a moveable Buddha and some lotus flowers floating around in a pool, I have absolutely no idea what that’s all about, but it does look nice. The staff are beyond thrilled. It makes them feel like they are working for a ‘real company’, which just goes to prove that you can fool all of the people some of the time. We are still somewhat near the edge of the abyss, but have moved a foot or two away from it, in the right direction.
And me? Well, I have an editor/agent for my book, an impressive, enthusiastic one who is filled with brilliant ideas about how to improve it. All of which I will start working on, honest. Just as soon as I finish this, and blow out the candles on my cake. I have lost the weight I put on while worrying about Kimberly, and then some, although my hope to have lost the taste for white wine, pizza and vanilla ice cream and gained one for broccoli and brussels sprouts still hasn’t come true. And, what really matters, I have my healthy, happy, employed family to spend my day with. The only thing still missing is the early morning call from my mother to wish me a happy birthday, but based on all the good things that have happened this year, she can’t be too far away.
If I hadn’t written myself that note last year, I would have woken up today sighing about how I was yet another year older. Instead, I am so grateful and happy for how life looks this morning.
Still, I don’t think I will be writing any memos to myself tonight. That would just be tempting fate.
Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)
P.S. I wrote this on Friday, 28th October – just in case you wanted to make a note of when my birthday is, for whatever reason.