February 28, 1986
Venue: 109 Westwood, Asheville
I wanted a slumber party. Slumber parties were peak popular girl, peak 80s movie, peak teenager, all things I aspired to be. For several years, winter weather froze out my birthday parties—a regular occurrence when you’re born in the temperate part of the northern hemisphere during the month most associated with Freak Blizzard. Mom did her best to alleviate the fog of gloom. All I ever really wanted was a pool party, because I loved the water, so one year (my eighth), she rented out the pool at the downtown YMCA. We splashed around and endured the glowering impatience of elderly lap swimmers counting down the minutes until we were forced out of the pool. It was only an hour, but a great weird hour. At the end, we were sopping and reeked of chlorine as we were ushered out to converge outside the locker room. I blew out the candles and unwrapped presents, while adults with workout bags breezed through, chased by snowflakes and arctic outside winds, on their way to the pickup basketball game in the gym. Immediately afterward, six of us came down with bronchitis. My mother blamed it on all of us having wet hair in the middle of winter.
Mom thought I wasn’t old enough for a slumber party. I reminded her that most of my friends were already having slumber parties. I’d been to a few including: 1) the one out in the middle of the country where the host’s father got into a screaming match with his wife upstairs hours after we went to sleep, and drunkenly staggered into a living room to pass out of the sofa mumbling about whores 2) the one where my nominal best friend’s best friend locked me out of the house in the dark, in the cold on the side of the mountain for about an hour during a game of truth or dare 3) the one where my bad influence friend’s bad-influence-with-therefore-limited-custody mom had us all over to her Adults Only apartment complex, made us hide when the landlord came by and then promptly went on an all-night date, leaving us to our Prince-themed dance contests, underwear drawer explorations and gas-stove related fire experiments. Mom reminded me that I’d not yet managed to stay the whole night at a slumber party (I basically faked a stomach virus every time, by locking myself in the bathroom, groaning and pouring Dixie cups of water down the toilet to sound-effect vomit until someone called my mother) and the girls having them were not my close friends. Both of those things were absolutely, true. But I made enough noise about Mom being boring and over-valuing the limp-bowed rich girls who, generally never set things on fire or called their biological father a “useless sleazebag jerk” or claimed to know what oral sex was that she finally agreed. I went to Hallmark, bought a bunch of black and hot pink invitations and conspicuously passed them out among the girls in my class, carefully avoiding anyone I thought might be “boring,” which was to say nice, smart, reasonable and having anything in common with me. I was just shy of ten years old and it was my first (and really only) attempt at playing mean girl. I believed I would suddenly become popular and effortlessly adult, that I might just elide the awkwardness of adolescence and turn out Molly Ringwald overnight. I micromanaged the cake, the movies, the snacks and prepared for my apotheosis into ten-year-old cool girl.
Surprise: To say that it backfired spectacularly would be a massive understatement. For one thing, the few of my actual close friends I invited didn’t come because they were all on an entirely wholesome (if problematic in retrospect) YMCA Indian Princesses weekend with their definitely not-sleazebag dads. Also, they didn’t like the other girls I invited because the other girls I invited were mean.
Said mean girls arrive at the house en masse—they were all best friends with each other—and immediately started sassing my mother, which I found disconcerting, because my mother was generally nice, fun and accommodating. They picked at the food. The quibbled at the movie. Half of them made fun of me for being comparatively rich. The other half made fun of me for being comparatively poor. They eviscerated my haircut (which was, admittedly, disastrous), my weight (chubby, and noted by every single person in my life at the time), my clothes (nerdy), my interests (super-nerdy) and my parents lack of available objects to be set on fire. All of those girls were wearing bras already. Two had started their periods. I remember feeling hopelessly, helplessly, impossibly behind. They sat around talking about underwear like old pros, as they shared bottles of brilliant purple glitter nail polish (traces of which still remain, to this day, on furniture in my mother’s house). I remember one of the girls, notably beautiful and the kind of early bloomer that looked like a tiny seventeen at eleven, was absolutely sure that girls who didn’t get their period by sixth grade would never grow boobs and would, thus, stay weird, ugly babies for the rest of their tragic lives. This didn’t sound entirely credible to me—my parents were comparatively forthright and scientific when it came to discussion of sex and human development—but it haunted me, because I was a late bloomer.
I think I finally fell asleep around 4am with my fingers stuffed in my ears so I wouldn’t hear my party guests talking about me. I remember waking up the next morning in cold white February light, completely relieved that it was over and sure I would never tell anyone how bad it was, lest an I told you so.
Best Gift: My dad bought me a bicycle. It was pink and minty green with streamers and a basket and the words Sea Princess printed on the side. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. My parents eagerly insisted I take it out for a test drive. I demurred. I’d literally, embarrassingly only learned to ride a bicycle without training wheels the week before. I was still wobbly, had never ridden anything as big as the Sea Princess. I was terrified those girls would see, would laugh, would report back to everyone else in school. They insisted though, joining the parental chorus. I was weak to peer pressure. I agreed and promptly fell twice. My father offered to hold on to the back, so I could get my balance and I could hear the cool girls snickering by the station wagon as I swayed in place, but when I finally a-righted, I felt like I took flight. I forgot they were there. I found my own peace. I thought up a thousand adventures I could (and did) take on my own, free of judgement, as I unknowingly embarked on the front edge of an adolescence I would mostly ride through alone.
Note: There were no pictures taken at birthday party 1986. The visual is from Christmas, a few months before, but should serve as a reasonably clear view of the protagonist at the time.
 They didn’t.
 Fifteen, to be precise.
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