Birthdays are a strange celebration if you think about it.
You spend 364 days working your darnedest to grow and expand yourself into the universe, and into the fabric of time itself, and then on one midnight a year, the switch flips and you stumble into the next year. A 6-year-old will spend all his energy for those 364 days focused on becoming 7 and then, all at once, it happens.
Some of you may think that there is nothing you need to do in order to pass from one year to the next. You may think that the natural flow of time will carry you along from 42 to 43, or wherever you are in your string of existences we call “years.”
But this is simply not the case.
Take June 2, 2019 for instance. Dave and I were on a bus from Guatemala City north to Coban. In order for us to safely arrive at our next birthdays, the bus had to stay in its own 8-foot ribbon of road for hundreds of miles. Just think for a moment about how impossibly thin those dimensions are, and yet, the driver of our bus (despite chatting with his friends on the bus, texting his novia, and occasionally swerving for no reason at all) managed to keep us between the ditches.
Then we transferred from a bus to the back of a pickup truck, where the deluge of rain could have drowned us if we were lying in a shallow ditch instead of in the back of a truck.
But we were not, we were in the truck.
The precipitation also meant that the dirt roads were now squishy mud and the driver would have a significantly more difficult time careening us to our hostel than if the roads were dry. We then made it to our hostel in the middle of the jungle where any number of humans could have secretly gone off their rocker and stabbed, shot, bludgeoned, or drawn and quartered us, but once more, Dave and I narrowly escaped death and inched closer to our 28th birthdays.
On this one day alone, we survived the bus, the truck, the rain, the hostel and its guests and passed the year’s finish line, also known as our respective birthdays. Have you ever thought about how wild it is that we survive such incredible odds every day and the mere fact that any of us have made it past a few months is an absolute miracle?
Microbiologists would point out that our bacteria soldiers managed to fend off hostile bacteria invaders and pass them along the rails of our intestines rapidly enough for them not to harm our bodies. Engineers would marvel at how every bridge we crossed — even the sketchy ones — held up under our vehicles, and even the ferry we used to cross that one river didn’t sink under the multiple tons of automotive on top of it. Meteorologists would mix in that we were not struck by a stray monster comet soaring from galaxy to galaxy on this particular day, nor were there any freak megastorms, tornadoes, inland hurricanes, lightning strikes (on us…we saw many from a distance), or chemical rain.
Indeed, June 2, 2019 was an incredible day, for the mere fact that we survived it and raged madly onward toward our birthdays. If you had asked me that day, or even the next, I would have thought nothing of it; after all, none of those things had happened, and we did not narrowly escape the wispy fingers of death — even though we did, now that I really think about it.
My birthday is June 19, but it was supposed to be the 17th, if only my wicked best friend hadn’t snatched it from me. You see, Dave was supposed to pop out on June 19 and I was due the 17th, but we switched and have been friends ever since, despite the fact that I have this heated grudge against him for stealing that birthday from me.
It was my right.
Right now we find ourselves roughly 4 months from our next birthdays, and I will do everything in my power to reclaim those two days of extra-utero life Dave seized from me. I feel like the kid whose shoulders he stood on to climb up the waterfall while shoving my face underwater. Not everyone can be stepped on like that without expecting some sort of recompense. Indeed, many people are fine being stepped on so others may get ahead.
But not me.
Dave thought he could propel himself into the cosmos two days ahead of schedule — ahead of me — but that was the first in a long line of mistakes he would make throughout his life. Those additional two days of life have afforded him countless opportunities which should have been mine. Who knows how he spent those blissful first 48 hours before my form burst onto the scene??
So my act of vengeance has been hatched; my plan has been set in motion. I will reclaim the two days Dave has stolen from me, and it will be spectacular.
The best part is, Dave won’t know it’s coming for years — decades, even.
Assuming he survives through the next 53 birthdays, which, again, would be a spectacular feat for his miserable little husk of a body, I will enact my plan.
Dave and I will end up in the same nursing home, both crippled beyond belief (because of an “accidental” honey harvesting accident I’ve orchestrated for us in Vietnam in 2027), where we will whittle away our days on Jeopardy! reruns and cottage cheese. I will sense my end nearing as my breath gets thinner and thinner until I am certain — beyond the shadow of a doubt — that my life has exactly two days left in it.
Two days before I discover the Great Mystery and step into the pool from which there is no swimming ashore, I will invite my friend — a young man I have discovered on the dark web who goes by “Mr. Ralph” — to come and pose as Dave’s nurse. Mr. Ralph is only 12 years old right now, according to his profile, which means he will be primed and ready for his task when the moment calls. I will make sure of it.
Mr. Ralph will come because Dave’s usual nurse got “sick” for the day and could not come in. Through my cloudy vision and gargly breathing, I will watch with glee as Mr. Ralph swaps out Dave’s oxygen tank with a fish tank. I have instructed Mr. Ralph to put exactly four fish in this tank and to customize it to have the same dimensions as his oxygen tank, so, aside from the glass housing and the fish swimming around inside, it will be indistinguishable.
Then, as Dave tries to breathe through the oxygen tubes, water will come up rather than purified air. In that moment of glorious victory, I will rise from my wheelchair, an act I saved all my energy for for a week, and stand over Dave as he tries to breathe the fish water.
“YOU CAN’T BREATHE FISH WATER!” I will yell as I tower over the conniving old coon, white gunk and saliva spraying from my cracked lips. “YOU BREATHE AIR, NOT FISH WATER! DON’T YOU KNOW THIS??”
As Dave continues trying to extract oxygen from the poopy fish water, I will enjoy the two days of life I was robbed of 81 years prior.
Of course, Mr. Ralph will skedaddle and the real nurses will come rushing in because of the yelling and sounds of Dave drowning. They will ask him why there are fish in a glass tank connected to his nasal tubes, but he will be coughing and unable to speak. They will pump the water from his chest and I’ll watch with glee as he comes to, makes eye contact with me, and knows deep in his soul that I didn’t kill him — but I could have.
I want him to know that, at any moment, I could reclaim those two days of existence which he stole from me. As long as he knows that and is spooked by the fish water incident, I will be satisfied.
It will all be worth it.
Then, two days later,
I will die.